LETTERS AND EDITORIALS
We plan to use this page to print various letters and editorials that have been written on the topic of the Ohio science standards. Feel free to use the material on this page to help you write your own letters to newspapers and public officials. If you do decide to write a letter, we would appreciate receiving a copy (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Cincinnati Enquirer, February 10, 2002
Later this year, the Ohio State Board of Education, on which I am privileged to serve as a member, will consider the adoption of new science standards that will shape what gets taught and tested in Ohio's public school science classrooms. I am confident that when completed, the science standards - like the English and mathematics standards we passed last year - will help to position Ohio as a leader in its commitment to quality education for all students.
In their current draft form, the science standards are quite good, but a debate over what to teach regarding the origin of the universe has injected intense conflict into the process. Some will characterize this debate as yet another assault by supporters of Biblical Creationism against proponents of enlightened, scientific thought. In fact, just the opposite is true.
In the area of what is referred to as origins science, the draft standards embody a strict naturalistic bias. This means that the standards contain an assumption that the universe came into being and developed through purely natural and random - as opposed to supernatural and directed - processes.
What impact will this have in the science classroom? Adopting standards with a strict naturalistic bias means that Ohio's science teachers would be prohibited from reviewing or discussing any evidence tending to suggest that the universe exhibits characteristics of design or purpose. Students would be taught that science has essentially demystified the universe and can fully account for its origin, its evolution, and humankind's place in it.
Requiring that science be taught with a strict naturalistic bias is problematic and appears to contradict the draft standard's very definition of science as "an active process of investigating, learning, and thinking about the natural world." A few very minor changes could help soften the bias and make the standards broadly acceptable to most Ohioans.
Alternatively, if the standards are to be adopted with a strict naturalistic bias embedded in them, then an appropriate disclosure should be included so that the standards are not represented to be something they are not (i.e., comprehensive). In other words, if we are going to pretend in the science classroom that there is no possibility of any supernatural cause for our existence, and if we are to pretend that no scientist has ever observed or written about evidence of design in our universe, then let's at least tell students we are engaged in this pretension.
This may seem to be a rather modest proposal for improving the standards. Unfortunately, the reaction to this suggestion from some in the science community has been to scream "heresy." Certain self-appointed guardians of "elite" science fear that any departure from the road of strict naturalistic orthodoxy will inevitably lead us back to a time when the Christian creation story defined origins science in many states. This fear is, of course, irrational in today's world, but it nevertheless drives unnecessarily extreme positions about the content of Ohio's science standards.
It is no small irony that those who purport to represent open and honest science thought and investigation are now plagued by the same kind of fear and engaged in the same kind of tactics and behavior that once characterized those who advocated teaching the Bible as science: the adoption of a standard that mandates only a strict, orthodox point of view, and the fierce resistance and shouting down of anything perceived as a challenge to that orthodoxy.
Clearly, the public school science classroom should not be used to advance a presumption and belief in God. On the other hand, it should not be used to advance a presumption and belief that there is no God.
With a few surgical changes to the current draft, the State Board can ensure that Ohio's science standards are not only among the best in the country, but among the most balanced and inclusive as well. I look forward to the challenge.
James Turner, State Board of Education, Cincinnati, Ohio
Cincinnati Enquirer, March 30, 2002
When two groups of experts disagree about a controversial subject that intersects the public school curriculum students should learn about both perspectives.
In such cases teachers should not teach as true only one competing view - just the Republican or Democratic view of the New Deal in a history class, for example. Instead, teachers should describe competing views to students and explain the arguments for and against these views as made by their chief proponents. Educators call this "teaching the controversy."
Recently, while speaking to the Ohio State Board of Education, I suggested this approach as a way forward for Ohio in its increasingly contentious dispute about how to teach theories of biological origin - and about whether or not to introduce the theory of intelligent design alongside Darwinism in the Ohio biology curriculum.
I also proposed a compromise involving three main provisions: First, I suggested - speaking as an advocate of the theory intelligent design - that Ohio not require students to know the scientific evidence and arguments for the theory of intelligent design - at least not yet.
