By Matthew Young, RealWV
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Senate Education Committee, on Monday, advanced a bill which would allow for the teaching of “intelligent design” in West Virginia’s public schools.
As explained by Senate Counsel Hank Hager, SB 619 – sponsored by Sen. Amy Grady, R-Mason – “Simply allows teachers in public schools, including public charter schools, to teach ‘intelligent design’ as a theory of how the universe and/or humanity came to exist.”
The Oxford Reference defines “intelligent design” as a, “Theory that life, or the universe, cannot have arisen by chance and was designed and created by some intelligent entity.”
A clarification from Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, confirmed that educators would not be required to teach the theory, and that any teaching of “intelligent design” would be done voluntarily.
At the conclusion of Hager’s explanation, Sen. Grady explained that SB 619 was presented to her by Hurricane High School student Hayden Hodge, who was on hand to address the committee.
“I am not in favor of getting rid of evolution,” Hodge said. “I am just in favor of allowing teachers to talk about intelligent design.”
According to Hodge, intelligent design is not a “religious argument.”
“I am not advocating for biblical-creationism or Adam and Eve, or a Muslim or a Jewish narrative,” Hodge explained, before adding that, “Intelligent design is an evidence-based theory about life’s origins.”
Hodge took his definition from a book titled “Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design,” by Stephen C. Meyer.
“Religion is not mentioned in the bill (SB 619),” Hodge added. “Instead, intelligent design’s purpose is the same as evolutionary-theory: explaining the origin of the universe and life. Although, excluding intelligent design discounts the beliefs of millions of people in the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities, along with many other theistic groups.”
“To conclude, this is not a religious argument, or a theory that should be required to be taught,” Hodge said. “If teachers want to offer this as a possible explanation, why keep them from doing so?”
Next to speak was ACLU-WV Advocacy Director Eli Baumwell, who told the committee, “It is established case law that intelligent design is promoting religious belief. That has been established by federal courts. Even permitting it is to permit these violations of a student’s right to be free of religious indoctrination.”
In response to Baumwell’s comments, Sen. Vince Deeds, R-Greenbrier, expressed his belief that because the teaching would not be mandated, it therefore would not violate any student’s rights.
Baumwell disagreed, saying, “The underlying point is that this (intelligent design) is ultimately a religious belief. It is not scientific, and is not accepted by the scientific community. And in promoting it as such, you’re promoting religious beliefs. So whether we are saying, ‘You must teach it,’ or, ‘You may teach it,’ we are still saying, ‘You may violate these students’ rights.”
Deeds then argued that intelligent design does not promote religious belief by referencing information found on the ACLU’s website.
“[The website] says that intelligent design is the most recent incarnation of creationism,” Deeds said, before reading on. “However, unlike creationism, intelligent design does not openly rely on literal interpretation of the Bible, nor does it stand on such issues as the “edge of the Earth” in order to secure a broad-base of support from creationists with differing views.”
According to Deeds, intelligent design is, in no way, a religious belief, and its teaching provides students a “broader education base.”
“I’ll explain it like this,” Baumwell replied, “When we teach students that there is a controversy in scientific literature, we are suggesting to them that there is not an established science; that there are two equal, competing viewpoints [or] equally viable options. And the reality is that when you look at the broad array of scientists and scientific organizations, this debate does not exist. In the scientific community this is not a debate. That’s what faith is.”
“I understand and respect people’s faith, and I support fully their ability to have that,” Baumwell continued. “We want people to be able to have that at home and in their churches, but when we get to school and we teach a controversy that doesn’t actually exist within the scientific community, we are under-preparing our students and providing them more confusion. That’s the concern when we talk about teaching this as if there’s controversy.”
“We are giving students misinformation about how well-established the science of evolution is,” Baumwell added.
SB 619 was adopted by the Education Committee without referral to the Committee on Judiciary. It will now be reported to the full Senate with the Education Committee’s recommendation for passage. RealWV will provide updates regarding the status of SB 619 as additional information is made available.