HARRISBURG, Pa. — A school board member testified Wednesday that she voted to include "intelligent design" in a high-school biology curriculum despite not knowing much about the concept because she thought students should be aware of alternatives to evolutionary theory.
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"I thought, this is another way to make them think," Dover Area School Board President Sheila Harkins said during a landmark federal trial over whether intelligent design can be introduced in public school science classes.
Harkins acknowledged that her familiarity with the concept was limited to some Internet research and a brief reading of "Of Pandas and People," an intelligent-design textbook that the district is using as a reference book in the high school's library.
Nevertheless, Harkins said she felt the curriculum should specify what kinds of theories should be mentioned besides evolution.
"If you're going to say 'other theories,' then you need to have an example of what 'other theories' is," Harkins said.
Origin of intelligent-design statement
The board is defending its October 2004 decision to require students to hear a statement about intelligent design before ninth-grade biology lessons on evolution. The statement says Charles Darwin's theory is "not a fact" and has inexplicable "gaps," and it refers students to the textbook for more information.
Harkins testified that the board didn't envision having an intelligent-design statement, which was later developed by school administrators, and she thought the teachers could present the topic "however they saw fit."
"The statement would not be necessary if we were not sued," Harkins said.
Explaining a misstatement
Earlier Wednesday, a school board member who had discrepancies in his testimony on the purchase of "Of Pandas and People" said he was very nervous before a deposition.
Alan Bonsell was questioned Monday by U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III about his January deposition and his trial testimony. He was given a chance to respond Wednesday.
"I was extremely nervous to say the least and honestly tried to do my best and answer as truthfully as a I could," Bonsell said of his deposition.
Bonsell testified Monday that he had received an $850 check from a fellow board member. The check was made out to Bonsell's father, who volunteered to donate copies of "Of Pandas and People" to the district.
Jones asked Bonsell why he never shared that information in the deposition when he was repeatedly asked under oath about who was involved in making the donation. Bonsell, who served as the board's president in 2004, said he misspoke then.
The board member who provided the check, William Buckingham, testified last week that he collected donations to help purchase the books during a Sunday service at his church.
Eight families are suing to have intelligent design removed from the biology curriculum because they believe the policy essentially promotes the Bible's view of creation, and therefore violates the constitutional ban on the state establishment of religion.
Intelligent-design supporters argue that natural selection, an element of evolutionary theory, cannot fully explain the origin of life or the emergence of complex life forms. They say the evidence points to the intervention of an intelligent designer.
The trial began Sept. 26 and is expected to conclude on Friday.
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