The Bush administration has demanded repeatedly that “scientifically based research” be the foundation for education programs and practices, a principle that is also spelled out in the No Child Left Behind Act.
Last week, though, President Bush told reporters that he supports allowing schools to teach the controversial concept of “intelligent design”—which has been flatly rejected by the nation’s top scientific organizations—alongside the theory of evolution.
Mr. Bush, in an Aug. 1 interview with Texas reporters, said that while such choices are local decisions, he favors that “both sides” be taught “so that people can understand what the debate is about.”
Critics in several states and districts have recently sought to cast doubt on the bedrock scientific theory advanced by Charles Darwin, which posits that species evolve through natural selection. Intelligent design holds that life’s origins and complexities may best be explained by the guidance of an unidentified, possibly divine, master architect.
“Part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought,” the president said. “You’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas. The answer is yes.”
As a presidential candidate in 2000, Mr. Bush publicly backed allowing the teaching of biblically based creationism alongside evolution.
But the president’s recent statements contrast sharply with the opinion of the vast majority of scientists, including the congressionally chartered National Academy of Sciences, which points to a mountain of evidence for evolution and describes intelligent design as a religious belief.
An individual with closer ties to the president also has rejected intelligent design as science: White House science adviser John H. Marburger III. In comments earlier this year in an online story in The American Prospect, Mr. Marburger said, “Intelligent design is not science,” and added, “I don’t regard intelligent design as a scientific topic.”
In an e-mail to Education Week after the president’s remarks, Mr. Marburger, who holds a Ph.D. in applied physics from Stanford University, stood by his comments. But he also cautioned that the president’s remarks did not present a view on whether intelligent design is a scientific theory.
“There is danger of confusing the accounts of reporters,” he said, “with what the president actually said.”
A version of this article appeared in the August 10, 2005 edition of Education Week