President Bush invigorated proponents of teaching alternatives to evolution in public schools with remarks that schoolchildren should be taught about "intelligent design," a view of creation that challenges established scientific thinking and promotes the idea that an unseen force is behind the development of humanity.
In an interview with several Texas newspapers Monday, Bush was asked about the growing debate over the idea of "intelligent design," which holds that intelligent causes are responsible for the origin of the universe and of life. "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought," Bush was quoted as saying by Los Angeles Times. "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."
The remarks were in keeping with what Bush has said in the past. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush or his aides said several times that local school boards should decide questions about teaching evolution and its alternatives; at times, they said that both evolution and creationism should be taught.
"I think it's an interesting part of knowledge [to have] a theory of evolution and a theory of creationism. People should be exposed to different points of view," Bush said during one 1999 appearance, according to a news account at the time. "I personally believe God created the Earth," he said.
"Both sides ought to be properly taught . . . so people can understand what the debate is about," he said, according to an official transcript of the session. Bush added, "Part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought. . . . You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes."
These comments drew sharp criticism Wednesday from liberals, who said there is no scientific evidence to support the intelligent design theory and no educational basis for teaching it, Boston Globe informs.
The White House said Wednesday that Bush's comments were in keeping with positions dating to his Texas governorship, but aides say they could not recall him addressing the issue while president. His remarks heartened conservatives who have been asking school boards and legislatures nationwide to teach students that there are gaps in evolutionary theory.
Creationists believe that God created the Earth and its inhabitants as described in the Bible's Book of Genesis, and that evolution played no role. For decades, some creationists have pressed school boards to teach creationism in schools.
Intelligent design, which started to gain notice about 10 years ago, holds that evolution alone does not adequately explain some complex biological mechanisms, suggesting that a plan by an intelligent force is behind changes in species.
"Creationism and intelligent design are often confused," said Jay W. Richards, vice president for research at Discovery Institute, a Seattle research and advocacy group for intelligent design. "Both have in common the idea that the universe exists for a purpose." Where intelligent design parts company with creationism, he said, is that it is neutral on Darwin's claim of common ancestry among species while challenging his theory that species change over time because of natural selection, Los Angeles Times reports.
But critics say intelligent design is a form of creationism, stripped of references to the Bible to make the contention more palatable to skeptics.
"They are striving to maintain a big tent," said Branch, the evolution advocate. He said intelligent design supporters duck questions — such as the age of the Earth — that could alienate traditional creationists.
The debate over intelligent design grows louder. In a March letter to members, the National Academy of Sciences warned of "a growing threat to the teaching of science through the inclusion of non-scientifically based 'alternatives' in sciences courses throughout the country."