President Bush gives the advocates of teaching "intelligent design"
as biology in the public schools a big boost.
~ Steve Gabosch
The New York Times
August 3, 2005
Bush Remarks Roil Debate on Teaching of Evolution
By ELISABETH BUMILLER
WASHINGTON, Aug. 2 - A sharp debate between scientists and religious
conservatives escalated Tuesday over comments by President Bush that
the theory of intelligent design should be taught with evolution in
the nation's public schools.
In an interview at the White House on Monday with a group of Texas
newspaper reporters, Mr. Bush appeared to endorse the push by many of
his conservative Christian supporters to give intelligent design
equal treatment with the theory of evolution.
Recalling his days as Texas governor, Mr. Bush said in the interview,
according to a transcript, "I felt like both sides ought to be
properly taught." Asked again by a reporter whether he believed that
both sides in the debate between evolution and intelligent design
should be taught in the schools, Mr. Bush replied that he did, "so
people can understand what the debate is about."
Mr. Bush was pressed as to whether he accepted the view that
intelligent design was an alternative to evolution, but he did not
directly answer. "I think that part of education is to expose people
to different schools of thought," he said, adding that "you're asking
me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and
the answer is yes."
On Tuesday, the president's conservative Christian supporters and the
leading institute advancing intelligent design embraced Mr. Bush's
comments while scientists and advocates of the separation of church
and state disparaged them. At the White House, where intelligent
design has been discussed in a weekly Bible study group, Mr. Bush's
science adviser, John H. Marburger 3rd, sought to play down the
president's remarks as common sense and old news.
Mr. Marburger said in a telephone interview that "evolution is the
cornerstone of modern biology" and "intelligent design is not a
scientific concept." Mr. Marburger also said that Mr. Bush's remarks
should be interpreted to mean that the president believes that
intelligent design should be discussed as part of the "social
context" in science classes.
Intelligent design, advanced by a group of academics and
intellectuals and some biblical creationists, disputes the idea that
natural selection - the force Charles Darwin suggested drove
evolution - fully explains the complexity of life. Instead,
intelligent design proponents say that life is so intricate that only
a powerful guiding force, or intelligent designer, could have created it.
Intelligent design does not identify the designer, but critics say
the theory is a thinly disguised argument for God and the divine
creation of the universe. Invigorated by a recent push by
conservatives, the theory has been gaining support in school
districts in 20 states, with Kansas in the lead.
Mr. Marburger said it would be "over-interpreting" Mr. Bush's remarks
to say that the president believed that intelligent design and
evolution should be given equal treatment in schools.
But Mr. Bush's conservative supporters said the president had
indicated exactly that in his remarks.
"It's what I've been pushing, it's what a lot of us have been
pushing," said Richard Land, the president of the ethics and
religious liberties commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Dr. Land, who has close ties to the White House, said that evolution
"is too often taught as fact," and that "if you're going to teach the
Darwinian theory as evolution, teach it as theory. And then teach
another theory that has the most support among scientists."
But critics saw Mr. Bush's comment that "both sides" should be taught
as the most troubling aspect of his remarks.
"It sounds like you're being fair, but creationism is a sectarian
religious viewpoint, and intelligent design is a sectarian religious
viewpoint," said Susan Spath, a spokeswoman for the National Center
for Science Education, a group that defends the teaching of evolution
in public schools. "It's not fair to privilege one religious
viewpoint by calling it the other side of evolution."
Ms. Spath added that intelligent design was viewed as more
respectable and sophisticated than biblical creationism, but "if you
look at their theological and scientific writings, you see that the
movement is fundamentally anti-evolution."
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United
for Separation of Church and State, called the president's comments
irresponsible, and said that "when it comes to evolution, there is
only one school of scientific thought, and that is evolution occurred
and is still occurring." Mr. Lynn added that "when it comes to
matters of religion and philosophy, they can be discussed objectively
in public schools, but not in biology class."
The Discovery Institute in Seattle, a leader in developing
intelligent design, applauded the president's words on Tuesday as a
defense of scientists who have been ostracized for advancing the theory.
"We interpret this as the president using his bully pulpit to support
freedom of inquiry and free speech about the issue of biological
origins," said Stephen Meyer, the director of the institute's Center
for Science and Culture. "It's extremely timely and welcome because
so many scientists are experiencing recriminations for breaking with
At the White House, intelligent design was the subject of a weekly
Bible study class several years ago when Charles W. Colson, the
founder and chairman of Prison Fellowship Ministries, spoke to the
group. Mr. Colson has also written a book, "The Good Life," in which
a chapter on intelligent design features Michael Gerson, an
evangelical Christian who is an assistant to the president for policy
and strategic planning.
"It's part of the buzz of the city among Christians," Mr. Colson said
in a telephone interview on Tuesday about intelligent design. "It
wouldn't surprise me that it got to George Bush. He reads, he picks
stuff up, he talks to people. And he's pretty serious about his own
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