In Pennsylvania, It Was Religion vs. Science, Pastor vs. Ph.D., Evolution vs. the Half-Fish
HARRISBURG, Pa., Sept. 30 - When Casey Brown testified this week, she embodied the pain and division the intelligent design controversy has wrought in Dover. Mrs. Brown sat stiffly on the witness stand, her mouth as tight as her gray ponytail, recounting how she had run for school board on the same ticket as the board members now facing her from the defense table.
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN, New York Times Sun Oct 2, 2005 - original
The board is being sued by 11 parents who say that intelligent design is creationism cloaked as science, is inherently religious and has no place in a ninth-grade biology class.
Mrs. Brown said her political alliances and friendships had become strained in the last couple of years as some board members had pressed for changing the biology curriculum to teach creationism on par with evolution. They wanted to buy an intelligent design textbook, Of Pandas and People, in place of the newest edition of the standard biology text.
Under cross-examination by Patrick Gillen, a soft-spoken defense lawyer, Mrs. Brown was asked whether she recalled visiting the home of a board member and admiring a carving of the Last Supper.
"The Lord's Last Supper, yes sir," Mrs. Brown said. "I had never seen such a beautiful carving."
But she said she did not feel comfortable when the board member asked her if she was a born-again Christian. She also said she felt disturbed when another board member, who was among those most insistent about teaching creationism, drove her home from a meeting and asked the same question.
Suddenly, his manner changing, Mr. Gillen pounced: these were Mrs. Brown's friends, she was in their homes, in their cars, and she found it offensive to be asked about religion?
"Yes, I do, and I still do, sir," she said.
A bite in his voice, Mr. Gillen asked if she thought religion should not be discussed at all.
"I wouldn't presume to discuss religion within normal circumstances," she said, "except within my own family."
Mrs. Brown and her husband quit the board the night members voted 6 to 3 for intelligent design.
Worlds in Conflict
The trial presents a particular challenge for the journalists from science magazines. In the courtroom hallway during a break last week, Celeste Biever, a reporter for New Scientist, was interviewing a courtroom regular, a bearded local pastor who says he considers evolution a lie.
"You want half-bird, half-fish?" she asked, drawing a dotted line on her notepad.
"Yeah, why not," the pastor said.
Later, out of the pastor's hearing, Ms. Biever said with fascination, "He thinks evolution is a bird turning into a fish turning into a rabbit" - one straight line of common descent, instead of a tree with common roots.
Ms. Biever was finding that she could not cover the trial the way she would a classic courtroom face-off. When you put intelligent design up against evolution, she said, "It's not a head-on collision between two scientific arguments; it's orthogonal," with the opponents coming at each other from right angles.
"It's apples and oranges," Ms. Biever said.
Her readers do not take intelligent design seriously, she said, so she was striving for "local color." Her readers want to know, she said, "Why is this happening here?"
"We're not just science cheerleaders, and I don't want to overlook any valid argument for intelligent design," Ms. Biever said. "As far as I'm concerned, I haven't heard one yet."
As for the pastor, after four days of listening to science experts dismantling the case for intelligent design, he was unimpressed.
"They're babblers," said the pastor, the Rev. Jim Grove, who leads a 40-member independent Baptist church outside of Dover. "The more Ph.D.'s you get, it seems like the further away from God you get."
Dover school board members were well aware they were inviting a lawsuit over church-state issues when they voted last October that biology students should hear a statement telling them that there were gaps in the theory of evolution and that intelligent design was another theory the students should examine.
But the board forged ahead, having been assured that they would have the backing of the Thomas More Law Center, a nonprofit law firm dedicated to providing legal representation to Christians, and its chief counsel, Richard Thompson.
One Side of the Culture War
In courtroom breaks Mr. Thompson occasionally sits next to board members and puts an arm around their shoulders. White-haired and dapper, he has said little in court, leaving most of the cross-examination to his two co-counselors.
But this week, he became the public face of the intelligent design movement, stepping into the ring of cameras and microphones outside the courthouse each afternoon, taking every question until, one after another, the reporters slipped away.
As a former Michigan prosecutor who tried repeatedly to convict Dr. Jack Kevorkian, Mr. Thompson is comfortable in the spotlight. He failed in his prosecution of Dr. Kevorkian and eventually lost a bid for re-election; voters told pollsters they did not share his outrage over assisted suicide.
Mr. Thompson's major argument in defending the board is that intelligent design is not religion, but science. He is, however, absolutely open about his own religious motivations.
During the lunch break on Thursday, Mr. Thompson said he founded the law center to defend Christians who he thought were losing the culture wars. The center was initially financed by Thomas Monaghan, the founder of Domino's Pizza. Both men are Roman Catholics.
"There are two worldviews that are in conflict," Mr. Thompson said. "I do feel that even though Christians are 86 percent of the population, they have become second-class citizens."