Nation Watches Ohio as School Board Decides Whether to Include Intelligent Design Alongside Evolution

Almost half of Ohio's state school board members support inclusion of Intelligent Design in the curriculum.
by Cynthia K. Berry

Dr. Robert Lattimer, ID advocate

Eyes across our nation are focused on Ohio. Scientists, teachers, parents and politicians are watching with great interest as the Ohio State Board of Education wrestles with an issue that will affect Ohio's school children for years to come and will set a precedent for educational standards in other states. The debate centers around what our students should be taught about the origins of life. Darwin's theory of evolution is only an educated guess and not an indisputable fact. Should known problems with the theory be explained and alternative theories, such as intelligent design, be taught alongside?

In a random poll of Ohioans taken in May by Zogby International, two-thirds of Ohioans favor students being taught Darwin's theory of evolution as well as the scientific evidence against it. The poll further revealed that, by a six-to-one margin, more Ohio residents agree (78%) than disagree (13%) that students should be able to learn about scientific evidence that points to an intelligent design of life when Darwin's theory of evolution is taught in school.

In addition to poll results, the Board of Education has received more than 6,000 emails, letters and faxes regarding this issue. National Christian leaders such as James Dobson, Ph.D., president of Focus on the Family, and Charles Colson, president of Prison Fellowship Ministries, are calling Christians to action.

"The public outcry is making board members more aware of what is at stake and the passion involved in this issue," says State School Board Representative Deborah Owens-Fink, who supports the inclusion of intelligent design in the curriculum. "We are trying to reach a fair and objective solution that will allow the citizens who are paying for public education to feel like they have a choice in what is being taught."

The essence of the proposal that will be voted upon in the fall is this: Science teachers should 1) not only teach Darwin's theory, but also the scientific findings that challenge it; 2) be permitted to tell students about competing theories, such as intelligent design, and 3) be protected from harassment for discussing such alternatives. As of this writing, at least 7 of the 19 state school board members appear to favor standards that would allow the teaching of alternatives to evolution.

WHAT IS INTELLIGENT DESIGN?

Intelligent design (ID) is the scientific theory that natural objects and organisms display the hallmarks of a purposeful, deliberate cause - an intelligent agent - that no natural law or chance process could produce. DNA, for example, is considered by proponents of ID to be "irreducibly complex" and "not replicable."

For Christians, the "intelligent designer" is most certainly Jehovah God of the Old Testament. But religious creationism cannot, by law, be mixed with science in the public classroom. So, as ID advocate, Christian and member of the Ohio Science Writing Team Bob Lattimer said to the Cleveland Plain Dealer recently, "We like to think of it (ID) as an umbrella under which various ideas of creation can fit." A chemist by trade, Lattimer goes on to say that science shouldn't limit itself to natural explanations, but should search for the best explanations, whether they are natural or supernatural.

WHY THE DEBATE?

In recent decades, public school students have been taught that Darwin's theory of evolution is the only explanation for the origin of life. Some teachers who have shared opposing views or alternative material have been sued or terminated. More and more questions about the viability of Darwinian thought, coupled with the 2001 mandate by the Ohio General Assembly to develop new teaching standards, opened the door to a formal debate for intellectual freedom.

The mandate to develop new state educational standards and curriculum models in all subject areas is a result of the Ohio General Assembly's passage of Senate Bill 1 last year; the bill states that district academic standards must align with proficiency test material. The goal of this new national trend in education is to improve results in academic learning and achieve higher test scores.

New reading and math standards were adopted last year. This year, science and social studies standards are being developed. Next year, foreign language, arts and technology standards will be developed.

A 41-member writing team wrote the new science standards and produced its second draft in April. The team is diverse in many ways but not in their philosophy of the origin of life. Out of the 41 members, only Lattimer and a few others advocate balance in the standards. The final draft will be brought to the State Board of Education in September. Lattimer and other ID proponents are putting public pressure on the state school board to overrule the writing team on which he serves and to include ID in the science standards the board must approve by year-end.

According to Owens-Fink, "The writing team put forth an excellent document in most areas, but in the area of origins they are representing one point of view. They project an obligation to the dogmatic evolution-only mindset of many within the elite scientific community."

Though local school districts will be free to develop their own local curriculums, they will not have the freedom to modify the new science standards. Most districts will, in fact, use the state developed and aligned curriculum models to be in compliance with new federal education policy and accountability. President Bush recently signed House Bill 1, "No Child Left Behind," which states the all schools must achieve adequate yearly progress on state proficiency tests for a school to avoid sanctions. States that do not comply with the new testing and accountability system will risk losing federal dollars.

In 1999, Kansas attempted to break the evolution monopoly in public schools. State school board members voted in favor of teaching alternative theories, but those members were not re-elected and evolution eventually triumphed. Once again, the die was cast against science vs. religion. At that time, "Intelligent design" was not yet a factor.

WHAT WOULD DARWIN SAY?

Darwin has been dead for 120 years, yet his writings suggest he may have been a lot friendlier to intellectual freedom than many neo-Darwinists are today. On the last page of his classic, Origin of Species, Darwin says that life itself was "first breathed by the Creator." In another passage in Origin Darwin writes, "For I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed in this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived. A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question."

While Darwin himself probably would have voted for the proposal to teach both sides of the issue, Darwinist advocacy groups, such as the California-based National Center for Science Education, are doing everything they can to stop this measure, decrying it as an attempt to sneak religion into public schools.

The media, for the most part, is giving overwhelming credence to the evolution-only perspective. In some cases, the media response has been vicious, bordering on slander of board members and scientists who support ID. Alarmist editorials have heralded headlines such as, "Nonsense!" or "A Dangerous and Unwise Move."

A few journalists, such as TIME Science Writer Robert Wright, are not so hysterical. Wright noted that ID advocates "have raised productive doubts - and, in science, being productively wrong is nearly as valuable as being right." He added, "no one knows how DNA began to replicate or how the universe got built in such a way that replication was possible. It's not crazy to think that such initial conditions were set by some intelligence for an overarching purpose that is still unfolding."

MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD

Letters to the editor of your local paper are very important at this time. Also, consider contacting the state school board and Governor Bob Taft to let them know that you believe ID is an intelligent alternative. For the Ohio State School Board, call toll-free at (877) 644-6338 or, if you prefer, fax (614) 466-0599 or email John.Rochester@ode.state.oh.us. Governor Bob Taft can be reached at (614) 466-3555 or fax (614) 466-9354.

Websites that can provide you with more information include: www.family.org/im/evolution/ohio/, www.discovery.org, www.arn.org, and www.intelligentdesignnetwork.org. To schedule a presentation on this topic for your church or community group, contact Science Excellence for All Ohioans at www.sciohio.org (e-mail info@sciohio.org).

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