Perry: Add intelligent design to teaching
Theory has a place in Texas schools, he says; most rivals disagree
By W. Gardner Selby
Friday, January 06, 2006
Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican who has made outreach to Christian conservatives a theme of his gubernatorial portfolio, thinks Texas public school students should be taught intelligent design along with evolutionary theory, his office said Thursday.
Three Democratic challengers for governor this year and independent hopeful Kinky Friedman disagreed. Independent candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn had no immediate comment, and a little-known Democratic hopeful sided with Perry.
Gov. Rick Perry thinks concept is ‘valid scientific theory,’ aide says.
The governor’s stance emerged in the wake of a federal judge’s decision last month that it was unconstitutional for a Pennsylvania school board to require that intelligent design be taught as an alternative to evolution in public school science classes. District Judge John Jones III called intelligent design an idea that cannot be divorced from its religious origins.
His ruling, the first of its kind, has no direct bearing in Texas. Still, it was viewed as having established a steep hurdle for school boards and legislatures in almost 30 states that have considered or passed intelligent design initiatives.
Intelligent design holds that life is so complex that it must have been guided by some outside intelligence. Critics have chided its lack of a testable thesis and have called it creationism Ã¢â‚¬â€ adherence to the biblical account of creation in Genesis Ã¢â‚¬â€ in disguise.
Evolution holds that all life on Earth shares common ancestry and was developed through the mechanisms of random mutation and natural selection.
Jones wrote: “To be sure, (Charles) Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.”
Texas mandates the teaching of evolution, both its strengths and weaknesses, in science classes.
Perry “supports the teaching of the theory of intelligent design,” spokeswoman Kathy Walt said. “Texas schools teach the theory of evolution; intelligent design is a valid scientific theory, and he believes it should be taught as well.”
She said elements of creationism are consistent with intelligent design and that teaching different theories is part of developing students’ critical thinking skills.
Marvin Olasky, a University of Texas journalism professor who has written favorably on intelligent design, credited Perry with “advancing discussion of this issue. I find it refreshing that he’s saying it. The issue is not going to go away.”
Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network, which styles itself as a watchdog of the religious right, called the governor’s position “a bad thing if you believe science classes should teach science and you believe families and clergy should teach matters of faith.”
A December letter from Perry’s office to a constituent that was obtained by the network states that it would be a “disservice to our children to teach them only on theory on the the origin of our existence without recognizing other scientific theories worth consideration.”
Tincy Miller of Dallas, chairwoman of the State Board of Education, called intelligent design a nonissue in this year’s elections. Board members voted in November 2003 against endorsing only biology textbooks that presented the most qualified characterizations of evolution, with words such as “may” or “could.” Publishers at the time refused to make major changes to the evolution sections of the books.
“We had a huge discussion; it was just put to bed,” Miller said. “We teach evolution in Texas.” The board is slated to consider revised biology textbooks in 2008 at the earliest.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell, a former U.S. House member from Houston, said: “Things we teach kids in science class should have a scientific basis. Based on everything I have seen and heard, I fail to recognize the scientific basis for intelligent design.”
Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Bob Gammage of Llano, another Democratic hopeful, said he supports the judge in the Pennsylvania case in that “teaching intelligent design is inappropriate for the class- room.
“There is a difference between physics and metaphysics, and I believe that we should teach the first in schools and the second in church,” Gammage said.
Rashad Jafer of Houston, another Democratic aspirant, sided with Perry, saying he personally believes the universe was willed by a creator who will “one day take it away.” He said evolution and intelligent design should be taught side by side.
Democratic candidate Felix Alvarado of Fort Worth said he opposes teaching intelligent design in science.
“In science, you teach science. In social studies, you cover religion,” he said.
Friedman, of Kerrville, said of teaching intelligent design in science: “I’m agin it; there’s nothing intelligent about it.”