Ohio's Education Debate

Scientists discover evidence of intelligent design in the origins of life. Not even Darwin could have imagined the 'evolution' which has taken place in Ohio's science standards debate these last couple months.
by Clem Boyd

In June, 2001, a team of nine Ohioans, education and non-education professionals, began drafting standards for science education. The proposed outcomes would be offered as the model for science education curriculum throughout Ohio and would become the benchmark for new state-mandated achievement and diagnostic tests. For instance, to earn their diploma 10th graders will have to pass a state test based on the guidelines.

While most of the science standards stir little debate, major questions arose regarding the way Ohio was planning to teach origins-of-life science. The draft standards were seriously tilted toward a Darwinian approach, which supposes that life resulted from laws of nature plus chance.

Bob Lattimer, a physical chemist from Hudson and member of the science writing team, offered the following modifications: that a distinction be made between microevolution, which shows changes over time within a species, and macroevolution; that evolution be specified as a naturalistic theory; and that intelligent design be offered as a competing view.

Lattimer is also a member of Science Excellence for All Ohioans, a non-profit organization advancing the cause of intelligent design throughout the standards process. Intelligent design is a new theory which proposes that, using the scientific method, it is possible to determine if something may have been created by a mind or intelligent designer. This is not the same as creationism, which starts from a literal interpretation of Genesis and has been ruled unconstitutional in several federal court cases.

"We've asked for minor changes to make the standards fair and balanced and every single one of our requests has been denied by the science writing team," noted Deborah Owens-Fink, a member of the state board of education and its standards approval committee.

But then, come January, a strange breeze blew through the process. Was it chance or by design?

John Calvert, a Kansas City, MO lawyer, geologist and managing director of the Kansas-based Intelligent Design Network, was invited to speak at a Sunday evening meeting of the standards committee. His presentation turned what appeared a very inanimate process into a very animated one.

"Origins science is the most important subject that Ohio public schools will teach to children," Calvert said. "Origins science asks the question 'What causes the origin and diversity of life - where did we come from?'. The question is important because its answer materially impacts the answers to other fundamental questions such as 'Why am I here? What is the meaning and purpose of life?'.

"If we are just occurrences that result from random and undirected natural processes then we have no inherent purpose. However, if we are the product of design then we have an inherent purpose since all designs have a purpose."

Calvert argued the current standards do not take into account alternative theories for the origin of life, like intelligent design, because of a little-known scientific assumption called methodological naturalism. "[This] assumption [says] that all phenomena result only from natural processes and not by design," he told the standards committee. "It is a philosophy and not an established fact.

"Although this may have some utility in experimental sciences such as physics and chemistry, it destroys objectivity in historical sciences like origins science. Because the rule says we must irrefutably assume that things are not designed the design hypothesis is actively censored by the scientific 'elite'."

"Scientists can't even [consider intelligent design] because there's only one answer to the question 'Where do we come from?' and that's a naturalistic one," Calvert said.

Calvert also addressed questions about the possible religious basis for intelligent design theory. While design theory is compatible with belief in God and the Bible, it does not require belief in any particular faith.

"It does not derive its authority from any religious text," he said. "In the eyes of many, the evidence for design is very compelling. And it's an analysis that follows the scientific method."

Calvert spoke for 30 minutes to the standards committee and others in attendance, including Susan Tave Zelman, state superintendent for public instruction, Bob Bowers, associate superintendent for curriculum, Dan Good, director of curriculum and instruction, state board president Jennifer L. Sheets and state board member James Turner.

Janet Schilk, a science consultant with the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), then discussed the process by which the standards were crafted. Two hours of heated and lively discussion ensued.

When asked about the range of thought and opinion on the science writing team, Bowers assured the standards committee there had been "rich debate regarding these issues."

"I have serious questions about whether or not there has indeed been 'rich debate'," commented standards committee and state board member Mike Cochran. "Clearly it is an issue of great public interest and flashpoint issues such as the [question of] origins call for extra effort in making sure we have balanced presentations. We should have diversity of thought as well as diversity in judgment."

Bowers indicated the writing team might resign if the current process was upended. Sheets said the board needed time to consider its options and standards committee chair Joe Roman adjourned the meeting with an agreement to meet again in two days (Jan. 15).

The Jan. 15 meeting resulted in a tentative plan to address the origins issue. A special standards committee meeting was scheduled for Feb. 4, during which plans would be made for an origins science forum.

The state board meetings of Jan. 13-15 set off what Calvert termed a "firestorm." In separate letters to the editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Case Western Reserve physicist and science advisory committee (SAC) member Dr. Mano Singham stated this development "signals the arrival in Ohio of a nationwide controversy." Ohio State biologist and SAC member Steve Rissing commented that "no common ground" could be found on the origins-of-life question.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer ran an editorial Jan. 16 suggesting that intelligent design and "other faith-based theories" should not be discussed in science classes. An Akron Beacon Journal editorial (Jan. 17) offered that including intelligent design in the standards would be "anything but intelligent."

Lattimer and Calvert responded in the Plain Dealer that "Santorum amendment," attached to President Bush's massive education reform bill, calls for schools to discuss the "full range of science views that exist" on controversial issues like biological evolution. "The current practice of teaching biological evolution while censoring the main alternative [intelligent design] is neither good science nor good education," they stated. "If critical thinking is to be practiced in the classroom, origins science would be a good place to start."

For Calvert, who unsuccessfully fought to have intelligent design included in Kansas science education standards, what's happening in Ohio is a ray of hope. "We have a decent chance in Ohio of doing this, though I hesitate to quote odds," he said. "We are up against a media, academic and mainstream churchestablishment that is very intimidating. But eventually the wall will come down - just like it did in Berlin. You simply can not hold back the truth with a lie."

For more information about Ohio's science education standards, visit sciohio.org or intelligentdesignnetwork.org. To comment on the draft standards, go to http://webapp1.ode.state.oh.us/content_standards/standards/.

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