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President Bush Endorses Intelligent Design?


by Wesley R. Elsberry

In a press conference on August 1st, 2005, President George W. Bush responded to a question on "intelligent design". A Washington Post news article gives the complete exchange:

Q I wanted to ask you about the -- what seems to be a growing debate over evolution versus intelligent design. What are your personal views on that, and do you think both should be taught in public schools?
"THE PRESIDENT: I think -- as I said, harking back to my days as my governor . . . Then, I said that, first of all, that decision should be made to local school districts, but I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught.
"Q Both sides should be properly taught?
"THE PRESIDENT: Yes, people -- so people can understand what the debate is about.
"Q So the answer accepts the validity of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution?
"THE PRESIDENT: I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought, and I'm not suggesting -- you're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes.

Scientists quickly reacted to the news. The American Geophysical Union, a scientific society of 43,000 members in the earth and space sciences, released a statement making it clear that "intelligent design" is not a legitimate scientific alternative to evolutionary biology.
In comments to journalists on August 1, the President said that "both sides ought to be properly taught." "If he meant that intelligent design should be given equal standing with the theory of evolution in the nation's science classrooms, then he is undermining efforts to increase the understanding of science," Spilhaus said in a statement. "'Intelligent design' is not a scientific theory. Advocates of intelligent design believe that life on Earth is too complex to have evolved on its own and must therefore be the work of a designer. That is an untestable belief and, therefore, cannot qualify as a scientific theory."
The National Science Teachers Association also issued a statement taking issue with the comments made by President Bush.
"We stand with the nation's leading scientific organizations and scientists, including Dr. John Marburger, the president's top science advisor, in stating that intelligent design is not science. Intelligent design has no place in the science classroom," said Gerry Wheeler, NSTA Executive Director.
The media turned to NCSE for commentary. Elisabeth Bumiller's article in the New York Times featured comments by NCSE Public Information Project Director Susan Spath.

"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."

Johanna Neuman's article in the Los Angeles Times conveyed NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch's view on this issue.

Branch read little into Bush's Monday remarks. "The question was presented to him as a fairness issue," he said. "For a politician, that's like opposing fairness or apple pie."
Still, Branch said, he was sure the president's comments "would no doubt prove inspirational to creationists."