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Cornell President Says "Intelligent Design" Religion, Not Science

By William Kates/
Associated Press
      ITHACA, N.Y. — Cornell University Interim President Hunter Rawlings III on Friday condemned the teaching of intelligent design as science, calling it "a religious belief masquerading as a secular idea.''
    "Intelligent design is not valid science,'' Rawlings told nearly 700 trustees, faculty and other school officials attending Cornell's annual board meeting.
    "It has no ability to develop new knowledge through hypothesis testing, modification of the original theory based on experimental results and renewed testing through more refined experiments that yield still more refinements and insights,'' Rawlings said.
    Rawlings, Cornell's president from 1995 to 2003, is now interim president in the wake of this summer's sudden departure of former Cornell president Jeffrey Lehman.
    Intelligent design is a theory that says life is too complex to have developed through evolution, implying a higher power must have had a hand. It has been harshly criticized by The National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which have called it repackaged creationism and improper to include in scientific education.
    There are brewing disputes involving evolution and intelligent design in at least 20 states and numerous school districts nationwide, including California, New Mexico, Kansas and Pennsylvania.
    The Rio Rancho school board voted on Aug. 22 to adopt a policy allowing alternative theories of evolution to be discussed in science classes.
    The policy was proposed by board member and full-time pastor Don Schlichte. Other board members who supported the measure have strong Christian ties.
    President Bush elevated the controversy in August when he said that schools should teach intelligent design along with evolution.
    Many Americans, including some supporters of evolution, believe intelligent design should be taught with evolution. Rawlings said a large minority of Americans — nearly 40 percent — want creationism taught in public schools instead of evolution.
    For those reasons, Rawlings said he felt it "imperative'' to use his state-of-the-university address — usually a recitation of the school's progress over the last year — to speak out against intelligent design, which he said has "put rational thought under attack.''
    Rawlings noted that this is not the first time evolution has been challenged. Similar groundswells rose against it in the 1860s, shortly after Charles Darwin published "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection,'' and in the 1920s, culminating in the famous "monkey trial'' involving Tennessee high school biology teacher John Scopes. Evolution also was the focus again in 1987 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Louisiana's "Creationism Act'' was invalid.
    Rawlings' comments aren't the first time in which Cornell has stepped up to defend science.
    Cornell's first president, Andrew Dickson White, wrote a two-volume work, "A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom,'' in which he sought to provide his readers with a clear distinction between theology and science.
    However, Rawlings also said Cornell has a history of supporting religious freedom. The campus is home to 26 different religious groups and has even designed its dining options to encourage religious observance, he said.
    Rawlings said intelligent design needs to be discussed, but in its proper context.
    "We should not suspend, or rather annul, the rules of science in order to allow any idea into American education. Intelligent design is a subjective concept. It is, at its core, a religious belief,'' he said.