Dr. Alters analyzes Dover statement
So, as I was saying, in the AM, Dr. Alters went through the Dover biology statement on evolution and intelligent design that is read to students before the start of the evolution chapter. (FYI, this link is to the updated statement, which was changed in June, according to opposing counsel. Vic Walczak and Dr. Alters discussed the original statement that was read in January. But don’t fret, dear readers, Dr. Alters tangled with the new statement. Keep reading.)
Here’s a look at the statement and Dr. Alter’s thoughts on it:
The statement, paragraph 1: The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.
The messages that students receive, according to Dr. Alters: “Evolution must be a special science… We’d rather not do it, but the state requires it.”
Paragraph 2: Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.
The message students get out of this: “A theory is a half-baked idea.”
Analysis from Dr. Alters: “All theories continue to be tested. Why is evolution singled out? … Evolution is a theory and a fact. [Scientists] no longer debate it.”
Paragraph 3: Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.
Analysis: Dr. Alters noted that, “Darwin didn’t posit a view in public on origins of life.” Evolution only explains the origin of species. Furthermore, Dr. Alters repeated a fact that has come up several times throughout this trial: “Panda‘s central theme of intelligent design has been judged not to be science.”
Paragraph 4: With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families. As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments.
The unwritten message: “It seems like what we’re about to learn they really don’t want to teach us.”
Analysis: “They’re only encouraged to keep an open mind with this theory.”
Dr. Alter’s conclusions: “It’s about as bad as I could possibly think of. It’s absurd to me. I can’t imagine anything worse.”
During re-direct from Vic Walczak in the afternoon, Dr. Alters looked at the new statement, which has just one change, which is in the third paragraph and in bold below:
“The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available in the library along with other resources for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.”
When Vic asked the professor about the change, he said that the revision “makes it worse.”
“It sounds like there are even more books on non-science,” Dr. Alters testified.
On re-cross examination, opposing counsel Robert Muise asked Dr. Alters if he would change his opinion if he knew that the “other resources” include books challenging intelligent design. Dr. Alters responded that now you’re telling students that there are books calling ID non-science while administrators are telling the students it is science.
Before I sign off, we would be remiss if we didn’t fill you in a little more on the cross-examination of Bertha Spahr by Patrick Gillen this morning. By and large, the questioning was reiterating statements that were already on the record, as most of Mrs. Spahr’s answers were “yes” or “correct.”
However, perhaps the most interesting piece of her testimony this morning regarded a textbook catalog she received. In the catalog, according to Mrs. Spahr’s testimony, Of Pandas and People was listed under the category “Creation Science.” Our team entered the catalog into evidence, despite the objection of opposing counsel, which was overruled by Judge Jones.
Mrs. Spahr also talked about the resistance from the science faculty on the curriculum change and noted the tension in the community.
“Some in the community felt if we didn’t support the board, we were atheists.” She said that she was taken aback by that since two of the school’s teachers are children of ministers.
Submitted by Andy Hoover, community education organizer, ACLU of PA