Googling for I.D.

Dover Area School Board President Sheila Harkins still doesn’t “have a way to describe intelligent design.”

According to Harkins’ testimony today, she “knew a little bit” about intelligent design in October 2004 when she and her fellow board members introduced the notion into the ninth grade biology curriculum at Dover Area School District. And today, she knows little more.

Harkins, the second defense witness during Wednesday’s testimony, said that she still doesn’t have “a firm explanation of intelligent design.” What she did learn about intelligent design was mostly gleaned from the Internet. “I Googled,” she explained when her attorney Patrick Gillen asked how Harkins tried to acquaint herself with intelligent design. Her answer elicited laughter from the audience and a smile from Judge Jones.

Hakins testified from about 9:30 a.m. until 1:50 p.m., with a break for lunch.

Wednesday’s first witness was Dover Area School Board member Alan Bonsell, whose testimony was continuing from Monday. Defense attorney Patrick Gillen led Bonsell through the 2002 and 2003 board retreats, and had Bonsell testify about whether he advocated for prayer in the schools at those retreats. His answer was no. Gillen also asked Bonsell if he had advocated for changing the social studies curriculum at those retreats. Bonsell said no.

Then Gillen turned to questioning Bonsell about the Dover Area School District February 2005 newsletter issued to District residents and a quote by Anthony Flew. [Text of the quote in the newsletter: “[DNA] has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved. My whole life has been guided by the principle of Plato’s Socrates: Follow the evidence, wherever it leads.” -Anthony Flew (world famous atheist who now admits the universe appears to have an intelligent design).] Bonsell said that the quote was added to the newsletter to show that intelligent design isn’t religious; nor is evolutionary theory necessarily religious.

At the end of Gillen’s questioning, Bonsell attempted to explain some previous inconsistencies in his testimony. He said that in January 2005 – the time of his first deposition – he had never been deposed, had never been part of a federal lawsuit, and was trying to answer as truthfully as he could despite his nervousness.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Stephen G. Harvey cross-examined Bonsell about the January 2005 deposition by introducing Bonsell’s second deposition transcript. In plaintiffs’ second deposition of Bonsell, in April 2005, Bonsell was asked, “[I]f there was anything that you testified to in that prior deposition that you would like to change or modify today.” Bonsell answered: “I don’t believe so.” Despite an objection by Gillen, Jones allowed the introduction of Bonsell’s answer in the April 2005 deposition.

The third defense witness of the day was Assistant Superintendent Michael Baksa. It was Baksa’s third day of testimony; he had previously testified on October 21 and 28. Baksa testified at some length about the different versions of the curriculum language for the ninth grade biology class and the attempts to reconcile the science teachers’ desires with the school board members’ desires.

A notable portion of Baksa’s testimony was his description of his visit to Messiah College on March 26, 2003. On that date, Baksa attended a symposium on creationism at Messiah College. Reading from his handwritten notes, Baksa testified that at that time, he learned of Phil Johnson and intelligent design. Baksa testified that the Superintendent, Dr. Richard Nilsen, sent him to the symposium, though he did not know why.

Baksa’s cross examination by plaintiffs’ attorney Eric J. Rothschild will continue Thursday, November 3, 2005 at 9:15 a.m. Closing arguments are expected on Friday, November 4, 2005.

Submitted by Paula Knudsen, staff attorney, ACLU of Pennsylvania

3 thoughts on “Googling for I.D.

  1. As I read through the transcripts, I get the distinct impression that there is a disconnect over terminology between the teaching staff on one hand and the board members and administrators on the other.

    Clearly, the bilology teachers are using “origins of life” to mean abiogenesis–and they omit that from what the teach on evolution, which is appropriate since that isn’t part of evolutionary theory.

    The other side appears to be using “origins of life” to mean both abiogenesis and speciation plus the development of higher taxonomic units.

    I suppose this confusion is inevitable given that the collective knowledge of scientific principles, practices and terminology among the board members is meager at best.

    It also appears, and I suspect for historical reasons, that the biology courses have actively avoided addressing the development of genus homo and it’s direct antecedents. This skittishness reads very much as though biology instruction is still suffereing aftereffects from the Scopes Trial 80 years later.

  2. It looks as if the defense incorporated the quote by Anthony Flew as proof that ID isn’t religious – hey even an ATHEIST believes there could be design! But, I wonder if the plantiff lawyers point out that Mr. Flew has changed his religious viewpoint (something he’s certainly freely to do), which means he’s no longer an atheist.

  3. The testimony of Mr Michael Baksa during the Kitzmiller trial mentioned a workshop sponsored by Messiah College, and in the direct and cross examination portions of the testimony (taken together) the following misinformation and misleading interpretations are indicated.

    (1) The workshop was not actually held at Messiah, contrary to what Mr Baksa stated (his memory was faulty on this point). It was held at Grace United Methodist Church in downtown Harrisburg–our principal target audience was state legislators, and we’d have had several attend (they made reservations) except that Gov Rendell dropped his budget on them the night before, so all but one of them cancelled out. We still had several school administrators and attorneys attend, along with a reporter and members of the general public. The workshop carried ABA continuing education credit as well, since it was led by a law professor. We offered the workshop as a public service to the people and commonwealth of Pennsylvania; we knew that there had been controversies about evolution and creationism in the Anneville-Cleona school district and that other districts were also showing signs of similar controversies. We had no other purpose in offering the workshop than this. We have a Forum at Messiah devoted to public discussion of issues involving science and religion (, and we believed that a seminar on this particular issue would be important and timely.

    (2) Contrary to the clearly intended implications of the plaintiffs’ questions to Mr Baksa about Messiah College acting as the sponsor of this event, there is no way in which any reasonable person would ever construe that the event was intended to promote creationism or a religious agenda of any sort. Here are details about the workshop:

    As one can see, it was directed by the most qualified person in the world on this particular subject, Dr. Edward Larson from the University of Georgia. I do not recall specifically what might have been said about “intelligent design,” although I think it came up briefly. I do know Dr Larson’s opinion on this (relative to public schools) is identical to my own; indeed, I verified this with him directly just a few days ago. Dr Larson says that it is not unconstitutional for a public high school science teacher to mention criticisms of evolution raised by the “intelligent design” movement, as long as there are clear secular educational purposes for doing so. And both he and I agree that there can be situations in which such purposes are evident–it can be a quality educational experience for teachers to do case studies in which the relationship between evidence and theories is closely examined, and “intelligent design” could be part of such an experience in biology. Furthermore, in the courtroom one day I mentioned Ed’s view to Eugenie Scott, and she actually agrees with it (at least she said so that day to me). She does believe that a science teacher can discuss “intelligent design” under certain circumstances; it need not be confined to a social studies or philosophy class. I know this is not the opinion of the ACLU, as expressed by Mr Walczak, but it is the view of the leading legal expert on this issue.

    My concern here is simply for the truth, not for winning or losing the Kitzmiller case. Thus I provide accurate information about the workshop that Mr Baksa attended. Whatever conclusions Mr Baksa drew from attending the workshop are of course entirely his own. The facts as I have them are presented here.

    Edward B. Davis
    Distinguished Professor of the History of Science
    Messiah College

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