Instead, I proposed that Ohio teachers teach the scientific controversy about Darwinian evolution. Teachers should teach students about the main scientific arguments for and against Darwinian theory. And Ohio should test students for their understanding of those arguments - not for their assent to a point of view.
Finally, I argued that the state board should permit, but not require, teachers to tell students about the arguments of scientists - like Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe - who advocate the competing theory of intelligent design.
There are many reasons for Ohio to adopt this approach. First, honest science education requires it. While testifying before the state board, biologist Dr. Jonathan Wells and I, submitted an annotated bibliography of over 40 peer-reviewed scientific articles that raise significant challenges to key tenets of Darwinian evolution. If students are to be required to master the case for Darwinian evolution (as we think they should), shouldnąt they also know some of the difficulties described in such scientific literature?
Shouldn't students know that many scientists doubt that the overall pattern of fossil evidence conforms to the Darwinian picture of the history of life? Shouldn't they know that some scientists now question previously stock Darwinian arguments from embryology and homology? And shouldn't they also know that many scientists now question the ability of natural selection to create fundamentally new structures, organisms and body plans? Last fall 100 scientists, including professors from institutions such as M.I.T, Yale and Rice, published a statement questioning the creative power of natural selection. Shouldnąt students know why?
Second, constitutional law permits "teaching the controversy" about scientific theories of origins. In the controlling Edwards v. Aguillard case, the Supreme Court made clear that state legislatures (and by extension state boards) already have the right to mandate teaching scientific critiques of prevailing theories. Interestingly, the court also made clear that teachers have the right to teach students about "a variety of scientific theories about origins . . . with the clear secular intent of enhancing science education." Our compromise proposal requires teaching existing scientific critique of Darwinism, and permits discussion of competing theories, just as the Court allows.
Third, federal education policy calls for precisely this kind of approach. The report language accompanying the federal education act ("No Child Left Behind") states that "where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of views that exist [and] why such topics may generate controversy."
Some have dismissed this language as irrelevant to Ohioąs deliberations because it appears in the report accompanying the federal education act, not in the act itself. But report language typically articulates Congress' interpretation of law and guides its implementation. As such, report language expresses federal policy and has the effect of law. In this case, as Ohio's John Boehner, chair of the House Education Committee, has advised the Ohio Board, the report language makes clear that "science standards not be used to censor debate on controversial issues in science including Darwin's theory of evolution."
Fourth, voters overwhelmingly favor this approach. In a recent national Zogby poll, 71% of those polled stated their support for teaching evidence both for and against Darwin's theory of evolution. Only 15% opposed this approach. An even greater majority favored exposing students to "evidence that points to an intelligent design of life."
Finally, good pedagogy commends this approach. Teaching the controversy about Darwinism as it exists in the scientific community will engage student interest. It will motivate students to learn more about the biological evidence as they see why it matters to a big question. This is not only good teaching; it is good science. As Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species, "A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question."
Yet, the modern Darwinist lobby continues to distract attention from their advocacy of censorship by reciting a litany of complaints about the emerging theory of intelligent design. But that theory is not the issue in Ohio. The issue is whether students will learn both sides of the real and growing scientific controversy about Darwinism - and whether a 19th century theory will be taught dogmatically to 21st century students.
Stephen C. Meyer, Ph.D., Discovery Institute, Seattle, Washington
Townhall columnists, August 27, 2002
It's back-to-school time. That means school supplies, clothes, packing lunches and the annual battle over what can be taught.
The Cobb County, Ga., School Board voted unanimously Aug. 22 to consider a
pluralistic approach to the origin of the human race, rather than the mandated theory of evolution. The board will review a proposal which says the district "believes that discussion of disputed views of academic subjects is a necessary element of providing a balanced education, including the study of the origin of the species."
