Frist Advocates Teaching “Intelligent Design”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a surgeon by profession and a presumptive candidate for the 2008 Republican nomination for president, announced yesterday that the religious myth of “intelligent design” should be taught along with the scientific theory of evolution in the public schools.

Frist voices support for “intelligent design” (MSNBC)

Echoing similar comments from President Bush, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said “intelligent design” should be taught in public schools alongside evolution. Frist, a Republican from Tennessee, spoke to a Rotary Club meeting Friday and told reporters afterward that students need to be exposed to different ideas, including intelligent design. “I think today a pluralistic society should have access to a broad range of fact, of science, including faith,” Frist said.

Frist, a doctor who graduated from Harvard Medical School, said exposing children to both evolution and intelligent design “doesn’t force any particular theory on anyone. I think in a pluralistic society that is the fairest way to go about education and training people for the future.”

The theory of intelligent design says life on earth is too complex to have developed through evolution, implying that a higher power must have had a hand in creation. Nearly all scientists dismiss it as a scientific theory, and critics say it’s nothing more than religion masquerading as science.

Quite right. While there are gaps in our understanding of evolution that might well be explained by an intelligent designer, there is zero scientific evidence that such a designer exists. The lack of evidence, of course, is not the same thing as being untrue. But matters of faith should not be taught alongside empirical evidence as equally viable science.

I find this quite disappointing. Frist is, after all, a trained scientist. If he personally believes in a Creator, as do many physicians and scientists, that’s certainly fine. I don’t even mind if he wants to give speeches explaining why he believes Intelligent Design is a better explanation than evolution alone. But to advocate teaching it in public schools is outrageous pandering.

The Blogosphere, both Right and Left, are hammering Frist.

John Cole has a great line: “[S]cience is hard work and fraught with peril.Why, all those years of medical training and Frist still misdiagnosed Terri Schiavo.” Commenter Boronx chimes in with, “So with President Frist, we’ll have funding for stem cell research, but we’ll raise a generation of kids incapable of understanding it.”

Attaturk: “Sad really, that all those cats died in vain.”

Joe in DC: “Hey, fear not that half of American students are unprepared for college and only 26% of high school graduates meet the standard for science.”

Jan Haugland: “It’s not as if excluding religious mythology from the science classroom means nobody will have access to it.”

Betsy Newmark: “Can’t we leave these decisions to local and state officials? Does everything have to be a federal issue?”

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, Education, Religion, Science & Technology, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. bryan says:

    The theory of intelligent design says life on earth is too complex to have developed through evolution, implying that a higher power must have had a hand in creation. Nearly all scientists dismiss it as a scientific theory, and critics say it’s nothing more than religion masquerading as science.

    I *so* don’t want to wade into this whole evolution/ID debate, but it seems like there’s a hair to be split that isn’t being addressed by either crowd: the real qualm isn’t with “evolutionary theory” per se, but with what might be called the scientific theory of origins.

    And there is NO WAY that the “big bang” or any other theory of origins can be “proven” in a laboratory. To say otherwise is only to engage in the sort of “faith-based” posturing scientific types chide creation/ID folks with all the time.

    Here’s a thought: why not leave the entire discussion of origins out of the classroom all together.

    Teacher: “How did life begin? Well, we don’t know. And we never will know. It is a mystery locked in the inscrutable past. We can speculate, but all we will have is speculation. The idea that an intelligent being created the universe is no more “provable” than the idea that elements floating in some sort of anti-world suddenly came together in a massive explosion that sent the universe into existence.”

    I would note that, contrary to what Steve and others have argued, the theory of origins has *no practical value* to science whatsoever.

  2. Aakash says:

    I have been disappointed at the reactions of some of the bloggers who are regarded as being “conservative,” with regard to matters such as this one, and others. I think that this reveals that many bloggers are focused mainly on matters such as supporting war, and defending the policies of the Bush administration. (Note: I am not referring to OTB, as it is more principled and thoughtful than many other weblogs…)

    Both intelligent design and evolution are matters of faith. And both have their own share of scientific evidence and scientific experts supporting them.

    Even non-religious scientists and scholars (including those who believe in evolution) will tell you that much of what makes up “science” and scientific fact is actually based upon faith… The ‘scientific method,’ and deductive reasoning, was not used to develop many of the claims that we now regard as factual. This is a topic that I am not going to go into more now… Regarding the subject of this blog entry: If evolution is going to be taught in public schools, then intelligent design should be taught as well.

  3. RJN says:

    Intelligent Design and Punctuated Equilibrium are the same thing. They may be disguised as different, because they have different adherents, but they are the same thing.

  4. T. Jaxon says:

    Personally, I like the FSM version of ID. Has everything I want when it comes to teaching such things in public schools.

    Here’s the link:

  5. floyd clark says:

    mr. joyner; may the primordial soup that spawned you course through your veins with adequate vigor to evolve you into more than the lump of animated protoplasm that you are at present; Evolutionist’s prayer?

  6. Josh Cohen says:

    Just so long as they make sure we’re all touched by His Noodly Appendage, I’ll be okay with this.

    Amusing link.

    Seriously, how can you teach one faith without teaching every single faith? Even a “faith” class — a class dedicated to the way things are based on religion — taught every day of every school year for all 13 years wouldn’t be enough to cover it.

    I had some friends who went to my Hebrew school who also went to a Catholic private school, and they were given the option of study hall during the “Religion” class that the Catholic students had to take. Most of them took “Religion”, and their experiences were reasonably positive, although they said that no religion class was complete enough to cover everything that the Catholic students needed to know. And if that was at a Catholic school, imagine what it would be like at a secular school where you need to know about every religion, otherwise fairness won’t be satisfied?

    This’ll never work.