Evolution Debate Rekindled in Ohio

Sarah Larkins | Correspondent | Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Evolution Debate Rekindled in Ohio

(CNSNews.com) - Conservatives on Ohio's Board of Education are battling to reopen the debate over the teaching of the theory of evolution in the state's public schools. Their goal is to force curriculum changes that would also allow discussion of the intelligent design theory.

The Ohio Board of Education has already reversed itself on the issue once.

Intelligent design advances the theory that certain aspects of life and the universe originate from an "intelligent cause" and are not related to "natural selection" or survival of the fittest. Critics of the theory include the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, which reported in 1999 that Creationism, intelligent design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life or of species are not science because they are not testable by the methods of science."

However, during the Ohio Board of Education's Achievement Committee meeting on July 10, conservative board member Colleen Grady proposed that the state's science standards be applied to teaching issues such as evolution, global warming and cloning.

"We would provide a template so schools would be comfortable discussing controversial issues," Grady said, according to the Columbus Dispatch. She said the idea is meant to be "a tool that teaches how to have conversations on topics with widely divergent opinions ... in a positive manner."

According to Ohio's current academic standards for the 10th grade, students should be able to "describe that scientists may disagree about explanations of phenomena, about interpretation of data or about the value of rival theories, but they do agree that questioning, response to criticism and open communication are integral to the process of science."

Grady's proposal would also allow students to "discuss and be able to apply this in the following areas: global warming; evolutionary theory; emerging technologies and how they may impact society, e.g. cloning or stem-cell research."

In 2004 the Ohio Board of Education adopted a lesson plan on the "Critical Analysis of Evolution," which intended for students to "describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." The lesson plan noted, however, that its intent was not to "mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design."

In January 2006 the board voted 9-8 against a proposal to remove the lesson plan. A month later, however, the board voted 11-4 for its removal, dealing a blow to conservatives who supported the 2004 lesson plan.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU), which filed a public records request last week related to Grady's proposal, has concerns about its intent.

"What we want to learn right now is exactly what the board's trying to do," Robert Boston, assistant director of communications at AU, told Cybercast News Service. "If this is yet another attempt to introduce intelligent design into state science standards, obviously we're very concerned about that and we will fight that."

Incorporating intelligent design into state standards would be unconstitutional, Boston said.

"What the citizens of Ohio need to understand is that we have one federal court ruling already declaring that intelligent design isn't science, that it is in fact a religious concept," he said. "Therefore any attempt to introduce it into the standards is going to be not only controversial but quite possibly unconstitutional."

Roddy Bullock, executive director of the Intelligent Design Network of Ohio, said that while Grady's proposal could lead to the teaching of intelligent design, reactions like the one voiced by the AU's Boston are premature.

"They're jumping two or three steps ahead. What they see is this is the first step towards ultimately mandating the teaching of intelligent design, and they may be right," Bullock told Cybercast News Service. "What we really want, and the first step, is simply to permit criticism of evolution in the curriculum. And that's what this is about. That's what this school board proposal is about - is simply to permit ... objective discussion of important issues.

"The school board is trying to make this little break in this fortress of defense around evolution," he added.

Boston hopes to receive the public records he requested in a few weeks. Based on that information, his group will decide the next step. "We thought this was over with," Boston said. "There was controversy, it was debated and the board voted to reverse course and keep intelligent design out. If they're trying to now go back and open it up again, we want to be involved in that discussion."

Grady was not available for comment for this article.

Make media inquiries or request an interview regarding this article.

Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-brief.

E-mail a comment or news tip to Sarah Larkins.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.