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updated 10/12/2005 6:01:13 PM ET 2005-10-12T22:01:13

A school district's policy to read a statement about "intelligent design" to high-school science students creates misconceptions about evolution, a university education professor testified Wednesday in federal court.

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"I can't think of anything worse for science education than to engender needless misconceptions," said Brian Alters, an associate education professor at McGill University in Montreal.

Alters was a witness for eight families suing to have the concept of intelligent design removed from the curriculum at Dover High School.

Earlier Wednesday, the school's science department chairwoman, Bertha Spahr, was cross-examined on her prior testimony that the school's science teachers objected to the curriculum change the board approved in October 2004.

She said teachers agreed with the school board's idea that there are unanswered questions about the theory of evolution, but were opposed to mentioning intelligent design in class.

Talking about theory's gaps
The statement teachers must read says Charles Darwin's theory is "not a fact," has inexplicable "gaps," and refers students to a textbook called "Of Pandas and People" for more information.

Spahr testified Wednesday that teachers were willing to talk to students about the gaps, but didn't want to address intelligent design.

The families contend the policy promotes the Bible's view of creation, violating the constitutional separation of church and state.

Intelligent design supporters argue that life on Earth was the product of an unidentified intelligent force, and that natural selection cannot fully explain the development of complex organic mechanisms or the rise of different species from common ancestors.

A form of creationism?
Alters, the professor, called intelligent design a form of creationism because it involves "breaking one of the ground rules of science" — the scientific method — and said that reading a statement about it amounted to teaching.

"It's a mini-lecture. I'm not saying it's good teaching, but it's teaching," he said.

It would be absurd to bring up the topic and not respond to questions from students, he said.

"It's something that shuts down any form of critical discussion. It's not science, anyway," Alters testified.

The trial began Sept. 26 and is expected to last up to five weeks.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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