Along with Dover school board members, administrators and parents, witnesses will include experts such as Lehigh University biochemist Michael J. Behe, one of the most published ID proponents. Among witnesses for the plaintiffs will be Kenneth R. Miller, a Brown University cell biologist and devout Catholic who wrote the biology text used at Dover High School.
Of the 3,508 students in the school district just outside York, 277 ninth-graders will study biology this year. Katskee said evolution is presented only in half of one class period; Thompson said it is taught in two full sessions.
When the school board a couple years ago took up the question of a new high school biology textbook, several members argued for teaching creationism alongside evolution. After months of meetings peppered with heated arguments about religion and the First Amendment, the board voted 6-3 last October on a compromise: The district would comply with the state requirement to teach evolution but recommend skepticism, including the ID approach, through a statement read to biology classes.
Two members of the board resigned in protest. Science teachers declined to cooperate with the policy by refusing to read the announcement.
Thus, in January and again last spring, before those science classes began, an administrator walked into classes and read the four-paragraph statement.
The protocol calls for the administrator to first tell students that they may step outside the classroom if they do not wish to hear the statement. In January, about 15 students of more than 170 walked out, Thompson said.
The statement says, "A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.
"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 in the library along with other resources for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves."
In May, Joshua Rowand, a student representative on the school board, told the York Dispatch that the uproar seemed much ado about nothing: "Ninety-nine percent of the students don't care. It's not a big deal, and the whole issue has been blown way out of proportion."
Thompson called the policy a "very minor change" in the biology curriculum, which forbids teaching intelligent design or religion.
For many scientists and education advocates however, the flirtations with intelligent design in Dover and school districts elsewhere are no trivial matter.
"Any attempt to corrupt the teaching of science is of tremendous concern to us," said Alan I. Leshner, executive director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a nonprofit education organization and publisher of the weekly Science, which claims the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal.
"We have to be very clear about what is or isn't science," said Leshner, adding that ID proponents are trying to blur the line.
"What they propose are not testable questions. Therefore, they are issues of belief and not useful as science."
One key ID concept says certain natural structures are "irreducibly complex," that is, they cannot function without all their parts in place, and therefore could not have developed through evolution. That suggests intelligence could be at work, proponents say.
Leshner said this notion is little more than "a statement about what we don't know yet. ... Today's irreducible complexity is tomorrow's clear scientific explanation." He gave as examples the immune system and DNA, which not so long ago seemed mysterious.
Gerald Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, said the apparent prevalence of ID suggests that "we've badly failed in talking about the nature of science. ... Science is an attempt to understand the natural world" by examining material evidence.
The Discovery Institute, the chief proponent of ID, does not advocate teaching the concept in school, but it would revise the definition of science and nature.
"How do we understand nature? Is it matter and energy? Or is it matter and energy and information?" said John G. West, the associate director of the institute's Center for Science and Culture. "We object to the distinction between naturalism and supernaturalism."
In its pretrial memorandum, the defense says it will argue that openness to a what might now be considered a "supernatural" explanation for creation does not place ID "beyond the bounds of `science.'" Nor does this make ID "inherently religious," the memo says.
The plaintiffs will introduce evidence including background on the Discovery Institute and statements made at Dover school board meetings to show that ID is essentially a religious notion advanced within a religious cause, disguised as a scientific pursuit.
In that way, the plaintiffs would hope to duplicate the success of those who went before the Supreme Court in 1987 to challenge Louisiana's Balanced Treatment Act, which forbade teachers from presenting lessons on evolution unless they also taught creation science.
Advocates of the Louisiana law argued that it was enacted for a secular purpose, to advance a "basic concept of fairness" in the interest of "protecting academic freedom" and "teaching all of the evidence." The court was not persuaded, voting 7-2 to strike down the law on grounds that it violated the separation of church and state.
The Dover district's arguments echo these mainly in insisting that the policy serves a secular purpose and is "designed to enhance science education," according to court papers.
However Jones decides the Dover case, the dispute over ID may not likely be settled there.
"Our aim is to get to the Supreme Court," Thompson said.