Ohio's current education standards for science do not use the word evolution. Instead, they recommend that students study changes over time.
However, the Ohio State Board of Education is now developing new science standards that have ignited fresh debates over the validity of intelligent design theory in both the board and the state legislature. If intelligent design is added to the board of education's standards proposal, Ohio would be the first state to do so.
Unlike Ohio's old guidelines, the new proposal uses the word evolution. A 41-member writing team of primary, secondary, and college science teachers drafted the 97-page document. The proposal is scheduled to be in final form for a board of education vote next December.
Controversy regarding the proposal began to flare at a January 13 meeting of the board's science standards subcommittee when some members opposed limiting the study of life origins to evolutionary theory.
School Board President Jennifer L. Sheets told The Washington Times last week that no board members are asking for evolution to be removed from the proposal, but some subcommittee members are asking that other viewpoints be included. Five of the nine board members on the subcommittee favor adding intelligent design, reports The New York Times. Three members have offered no opinion.
The lone subcommittee member against adding intelligent design, Martha W. Wise, told The New York Times that she is a creationist and believes in God. However, she said, those beliefs have no place in a science classroom.
At the January 13 meeting, school board members heard from John H. Calvert, a Kansas City lawyer and cofounder of the Intelligent Design Network. In his presentation, Calvert said the current draft presents only evidence that "inhibits theism."
"The standards are being written so that not only is naturalism the only given answer, they are being written so that the design hypothesis will not even be mentioned," Calvert told the committee. "The kids won't even be told about the existence of the hypothesis and the fact that credentialed scientists have identified evidence that tends to confirm it."
After Calvert's speech, school board member Michael Cochran said the team that prepared the proposal was not philosophically diverse enough. It clearly favored evolution, he said, and all six of the focus groups invited to give input to the team were also pro-evolution.
At the end of the meeting, the subcommittee asked the writing team to amend 10th-grade science with a requirement to "know that some scientists support the theory of intelligent design, which postulates that the influence of intelligence is a viable alternative explanation."
To further discuss the matter, the subcommittee has planned a March 11 public forum that will hear from advocates of evolution and intelligent design.
Jonathan Wells, a molecular and cell biologist from the University of California-Berkeley, and Jody F. Sjoren, a medical illustrator and cofounder of the Intelligent Design Network, will represent intelligent design. The evolution advocates will be Kenneth R. Miller, a biology professor at Brown University, and Lawrence M. Kraus, a theoretical physicist from Case Western Reserve University.
Kraus is part of a new group formed to counter Ohio's intelligent design push. Ohio Citizens for Science (OCS) announced its formation February 7. "Science should speak with the same kind of fervor as people who are literally the enemies of science," Kraus told Cleveland's Plain Dealer. The group focuses on putting evolution in the school standards, and keeping intelligent design off. Another organization, Science Excellence for all Ohioans, advocates including alternative theories.
It is unclear if the science standards writing team will include intelligent design in its proposal or if such a standard would even be approved by the full board of education. School Board president Sheets told The Washington Times that the 19-member board recently passed new math and English standards unanimously. That may not be the case with science.
Conservative politicians in the state legislature are now preparing to ensure that they have a say in science standards. Twin bills in the Ohio House of Representatives and Senate (House Bill 484 and Senate Bill 222) would require the board of education's science standard to pass the General Assembly.
"It's not about presenting one side of the story but all relevant information, particularly in an area where there's so many values," said Republican senator Jim Jordan, who sponsored the bill. "There are many intelligent folks who happen to think differently, and all those ideas should be explored."
Republican representative Linda Reidelbach, who sponsored House Bill 484, has also introduced Bill 481, which would encourage schools to teach alternative origin theories so students "understand the full range of scientific views that exist regarding the origins of life, and understand why origins science may generate controversy."
Todd Hertz is assistant online editor of Christianity Today.
A Christian Science Monitor commentary posted online today asks, "Are these (intelligent design) ideas a valid scientific theory warranting equal time in biology classes?"
A Columbus Dispatch editorial argues that evolution is fact and intelligent design is not. Therefore, the paper says, the board of education should "strongly endorse the teaching of evolution and ignore the demands of those who purvey pseudoscience."
In an opinion piece for the Dispatch, a member of the advisory committee for the board of education says, "It took three millennia to remove mysticism and supernaturalism from biology and the rest of science. Now, some Ohioans want them back."
Last Wednesday, Slate responded to the Ohio controversy by saying, "ID is a big nothing. It's non-living, non-breathing proof that religion has surrendered its war against science."
Slate posted an overview and critique of the ID movement last February by Northern Illinois University professor Larry Arnhart titled "Assault on Evolution."
Christianity Today'sBooks & Culture Corner responded to the article.
Larry Arnhart took part in an exchange with Intelligent Design supporters Michael Behe and William Dembski for the November 2000 issue of First Things.
Coverage of the ID movement in Books & Culture, a Christianity Today sister publication, includes:
Creation by Design | Is the intelligent-design movement asking natural scientists to work outside their proper focus? by Alan G. Padgett (Jul/Aug 2000)
Tower of Babel | The Evidence Against the New Creationism (Sep/Oct 1999)
The Unthinkable | A review of Paul Davies's The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life by William A. Dembski (Sep/Oct 1999)
The Design Debate | Does "chance" rule out God? Does near-impossibility require him? by Michael J. Behe and Rebecca J. Flietstra (Sep/Oct 1998)