Immediately, pro-evolution forces jumped from their trees and started behaving as if someone had stolen their bananas. Apparently, academic freedom is for other subjects. Godzilla forbid! (This is the closest one may get to mentioning "God" in such a discussion, lest the ACLU intervene, which it has threatened to do in Cobb County, should the school board commit academic freedom. God may be mentioned if His Name modifies "damn." The First Amendment's free speech clause protects such an utterance, we are told by the ACLU. The same First Amendment, according to their twisted logic,
allegedly prohibits speaking well of God.)
What do evolutionists fear? If scientific evidence for creation is academically unsound and outrageously untrue, why not present the evidence and allow students to decide which view makes more sense? At the very least, presenting both sides would allow them to better understand the two views. Pro-evolution forces say (and they are saying it again in Cobb County) that no "reputable scientist" believes in the creation model. That is
demonstrably untrue. No less a pro-evolution source than Science Digest noted in 1979 that "scientists who utterly reject Evolution may be one of our fastest-growing controversial minorities... Many of the scientists supporting this position hold impressive credentials in science." (Larry Hatfield, "Educators Against Darwin.")
In the last 30 years, there's been a wave of books by scientists who do not hold to a Christian-apologetic view on the origins of humanity but who have examined the underpinnings of evolutionary theory and found them to be increasingly suspect. Those who claim no "reputable scientist" holds to a creation model of the universe must want to strip credentials from such giants as Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), the founder of physical astronomy. Kepler wrote, "Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it befits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God."
Werner Von Braun (1912-1977), the father of space science, wrote: "...the vast mysteries of the universe should only confirm our belief in the certainty of its Creator. I find it as difficult to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to comprehend a theologian who would deny the advances of science."
Who would argue that these and many other scientists were ignorant about science because they believed in God? Contemporary evolutionists who do so are practicing intellectual slander. Anything involving God, or His works, they believe, is to be censored because humankind must only study ideas it comes up with apart from any other influence. Such thinking led to the Holocaust, communism and a host of other evils conjured up by the deceitful and wicked mind of uncontrolled Man.
There are only two models for the origin of humans: evolution and creation. If creation occurred, it did so just once and there will be no "second acts." If evolution occurs, it does so too slowly to be observed. Both theories are accepted on faith by those who believe in them. Neither theory can be tested scientifically because neither model can be observed or repeated.
Why are believers in one model - evolution - seeking to impose their faith on those who hold that there is scientific evidence which supports the other model? It's because they fear they will lose their influence and academic power base after a free and open debate. They are like political dictators who oppose democracy, fearing it will rob them of power.
The parallel views should be taught in Cobb County, Ga., and everywhere else, and let the most persuasive evidence win.
Cal Thomas, Tribune Media Services
Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 25, 2002
Thank you for the Sept. 16 Plain Dealer article on the Santorum Amendment ("Federal law ignites evolution debate"), language that is part of the education bill, the No Child Left Behind Act. Publishing this piece was helpful in alerting readers to an important discussion on science education, but some of the article's points need clarification.
My amendment, which passed the Senate by a vote of 91-8 and was included in the No Child Left Behind Act in a bicameral conference committee, expresses the sense of the Congress that "where topics are taught [in public education] that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist...." A "sense of the Congress" does not make a change to education statutes; it is a tool for understanding how a statute should be interpreted, and though not binding, it is legally significant.
As to the meaning of my amendment, it could not be more clear. I encourage Plain Dealer readers to read it for themselves. The language I offered does not, in any way, discuss or promote "intelligent design" as a mandatory part of any curriculum. My amendment, rather, recommends exactly what The Plain Dealer supports: a good education in science, which teaches evolution "honestly, explaining the theory's strengths and weaknesses, as well as the truth that plenty of gaps exist in man's knowledge about life's development."
Some argue that there is no question about the factual accuracy of Darwinist theory, but this claim is flatly false. The question of life's origins is, in fact, one of the most exciting controversies raging in science, one that sparks interest among young biology students. Schools struggle daily to engage kids - why would we stifle a natural curiosity that teaches students fundamental scientific skills and the lesson of thinking critically for themselves?
