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Liebell on Dover, science and education

Abstract: Although the debate over teaching evolution in public schools is not new, the discussion changed significantly with the introduction of intelligent design. Unlike creationism, intelligent design does not ground itself in any biblical tradition or reject all evolutionary change. Instead, intelligent design claims that Darwin’s theory of evolution – particularly natural selection and random mutation – cannot account for the complexity and beauty of life, and, therefore, there must be an “intelligent designer” responsible for the creation of living organisms. In 2004, a small, predominantly Christian, white, and economically modest school district in Dover, Pennsylvania passed a mandate requiring biology teachers to read a statement to their ninth graders. When the teachers refused, administrators cautioned students that Darwin’s theory of evolution was a “theory” and there were gaps in the evidence. A text was available in the school library – Of Pandas and People – that presented a different approach to human development: intelligent design. The reading of the statement was challenged by eleven families on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment’s ban on the establishment of religion. The U.S. District Court’s ruling – that the statement did violate the establishment clause – has been understood by the media, public officials, and academics as a triumph for secularism and science over religion and fundamentalism.

Susan Liebell (2007), Rethinking Dover: The Role of Science and Education in Liberal Society, unpublished paper. Available here.

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