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Hearings on Pennsylvania "intelligent design" bill


The Pennsylvania House subcommittee on basic education held hearings on June 20, 2005, on House Bill 1007, which would allow school boards to include "intelligent design" in any curriculum containing evolution and allow teachers to use, subject to the approval of the board, "supporting evidence deemed necessary for instruction on the theory of intelligent design."

Speaking on behalf of the bill were John Calvert, head of the Kansas-based Intelligent Design Network; Michael Behe, the Lehigh biochemist and Discovery Institute Senior Fellow who is scheduled to be an expert witness for the defense in the upcoming Pennsylvania court case (Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District) on the constitutionality of "intelligent design" in the public schools; and a recent high school graduate from Lehigh High School, Samuel Chen. Calvert reportedly recommended changes to HB 1007, including changing the definition of "intelligent design" and recommending that teachers teach criticisms of evolutionary theory. Calvert and the Intelligent Design Network have recently heavily promoted the latter approach in Kansas.

Behe reportedly argued that intelligent design "is an argument based on empirical, physical data," and that it is not based on religious beliefs. He did not provide much detail about intelligent design, however. In response to a legislator's question, "When did the intelligent design occur, in your theory?", Behe said, "Questions like, 'When did the designing take place?' ... are all good questions. We'd love to have answers for them, but they are separate questions from the question, 'Was this designed in the first place?'"

Speaking against the bill were Larry Frankel, legislative director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania; Janice Rael, president of the Delaware Valley Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who described [Link broken] proponents of "intelligent design" as "activists who are struggling to impose their particular religious viewpoint on us all"; and NCSE member Randy Bennett, associate professor of biology at Juniata College in Huntingdon. The Discovery Institute subsequently sent a letter opposing HB 1007 as drafted but recommending a "teach the controversy" approach.

The Philadelphia Inquirer took notice of the fact that the consideration of a bill on "intelligent design" seemed to conflict with the state's priorities in other areas. Its news story [Link broken] (registration required) on HB 1007 began with the comment, "Only hours after Gov. Rendell and several lawmakers participated in the ribbon-cutting that opened the global biotechnology conference in Philadelphia yesterday, other legislators in the state Capitol were resurrecting the debate over evolution."

In a June 23 editorial [Link broken], the Harrisburg Patriot-News declared, "Intelligent design is religion cloaked in the garb of science." The editorial, entitled, "It's not science," continued: "Intelligent design is a theory of religion, not of science. ... [I]ntelligent design has no place in science class. A legislative edict putting it there would provide compelling evidence that public education in Pennsylvania is evolving into the second rate."

The bill's prospects are unclear: while subcommittee member Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) groused, "I'm baffled and exasperated that we are spending time with this," a number of his colleagues have expressed sympathy with the bill. HB 1007 has not left the basic education subcommittee for the full education committee as of press date.