Bill in House would require teaching of 'intelligent design'

Monday, February 16, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Where did we come from? The question that has perplexed humankind for centuries is coming soon to a Statehouse near you.

A bill introduced in the Missouri House would require that the theory of "intelligent design" -- a not-quite-biblical theory of creation -- be given equal treatment as Charles Darwin's theory of evolution in sciences classes.

Intelligent design, as defined in the bill, does not address the actual intelligence responsible for life, avoiding any mention of a deity. The identity of the intelligence would have to be "verifiable by present-day observation or experimentation."

The theory, however, explicitly shoots down any theory that humans evolved from a lower life form.

"All original species of life are inferred to be the result of intelligence directed design and construction," reads the bill's description of intelligent design. "There are no significant mechanisms or present-day experiments to prove the naturalistic development of earth's species from microscopic organisms."

That would seem to fly directly in the face of evolution.

"From the first simple life, all subsequent species developed" through various mechanisms over millions of years, the bill says of evolution.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Wayne Cooper, a Republican physician from Camdenton, who refused to comment to The Associated Press.

Last month, however, Cooper told The Kansas City Star that "our objective is to improve science instruction and make textbooks more accurate. We want to create academic freedom to allow this discussion."

Cooper has declined to discuss the bill further until it has been assigned a committee hearing. That hasn't happened yet, but House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods, promised to refer it to a committee.

Several states have faced challenges from groups demanding equal time in science classes for theories other than evolution.

Last week, the Ohio Board of Education approved lesson plans that some scientists claim incorporated parts of "intelligent design." Earlier this month, Georgia's superintendent of schools dropped a plan to remove the word "evolution" from the state's science curriculum.

In 1999, a committee of science educators working for the Kansas Board of Education came up with testing standards that described evolution as one of the most important ideas for students to learn. But some board members balked and created alternative standards that mentioned evolution only once.

The board didn't ban evolution from Kansas classrooms, but some scientists worried the state was on that path. After the 2000 elections, the Kansas board's new evolution-friendly majority revised the science standards.

Missouri government gives schools a framework for what they must teach, but mandates few specifics about the curriculum, said Jim Morris, spokesman for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Textbook publishers must register with the state, "but we don't scrutinize their products," Morris said.

"This has not been a state-level issue ever," Morris said.

Jim Puckett, who has taught high school and college chemistry and is past president of the 650-member Science Teachers of Missouri, said intelligent design has no place in a science class.

"The major objection that I think most science educators would have to it is that many of the concepts being advocated by intelligent design are not testable and verifiable," Puckett said. "A hypothesis has to be testable, verifiable, repeatable. The proposal is putting forth matters of faith that can't be tested."

In a letter to his state representative, Puckett questioned how the bill would affect the efforts of Missouri officials to make the state a mecca for life sciences research.

"What scientists and investors will want to come to a state with an academic environment where pseudo-science instruction is legislatively mandated?" Puckett wrote.

Puckett said if the bill became law, it would "impose philosophical and religious beliefs into the science classroom." Moreover, he said, teachers, principals or superintendents would be at risk of dismissal for intentionally ignoring the law.

One of the few instructional issues the state does regulate is sex education. Teachers must instruct abstinence as the "preferred choice of behavior in relation to all sexual activity for unmarried pupils" under state law passed in 1999.

Linton said while her group would be pressing for the intelligent design bill, she didn't know whether it would be approved this year.

"One of the things Missouri Eagle Forum worked on for many, many years is that we had abstinence taught," she said. "And 20 years ago that was laughed at, and finally that became a law in '99. But, you know, these kinds of things take a while."

Intelligent design bill is HB911.

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