The Plain Dealer's own polling shows the public's overwhelming support for teaching scientific controversy. Ohio has an opportunity to lead the nation in providing its students with a better education in science, and I hope it will.
Senator Rick Santorum, Washington, D.C.
Editorial, October 17, 2002
A solution evolves
The State Board of Education could have done a lot worse by Ohio's science standards.
Officials could have knocked evolution out of state classrooms altogether, the way Kansas' board did in 1999. Or they could have mandated the teaching of intelligent design as a concept of equal scholarly standing with evolution. Given such options, the path Ohio education officials picked represented the best outcome possible amid this heated debate.
After months of hearings, lobbying and internal debate, the board voted unanimously to include the teaching of evolution in the state's new science standards - as well as critical analysis of the theory. The solution maintains evolution's place as the most widely accepted scientific explanation of the origins of life, but satisfies critics by allowing teachers to explore questions about it.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that teaching creationism - in essence, the belief that God made all living things, as described in the Bible - is unconstitutional. Many creationists now embrace intelligent design, which submits that living things are so complex that only a higher power could have created them. Intelligent design also has its scholarly adherents, to be sure, but lacks the wide acceptance evolution enjoys - at least for now.
Critics of the board's action worry that allowing questions about evolution essentially amounts to a backdoor invitation to teach intelligent design. Only time and individual teachers' lessons will answer that concern.
Overall, these science standards are thorough and rigorous. The solution regarding evolution may not be perfect, but it is adequate. More important, it does not detract from the overall achievement these standards represent - and it allows teachers to begin using all of them.
Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio
Editorial, October 17, 2002
In its most-watched vote in years, the state school board Tuesday said that Ohio science classes should include more critical inquiry in evolution education for Ohio's 1.8 million students.
The new state science standards, expected to be formally adopted in December, guide what students should learn and on what they're tested. They emphasize evolution, but urge that students analyze and debate the theory. That pleases evolutionists and those who favor intelligent design (ID), the idea that because life is so complex it must have been planned by a higher power. The evolutionists, who believe ID is just another name for creationism, are glad the standards clearly urge the teaching of the theory. Those supporting ID are pleased that the standards open the theory to debate.
There are legitimate disagreements among scientists on major parts of evolutionary theory and what the scientific evidence shows. The new standards say that Ohio students should be able to "describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory."
There is no mention of intelligent design in the standards, nor should there be. The concepts of intelligent design and creationism are worthy of study - as philosophy, not science.
Ohio is one of several battlegrounds in a national debate over what public school students should be taught about evolution. Standards for science and all core academic areas are being rewritten under a state law enacted last year.
To their credit, the 19 members of the state school board have seriously considered this issue for nearly a year. They've listened to testimony from scientists, teachers and the public, on both sides of the debate. They received nearly 18,000 comments, with a large majority asking for students to hear all the evidence - that which supports as well as challenges the theory of evolution. The truth is there are gaps in human knowledge about life's beginnings and development. Let's just say so and keep striving to answer those questions.
Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati, Ohio
Cincinnati Enquirer, October 27, 2002
Are we children of God or cousins of seaweed?
It all comes down to a bunch of kelp.
The answers to the debate between creation and evolution can be found in a tangled pile of soggy sea plants, snarled like Medusa's hair, wet and watery brown like weak tea, sprouting little gourd-shaped bladders that pop like bubble wrap when you step on them in the sand. Usually, I just avoid the stuff like a pile of ocean yard clippings. But last weekend while I was walking the beach in San Diego, I noticed something new: Each pile of kelp contained a large rock. I looked closer and discovered that the rock was attached to the kelp by tiny roots like skeletal fingers, hanging on for dear life. Eureka. That's how it anchors itself to the sea bottom, while the little bladders hold it vertical to catch rays of the diluted sun as it filters deep into the dark blue Pacific.
What incredible engineering in a lowly piece of sea trash. In high school and college, I was taught that Mr. Kelp is my distant kin. We both evolved from the same "primordial ooze." Through trial and error, we finally hit on the right combination that opened the padlocked locker of life.
