The American Civil Liberties Union and 11 parents of students kicked off a court battle Monday to prevent "intelligent design " from being taught in a high school in Pennsylvania.
The showdown in Dover, Penn., marks the first legal test of intelligent design, the doctrine saying Charles Darwin's theory of Natural Selection doesn't adequately explain the origin of human existence, and that the intricacy and complexity of life can only be explained as the blueprint of an intelligent force.
Opponents, however, say intelligent design is simply creationism in disguise.
"Teaching students about religion's role in world history and culture is proper, but disguising a particular religious belief as science is not, " said ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director Witold Walczak, according to a statement. "Intelligent design is a Trojan Horse for bringing religious creationism back into public school science classes. "
An international audience is watching the trial, expected to last about six weeks.
The legal battle over teaching the origin of human existence goes back to the landmark 1925 Scopes-Monkey Trial, in which substitute biology teacher John Scopes was tried for violating the Butler Act, a Tennessee statute that prohibited the teaching of evolution in universities and public schools.
President George W. Bush, and according to some polls, most Americans, are in favor of teaching students both evolution and intelligent design.
At CSU, some students interviewed Monday indicated they didn't see a problem teaching intelligent design alongside evolution.
"I don't really have a problem with it," said Kellen Woods, junior psychology major. "If there's going to be evolution, why not (intelligent design)?"
Freshman Anica Wong had similar thoughts.
"If you're going to teach one, you should teach both," she said.
Biology professors, however, disagreed.
"In the first case, evolution is a well-established scientific theory that explains natural phenomena whereas intelligent design is an untestable idea with no scientific evidence to support it," said Professor Daniel Bush. "Intelligent design is essentially a belief system. Does ID have any place in an education system? Sure, but only in the context of discussions of philosophy, culture or religion. It would never be part of a science curriculum because it is simply not based on science."
Political science major Adam Ball said evolution is just a theory and it should be presented as such.
"It has many problems," he said. "There are some things in nature that can't evolve, and DNA is one of them."
Professor Mike Antolin disagreed, saying DNA is what makes possible evolution.
"The theory of evolution is a scientific theory in the same way that gravity, the periodic table of the elements, and the heliocentric universe are theories," said Professor Mike Antolin. "Second, intelligent design is not a scientific theory. It is a religious philosophy that dates back centuries and has been resurrected recently by a think tank in Seattle called the 'Discovery Institute.'"
Ball also took shots at the ACLU.
"They're not an unbiased organization, " he said. "They're anti-Christian."
Not true, says Cathryn Hazouri, ACLU of Colorado executive director.
"A lot of people have a false impression about what the ACLU is, " she said, "We are not anti-Christian. "
Hazouri said that to her, the issue isn't necessarily one of keeping a separation between church and state, but rather the absurdity of teaching intelligent design as a viable theory.
"I think it would be silly to teach something that isn't science, " she said. "We might as well teach that the Earth is flat. "
Most scientists agree that intelligent design is not a scientific theory, which they say is a theory that can be scientifically tested. There's no practical way to test intelligent design, they say.
"Only one article supporting (intelligent design) has ever been published in a peer-reviewed journal – 'The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington,' " states the ACLU. "And it was later disavowed by the society's governing council. The writer was a philosopher of science, not a practicing scientist, and the article reported no original data. "
According to the ACLU Web site, intelligent design "is the most recent incarnation of the evolving strategy that began with creationism and creation science. "
The lawsuit resulted from the Dover school board's 6-3 vote last October to require ninth-grade biology students to hear a statement saying a controversy exists over evolution and that intelligent design is a competing theory.
School board members have reportedly been advised by their lawyer not to speak with the media.
The Thomas More Law Center, the legal firm representing the Dover school district, did not return phone calls before press time Monday.