Penn. Legislature Holds Hearing on Intelligent Design Bill

The debate over evolution and intelligent design has opened up again in Pennsylvania, where legislators heard testimonies on Monday on whether or not public schools in the state should teach intelligent design.

New legislation has been proposed that would allow school boards to require science teachers to teach intelligent design alongside evolution. The state has already had a nationally publicized court case over this issue – last year, the Dover Area School District passed a policy requiring ninth grade biology teachers to read a statement on intelligent design before teaching evolution lessons. Eight families filed a federal lawsuit charging the school district with violation of the separation of church and state. The case will be heard later this year.

Intelligent design – the idea that the world is so complex, there must be an unspecified divine being behind its creation – is the most recent theory stirring up controversy in the continuing creation-evolution debate.

In May, the Kansas State Board of Education held a hearing to air out arguments on both sides. Proponents of intelligent design brought in several witnesses from around the nation and from international circles. Scientist, however, boycotted the hearings, claiming that the hearings were already rigged against evolution. The three-member subcommittee - all of whom had prior concerns over evolution - plan to work with the state board to decide on new science standards this summer.

In Pennsylvania, experts on intelligent design and evolution testified before the House Subcommittee on Basic Education on Monday, bringing up many of the same arguments that were heard in Kansas.

Opponents claim that intelligent design is just another form of creationism, while supporters of the idea argue that it has no religious connections and simply acknowledges the existence of a higher being in the origin of life.

Others expressed concerns over how the state would be viewed by others if they allowed the teaching of intelligent design. States like Kansas were ridiculed when, in 1999, the Conservative-led school board removed most references to evolution from the science curriculum. Opponents to the bill worry that science-related groups- biotech companies, professors, researchers- will be dissuaded from working in the state if the legislation passes.

Representatives of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based organization known as the nation’s leading intelligent design think tank, sent a letter to Representative Jess M. Stairs, Chair of the Pennsylvania House Education Committee on Thursday, stating that they “strongly oppose any effort by the government to mandate the teaching of intelligent design.”

The organization instead recommended that the legislature encourage schools to teach both the strengths and weaknesses about the theory of evolution and protect the rights of teachers and students to examine all aspects of evolution.

Currently, the bill is not likely to gain approval as few legislators have shown support for the bill.