But I'm not a gullible student anymore, and I find that pretty hard to believe. It's like trying to believe that a jigsaw puzzle of Times Square was assembled perfectly by dropping it off the Empire State Building a few million times.
And here's something they didn't tell us in school: Evolution is just a theory. It cannot be tested and repeated. The fossil record that should support it does not exist. And the people who have deep doubts about being related to kelp, night crawlers and Howard Stern are not all religious fundamentalists. Some are respected scientists.
The late Nobel Prize winner Dr. George Wald, professor of microbiology at Harvard: "That leads us to only one other conclusion: that of supernatural creation. But we cannot accept that on philosophical grounds; therefore we choose to believe the impossible: that life arose spontaneously by chance."
Dr. Stephen J. Gould, Harvard professor of biology and geology: "One hundred and twenty years of fossil research (after Darwin), it has become abundantly clear that the fossil record will not confirm this part of Darwin's predictions. A species does not arise gradually by the gradual transformation of its ancestors."
That kind of talk was not allowed in public schools. Students had to be taught one theory only, the one postulated by Charles Darwin. If students wanted to learn that Darwin himself said that life was "originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one," they had to hear it from their parents. Or in church, like I did. Let the light shine in
But education about the origin of life is finally evolving. The Ohio Board of Education voted on Oct. 15 to crack the door a sliver, and let the light of challenge shine down into classrooms.
New standards being adopted by Ohio would allow teachers and school districts "to include criticism of Darwinian theory as well as discussion of alternatives," according to the group that fought for the national breakthrough, Science Excellence for All Ohioans.
They call it "teaching the controversy." And there's plenty of controversy to teach.
The evolution-only purists sound like the Scopes Monkey Trial in reverse. This time, it's the education establishment that has its mind stapled shut.
Ohio made the right call. I believe even a tangled pile of kelp is an amazing creation of God - but it's not my cousin.
Peter Bronson, Enquirer columnist, Cincinnati, Ohio
Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 3, 2002
A scientist with a closed mind? This should be an oxymoron, yet there are among us a host of living examples. These are academics, researchers, laboratory workers, writers for Science magazine, professors of anatomy, entomology, chemistry, biology, physics, all intellectual clones of identical tunnel vision. One of our most eloquent examples locally is Dr. Lawrence Krauss, Professor of Physics at Case Western Reserve University ("Proposed science standards flawed," Oct. 22, 2002). As he sees it, there is no room for an alternative. Such reasoning is strikingly similar to that of the flat-Earth folk and the clergy who persecuted Galileo. They were the "fundamentalists" of their time.
The core dogma of today is the hypothesis of evolution that sprang full-blown from the fancy of Charles Darwin in 1859. What does it matter that it is an unprovable concept? It unequivocally propounds the formula that time, plus chance, plus mutations account for the complex life forms on our Earth. From gelatinous mass through untold eons (the estimates increase exponentially each year), from fish to bird, to ape, to man, we are in the process. In brief, it's a theory of "from goo to you." Subject closed.
John Spencer of John Carroll University didn't help us much ("An abuse of science - and faith," Oct. 24, 2002) by saying that intelligent design proponents are seeking to verify their faith. On the contrary, they are using objective data and scientific analysis simply to expose the utter folly and lack of evidence for the Darwinian theory.
As to the nature of faith, Spencer seems to rely on blind, rather than informed, faith. If, as he claims, the creation account in Genesis isn't literally true, it doesn't really matter as long as one has some vague faith that God probably had something to do with it. Scientific verification of such a position is indeed impossible.
Let the intelligent design scientists present their case and maybe we'll see why Newton, Pascal, Pasteur and many other scientists of yesterday and today respected a designer.
Marion B. Stewart, Hudson, Ohio
Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 3, 2002
In response to John Spencer's Oct. 24 Forum article "An abuse of science - and faith":
Spencer's position is that the realms of science and faith must never meet. He says, "When one seeks scientific verification of one's faith, questions about the nature of that faith must be raised." While he doesn't tell us the particular questions he has in mind, he quickly provides the answer: Any such faith is an "abuse."
