05 August 2005

Bush Supports "Intelligent Design"

President George W. Bush advocates the teaching of "Intelligent Design" in public schools, as an alternative to the theory of evolution.

The comments came in a discussion with reporters from Texas newspapers on 2 August. He was asked about the "debate over evolution versus intelligent design" and he said that "both sides ought to be properly taught."
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 -- both you and Herman are doing a fine job of dragging me back to the past. (Laughter.) 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.

Q So we've got to give these groups --

THE PRESIDENT: Very interesting question, Hutch. (Laughter.)
Although the President didn't specifically say so, supporters of Intelligent Design want this concept to be taught in science classes, as though it were a scientific theory that might explain things that the theory of evolution cannot.

What Is "Intelligent Design"?

Here is what a prominent Intelligent Design site has to say:
The theory of intelligent design (ID) holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection. ID is thus a scientific disagreement with the core claim of evolutionary theory that the apparent design of living systems is an illusion.
It is this assertion that Intelligent Design is science that is at the core of the debate about whether and where it should be taught. Proponents of Intelligent Design say it should be taught in science classes, as an alternative to the theory of evolution.

Is It Science?

In spite of the assertion of Intelligent Design supporters, almost no scientists or science educators believe Intelligent Design is science. Here are some comments from a New York Times article:
Mr. Bush's science adviser, John H. Marburger 3rd, 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.

"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."
In a letter to the New York Times, Bruce Alberts, President of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S., said:
In evolution, as in all areas of science, our knowledge is incomplete. But the entire success of the scientific enterprise has depended on an insistence that these gaps be filled by natural explanations, logically derived from confirmable evidence. Because "intelligent design" theories are based on supernatural explanations, they can have nothing to do with science.
Science is an ongoing project to understand how the natural world works. It has given us useful insights that are the foundation of modern medicine, communications, and all other technology and engineering.

Continued progress in science, technology, medicine and engineering depends on education. (My concern for the lack of science and math education is the reason I write these posts.) If we confuse students further by mixing (non-testable) philosophical issues into science classes, progress will be even slower.

In fact what will happen is that progress in science and technology will happen where science education is more rigorous and scientific research is supported. Where education in science and math is neglected, progress will slow. The centers of power that derive from leadership in science and technology will change.

Read the Debate

This article from Natural History provides a "debate" on the assertion that Intelligent Design is a scientific theory. Any scientist (indeed, anyone who knows anything about molecular biology and evolution) would be convinced that the Intelligent Design argument fell flat. But most people don't understand evolution or molecular biology. What do you conclude from this "debate"? (Please email me your comments using the link at the bottom of this post.)

Why Believe Scientists?

You may say, "Well naturally scientists would say that. But why should they get to say what science is or is not?" That is a fair question. Here is the answer: Science Works.

If you use a computer, think of all the basic research and applied technology that went into it. All of that science and technology had to be discovered through creative inquiry and constant test and experiment. If it didn't work, it was passed over. Everything had to be challenged and tested by practical, reproducible experiment, observation and calculation. That is science.

The same scientific enterprise has been responsible for the health care you have received, the food you eat, the transportation and communication that bind our world together, and most other aspects of material well-being in the modern world.

Of course, you might be able to live (for a while) without those products of science. If you are going to take that path, I presume you will not be reading any more of these posts.


I think that:
  • Science is a useful tool.
  • Science should be taught in science classes (math, biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, etc.)
  • ID is not science.
  • It should not be taught as if it was.

Further Reading

My post on science and politics.

Financial Times article

Washington Post article

Natural History debate

National Center For Science Education

Excellent article in Wikipedia with lots of links and references.

Transcript of Bush's remarks. Comments on Intelligent Design are on page 5.

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