WASHINGTON — Advocates of an alternative to the theory of evolution took heart Tuesday from President Bush's remarks that "both sides ought to be properly taught" in public schools.
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 said. "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.
Proponents of teaching evolution -- the theory that holds that existing animals and plants developed gradually from previous forms through natural selection -- have said that an increasing number of school boards seek to diminish its use in science classes or promote alternatives.
Bush's comments Monday appeared to give moral support to groups that back teaching intelligent design.
"What the president's remarks do is heighten public interest in the issue," said John H. Calvert, managing director of the Intelligent Design Network, a Kansas advocacy organization.
Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, an Oakland group, said initiatives to counter the teaching of Charles Darwin's theory had been launched this year in 28 states and communities. On Tuesday, a group of Kansas educators said that proposed science standards written by the State Board of Education promoted intelligent design and had "no scientific credibility." The educators had been appointed by the state board to review the standards.
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."
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.
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."
Bush's science advisor, John H. Marburger III, seemed to differ with the president at a February appearance before the National Assn. of Science Writers. Marburger said that "intelligent design is not a scientific theory."
Asked about Bush's comments, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said the president had said nothing new Monday. Bush believes "that local school districts should make the decisions about their curriculum," McClellan said. "But it's long been his belief that students ought to be exposed to different ideas."
Associated Press was used in compiling this report.