In reference to the ossuary that bears an inscription possibly identifying bones it once contained as those of James, the brother of Jesus of the Bible. Spencer points out that there are scientific issues with this claim that are yet to be proven. But in a complete non-sequitur, he argues that because there are open scientific issues about the ossuary, it is an "abuse of science and faith" to view the ossuary as supportive of one's faith.
Let's put this claim into plain language: Spencer is seeking to impose on others his own philosophical viewpoint, which is that there is no empirical evidence for belief, and never can be.
Spencer's definition of faith seems to be "believing something for which you have no evidence." The Bible's definition of faith is quite different. It routinely points to empirical data from various sources to justify its claims in the spiritual realm, challenging individuals to respond in faith on the basis of that evidence. This, in Spencer's world, is abusive.
Spencer continues by conflating intelligent design and creationism, ideas that are quite distinct. We should all be aware of this growing, intolerant and unreasonable viewpoint, which forbids, by fiat, any attempt to point to empirical evidence for belief.
Douglas Rudy, Westerville, Ohio
Columbus Dispatch, November 11, 2002
Cynical lawyers have a maxim: When you have the facts on your side, argue the facts. When you have the law on your side, argue the law. When neither is on your side, question the motives of the opposition.
The latter seems to be the strategy of die-hard defenders of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, now that the State Board of Education in Ohio agreed to allow local districts to bring critical analysis of Darwin's ideas into classrooms.
Case in point: A few weeks ago in The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, Case Western Reserve University physicist Lawrence Krauss attacked the board's decision by linking it to a vast conspiracy of scientists who favor the theory of intelligent design. Design is dangerous, Krauss implied, because the scientists who favor it are religiously motivated. But Krauss' attack and his conspiracy theory are irrelevant to assessing the state board's policies. It's not what motivates a scientist's theory that determines accuracy; it's evidence.
Consider a parallel example: Noted Darwinist Richard Dawkins has praised Darwin's theory because it allows him "to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." Does this scientist's anti-religious motive disqualify Darwinian evolution from consideration as a scientific theory? Obviously not. The same should apply when considering design.
The leading advocate of intelligent design, Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe, has marshaled some intriguing evidence: the miniature motors and complex circuits in cells.
But Krauss did not argue with Behe's evidence; he questioned the motives of Behe's associates. Krauss claims to speak for science in Ohio. Yet he stoops to some very unscientific and fallacious forms of argument.
Krauss also distracts attention from the real issue. The State Board has acknowledged that local teachers and school boards already have the freedom to decide whether to discuss the theory of intelligent design. But apart from that, the board did not address the subject. The board does not require students to learn about the theory of intelligent design in the new science standards. Nor will students be tested on the theory. How, then, are the motives of scientists who favor intelligent design at all relevant?
The new standards do require students to know about evolution and why "scientists today continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." This is a good policy, one that has the facts and the law on its side.
First, the facts: Many biologists question aspects of evolutionary theory because many of the main lines of evidence for evolutionary theory no longer hold up. German biologist Ernst Haeckel's famous embryo drawings long were thought to show that all vertebrates share a common ancestry. But biologists now know that these diagrams are inaccurate. Darwin's theory asserts that all living forms evolved gradually from a common ancestor. But fossil evidence shows the geologically sudden appearance of new animal forms in the Cambrian period. Biologists know about these problems.
The State Board wisely has required students to know about some of these well-known problems when they learn about evolutionary theory. That's just good science education. Students have a right to know.
Law also supports the Board's decision. In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Edwards vs. Aguillard that state legislatures could require the teaching of "scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories." Last year, in the report language of the new federal education act, Congress expressed its support for greater openness in science instruction, citing biological evolution as the key example.
