Perry favors ID in science class

But governor has no plans to seek statewide requirement, aide says

10:01 PM CST on Friday, January 6, 2006

By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry favors the teaching of "intelligent design" along with evolution in public school science classes but has no plans to push for curriculum changes that would require Texas students to learn the controversial theory, his office said Friday.

Kathy Walt, the governor's press secretary, said Mr. Perry supports the teaching of intelligent design "much as the theory of evolution is now taught" in Texas schools. Current state curriculum requirements include evolution.

The governor's position came to light because of a letter sent by his office last month to an East Texas constituent who asked Mr. Perry whether he backed teaching of intelligent design in schools.

Intelligent design holds that the complex features of the universe and living things are best explained by an unknown "intelligent cause" rather than by undirected processes like natural selection and random mutation – the key components of Charles Darwin's theory of how life on Earth evolved.

Critics contend that intelligent design is creationism in disguise and has nothing do with modern scientific theory. But proponents like the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank based in Seattle, insist their theory is not based on religion.

Last month, a federal judge prohibited a Pennsylvania school district from requiring that intelligent design be taught in biology classes, ruling that it violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

The letter from Mr. Perry's office noted that the Pennsylvania decision probably will be appealed.

"Once the courts have spoken with finality and clarity, Texas schools will abide by that decision," the letter said.

Ms. Walt said that the governor's office was merely responding to a constituent's letter and that Mr. Perry has no plans to seek legislation that would require the teaching of intelligent design in science classes.

"We try to respond to all letters that ask the governor's position on issues," she said. "He has always supported providing students with alternative theories as part of the effort to teach critical and analytical thinking skills."

But, she added, "the governor is not pushing legislation to require that intelligent design be taught."

A group that has clashed with social conservatives over evolution and other hot button education issues said the governor's comments should raise concerns among educators and parents.

"For the governor to suggest that intelligent design should be taught in science classes is troubling," said Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network. "We shouldn't be teaching religion and faith in science classes. That is something that should be left to parents and clergy."

The State Board of Education dealt with the issue in 2003 when it adopted new high school biology books covering evolution, rejecting the pleas of social conservatives and others who said most of the books were too one-sided in their treatment of evolution. The books were sent to schools in the fall of 2004.

"I don't consider it an issue in Texas at this point," said board Chairwoman Geraldine Miller, R-Dallas. "We had lots of testimony and discussed the issue thoroughly in 2003." She added that Mr. Perry's office did not contact her during that debate.

Ms. Miller said the textbook decision was based on the state curriculum standards adopted by the board after careful consideration in 1997. The standards required the teaching of evolution in science classes.

"If a school district believes there are other substantive theories out there, it has the opportunity to present them. But that is a local policy decision, if a district wants to discuss other theories besides evolution," she said.

Ms. Miller said evolution won't be debated by the board again until 2008, when new science books come up for adoption. She said she could not recall any legislation in recent years seeking to place the concept of intelligent design into the state curriculum.

E-mail tstutz@dallasnews.com

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