Debate on Intelligent Design Builds After Bush States Support for Idea<P>By Elisabeth Bumiller THE NEW YORK TIMES <P>WASHINGTON <P>Debate on Intelligent Design Builds
After Bush States Support for Idea
By Elisabeth Bumiller
THE NEW YORK TIMES
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, Bush appeared to endorse the push by many of his conservative Christian supporters to give intelligent design equal treatment with the theory of evolution in public schools.
Recalling his days as Texas governor, 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, Bush replied that he did, “so people can understand what the debate is about.”
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 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, Bush’s science adviser, John H. Marburger III, sought to play down the president’s remarks as common sense and old news.
Marburger said in a telephone interview that “evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology” and “intelligent design is not a scientific concept.” Marburger also said that 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.
Marburger said that it would be “overinterpreting” Bush’s remarks to say that the president believes that intelligent design and evolution should be given equal treatment in schools.
But Bush’s conservative supporters said that 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. 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.”