Frist backs teaching of intelligent design

Senate leader joins Bush in urging instruction of theory, with evolution

August 20, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - The Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, aligned himself with President Bush today when he said that the theory of "intelligent design" should be taught along with evolution in public schools.

Teaching intelligent design as well as evolution "doesn't force any particular theory on anyone," Frist, a Tennessee Republican, said in Nashville, according to the Associated Press. "I think in a pluralistic society that is the fairest way to go about education and training people for the future."

A Washington spokesman for the senator, Nick Smith, said afterward that the Associated Press had reported Frist's comments accurately.

The theory of intelligent design holds that life is too complicated to have developed randomly through evolution, and that a higher power must be involved. Critics say that intelligent design theorists are trying to supplant science with religious beliefs.

The senator's view, expressed today after a speech at a Rotary Club meeting, echoed President Bush's remarks Aug. 2, when he told a group of Texas newspaper reporters that he favored teaching both evolution and intelligent design "so people can understand what the debate is about."

Frist's agreement with President Bush on one of the more contentious educational, social and political issues of the time comes just a few weeks after he broke with the president and with Christian conservatives on another hot topic, embryonic stem cell research.

The senator said July 29 that he had decided to support a bill to expand federal financing for stem cell research, and that President Bush's four-year-old policy of strictly limiting taxpayer financing "should be modified."

The bill has been approved by the House but has been stalled in the Senate, where Frist's status as a heart-lung transplant surgeon could sway some of his undecided colleagues.

Frist is widely assumed to be contemplating a run for the presidency in 2008, so his statements on issues that touch on moral as well as political questions are sure to be scrutinized, by Christian conservatives essential to a Republican candidacy and by people looking for signals that Frist is willing to move toward the center.

Human embryonic stem cells can be grown into any type of body tissue, so scientists and doctors see a potential use in treating a wide range of diseases and injuries. But the cells cannot be obtained without destroying the embryos, which some people think is tantamount to murder.

Bush said Aug. 9, 2001, that he supported government financing for research on only those stem cell colonies that had already been created, and for which "the life-or-death decision" involving the embryos had thus been made. The House-passed bill would also allow research on stem cells extracted from frozen embryos, left over from fertility treatments, which would otherwise be discarded.

Frist said today there was no conflict between his stances on stem cells and intelligent design. "I see no disconnect," he told the Associated Press. "I base my beliefs on stem cell research both on science and my faith."

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