Small Group Wields Major Influence in Intelligent Design Debate

ByABC News
November 9, 2005, 5:41 PM

Nov. 9, 2005 — -- Intelligent design, the idea that life was designed by a higher power, is dividing communities across the country. In Tuesday's election, voters in Dover, Pa., removed from office the school board that wrote intelligent design into the high school curriculum. And Kansas became the fifth state in the nation to question evolution in its curriculum.

The Kansas school board now says high school students should learn that evolution is controversial -- including some of its basic tenets, such as monkeys evolving into men.

They also redefined the word "science," no longer limiting it to natural explanations of phenomena. The move opens the door to alternative explanations such as intelligent design.

"This is a great day for education," said Kansas Board of Education member Steve Abrams. "This absolutely raises science standards. I have no doubt about it -- positively no doubt about it whatsoever."

Not all board members agreed. "I think this is a sad day," said another member, Carol Rupe, "not only for Kansas kids, but for Kansas."

It was a major victory for the Discovery Institute, a little-known think tank in Seattle that promotes intelligent design.

Instead of forcing students to learn intelligent design, the Discovery Institute takes a "teach the controversy" approach -- exactly what Kansas adopted.

"Our policy proposal for science education is that students should learn the strengths and the scientific weaknesses of modern Darwinian theory," said Discovery Institute Director Dr. Stephen Meyer.

This "free speech" approach has been endorsed by President Bush and helped insert intelligent design into the national dialogue. But many scientists say it's just slick marketing.

"When they say 'teach the controversy' -- their ringing phrase -- they want us to pretend to students that scientists are arguing whether evolution took place," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education. "This argument is not taking place."

The Discovery Institute denies allegations that its true agenda is religious.

Their public relations representative stopped ABC News' interview when asked about the organization's many evangelical Christian donors.

"I don't think we want to go down that path," he said.

Meyer says no matter who provides financial support, his goals are scientific and that science may one day prove his belief that the intelligent designer is God.

ABC News' Dan Harris filed this report for "World News Tonight."