Ohio Wrestles with Creation, Evolution in the Classroom

By Matt Pyeatt | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Conservative factions in Ohio are pushing the public schools to offer alternative theories to evolution, and the State Board of Education is expected to hold a moderated panel discussion on the request next month.

The conservatives are keen on a theory called "intelligent design," which argues that living things were "designed" by some higher being. The theory is somewhat fuzzier than creationism, which holds that God created man and every other living thing.

Supporters of alternative theories say the schools need to let students discuss the pros and cons of differing explanations for how life began. But backers of evolution say "intelligent design" has no place in public classrooms, calling it creationism in disguise.

Contemplating Revised School Science Standards

The debate was started two-years ago when a State Board of Education member, Deborah Owens Fink, introduced the issue. The state changes its school curriculum standards routinely, and the question was raised for an upcoming revision of the science standards.

Beth Gianforcaro, associate director of communications for the Ohio Dept. of Education, said the board will conduct discussions on the matter March 11, in an effort to better prepare board members for their ultimate decision.

"The state of Ohio has been looking at reforming its overall curriculum and assessment programs," she said. Science and Social Studies are up for overhaul in December 2002.

Gianforcaro said the forums will let experts from both sides of the issue present their case to the board, adding, "the State Board is not required to adopt standards until December of 2002," raising the prospect of arguments continuing past March.

Lynn E. Elfner, a member of Ohio's Science Advisory Panel and chief executive of the Ohio Academy of Science, said the word 'evolution' is not even currently in the Ohio curriculum.

Words Matter

"It uses, heavily, a term called 'change over time.' The academy thinks the words 'change over time' is sort of a nonsense statement," he said. "The wallpaper on the wall changes over time or my shoes change over time. It doesn't tell you anything about evolution. So, the latest attempt under the standards writing process is to be as explicit as possible about what evolution is and the various aspects of it."

Elfner believes there is no place in Ohio's science classrooms for 'intelligent design' and said inclusion would be detrimental to the science committee.

"If the science standards are forced to include intelligent design as a science, there will be a number of people who will resign from the science committee," Elfner said. "It will probably, at some point, end up in the courts."

Elfner said he would not support an alternative theory. "I would be adamantly opposed because it is not science. I would advocate that they create a comparative religion class that would have to be team taught by clergy," Elfner suggested.

Equal Time Clashes With Science

John H. Calvert, co-founder of Intelligent Design Network, disagreed, saying that it was essential to have something to counter what he calls a "naturalistic" view of origins.

"The current teaching formula, which is reflected in practically any high school biology textbook, is a purely naturalistic account of origins," he said.

Calvert said the existing education model does not set any design whatsoever, and said the current teaching shows "events in nature are not ordered at all by any intelligence."

Calvert said "intelligent design" differs from creationism because it does not take literally the words of the Bible, but suggests creation was a design from a higher being and not just a random chance of chemistry and biology.

"A design inference supports a theistic belief, a conclusion that we are simply the result of chemistry and physics supports an atheistic belief or an agnostic belief," Calvert said. "Either answer to the question of where we come from is going to impact religion.

The only answer that is taught is a naturalistic one, and the particular vice of that teaching is that it does not even explain that there is a substantial body of scientific evidence for intelligent design."

Barry Sheets, executive director for Science Excellence for All Ohioans, agreed that there needed to be an alternative.

"Naturalism eliminates intelligent design as a possible answer to the all important question: 'Where do we come from?' This leaves Darwinism evolution with a monopoly on the explanation for origins," he said.

Elfner said many in Ohio are tempted to allow "intelligent design" because they want to allow another side to be heard.

"It is a seductive argument to most people that we ought to give equal time to all views, but science, however, is not a democratic institution," said Elfner. "We base it on peer review and a couple people can be gatekeepers of knowledge. That is just simply the way science works."

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