Lehigh University Professor Michael Behe was the first witness called by a school board that is requiring students to hear a statement about the intelligent design concept in biology class. Lawyers for the Dover Area School Board began presenting their case Monday in the landmark federal trial, which could decide whether intelligent design can be mentioned in public school science classes as an alternative to the theory of evolution.
Behe, whose work includes a 1996 best-seller called "Darwin's Black Box," said students should be taught evolution because it's widely used in science and that "any well-educated student should understand it."
Behe, however, argues that evolution cannot fully explain the biological complexities of life, suggesting the work of an intelligent force.
The intelligent design concept does not name the designer, although Behe, a Roman Catholic, testified he personally believes it to be God.
"I conclude that based on theological and philosophical and historical factors," he said.
The school board is defending its decision a year ago to require students to hear a statement on intelligent design before ninth-grade biology lessons on evolution. The statement says Charles Darwin's theory is "not a fact," has inexplicable "gaps," and refers students to a textbook, "Of Pandas and People," for more information.
Behe contributed to "Of Pandas and People," writing a section about blood-clotting. He told a federal judge Monday that in the book, he made a scientific argument that blood-clotting "is poorly explained by Darwinian processes but well explained by design."
Eight families sued to have intelligent design removed from the biology curriculum, contending the policy essentially promotes the Bible's view of creation and therefore violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
Mainstream scientists have rejected intelligent design as scientifically untested and contend that its supporters focus on attacking evolutionary theory rather than providing evidence for design.
Behe testified that intelligent design specifically questions whether life at the molecular level evolved through natural selection.
"That's the most poorly supported aspect of Darwin's theory," he said.
Behe, who was expected to resume testifying Tuesday, compared the outcry over intelligent design to the early criticism of the big-bang theory some 70 years ago. "Many people thought it had philosophical and even theological implications that they did not like," he said.
Lehigh's biology department sought to distance itself from Behe in August, posting a statement on its Web site that says the faculty "are unequivocal in their support of evolutionary theory." He earned tenure at Lehigh before becoming a proponent, which means he can express his views without the threat of losing his job.
In a related development Monday, the Discovery Institute - a Seattle-based think tank that represents intelligent-design scholars - filed a brief urging U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III to rule in favor of the school board.
The trial began Sept. 26 and is expected to last up to five weeks.
The plaintiffs are represented by a team put together by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The school district is being represented by the Thomas More Law Center, a public-interest firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich., that says its mission is to defend the religious freedom of Christians.