12 March 2009

Did he say that? Bush on intelligent design

Former American President George W. Bush admittedly made a lot of mistakes during his presidency. But as far as I can recall, he never said this:

Bush himself told Texas reporters in 2005 that evolution and intelligent design should be taught at the same time so – he really said this – students could decide for themselves.

And I don’t remember this, either:

For eight years the Bush administration proposed the teaching of “Intelligent Design,” a religious doctrine disguised as science so as to surpass the constitutional separation of church and state(.)

“Come, Sherman, let’s set the Wayback Machine for 2005...” One Google search later, we find that here’s what Bush was quoted as saying.

“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.”

Note that Bush never even used the phrase “intelligent design” himself. Yes, that was the context of the question, but Bush chose to answer a specific question with a general one. An editorial in Science or Nature noted this. Bush could have made a much stronger statement, but he didn’t.

Note that Bush never used the phrase, “So kids can decide for themselves.” Many other people have used that phrase. Some may see “understand the debate” as the same as “make their own decisions,” but really, I think people are making an inference – or, more likely, calling on a half-remembered recollection – of what Bush actually said.

The above quote, as far as I can remember, is the one and only time time Bush or his administration even came close to this issue.

Bush gave no sign that he intended to wade that far into the debate. The issue came up only when a reporter from the Knight Ridder news service asked him about it; participants said the president did not seem especially eager to be asked. "Very interesting question," he told the reporter playfully.

Here’s another account of this point:

Mr. Bush was pressed as to whether he accepted the view that intelligent design was an alternative to evolution, but he did not directly answer. (Emphasis added. -ZF)

And let us not forget that it was a Bush appointee, Judge John Jones, who delivered the devastating ruling against intelligent design in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial. So who the heck in the Bush administration was supposedly working to put intelligent design into schools? This is a slightly weird claim, given that education is a state mandate, not a federal one. The biggest advocate for intelligent design has never been federal or state governments, but local school boards and the Discovery Institute.

While I always appreciate people supporting for science, this should never mean putting words into anyone’s mouth. No matter how much you might think it belongs there.

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