The State Board's decision is very popular with the public. Knowing this, opponents argue that majority opinion does not matter in science. They are right. In science, it's evidence that decides questions. But, ironically, that is an argument for allowing students to know all the evidence, not just the evidence that supports the view of the majority of scientists.
Because evidence, and not the majority opinion of scientists, is the ultimate authority in science, students need to learn to analyze evidence critically, not just to accept an assumed consensus.
On the other hand, the majority does decide public-policy questions. And, according to many public-opinion polls, an overwhelming majority of Ohio voters support the policy of telling students about scientific critiques of Darwinian evolution. Others have complained that evolution has been unfairly singled out in these standards. Why not insist that students critically analyze other theories and ideas?
First, there is now more scientific disagreement about Darwinian evolution than about other scientific theories. Second, evolution, more than other scientific theories, has been taught dogmatically. Scientific critics, as we have seen, are routinely stigmatized as religiously motivated. Fortunately, the State Board of Education's decision will make it more difficult to stigmatize teachers who present the evidence for and against evolutionary theory.
Stephen C. Meyer, Ph.D., Discovery Institute, Seattle, Washington
Akron Beacon Journal, November 28, 2002
Alan I. Leshner's Nov. 6 commentary headlined "Ohio should keep 'Intelligent Design' out of science class" was amusing, if misguided. Leshner, an American Association for the Advancement of Science official, made several false claims:
• He said the scientific evidence supports biological evolution. That's simply not true. Evolution only appears reasonable because the science establishment excludes by fiat the opposing view: "Intelligent Design."
• He said ID isn't discussed in the scientific literature. That's only because scientists have refused to look seriously at the compelling evidence supporting it (especially the information content and complexity of living systems).
• He said ID undermines the integrity of science education. Actually, it's the use of "evolution only" curricula that undermines integrity by failing to include a discussion of alternatives.
The fact is, biological evolution (the theory of undirected common descent) is an idea propped up by minimal evidence and the arbitrary philosophical claim that all phenomena in nature are explainable by natural law and chance.
No one was present when life first appeared on Earth, and no one watched it develop along the way. To claim that evolutionary theory has all the answers, and to rule out alternative theories without even considering their claims, is the height of arrogance. Biological evolution's monopoly in teaching about the origin and development of life on Earth is ending. It's time for a new player - ID - to get a fair hearing. Elite science may not like it, but the rules are changing, and people like Leshner will have to get used to it.
Robert Lattimer, Ph.D., Hudson, Ohio
Akron Beacon Journal, December 10, 2002
Alan I. Leshner's lengthy Nov. 6 commentary headlined "Ohio should keep 'Intelligent Design' out of science class" reduces to the same senseless and oft-repeated argument that ID is just religion, while evolution is science.
I am exasperated with the dishonesty of those who wish to subject ID to a standard that cannot be met by the theory of evolution. Leshner labels ID theory "untested and untestable by scientific means" while claiming that the theory of biological evolution is "well-supported," even though it is likewise "untested and untestable by scientific means." Maybe evolution shouldn't be taught in a science class, either.
Actually the birth, hatching and sprouting of new life all around us could be said to test both theories. If increasing complexity ever results from reproduction, evolution is most likely true. If it never does, ID is probably correct. Guess which theory is getting the passing grade so far?
Belief in evolution is simply not the obvious conclusion to be derived from experimentation and evidence. It is more like choosing "A" instead of "B" when either one satisfies the facts.
In the absence of proof, the real truth must be discerned from a logical analysis of the facts. Which theory best predicts what the evidence actually turns out to be? Which direction does the weight of the evidence point? Which theory seems most often contradicted by the facts?
The theory of evolution is only "well-supported" in the minds of those who believe the opinions and interpretations of other believers. But that mind-set is being taught so forcefully in today's classrooms that many of our students are unable to think "outside the box" of their teacher's beliefs. Do we really want to train our students to be so narrow-minded?
Charles A. Marshall, Tallmadge, Ohio
Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 16, 2002
Last week, the state School Board voted unanimously to approve a new set of science standards that effectively allows educators the flexibility to access, examine and teach the evidence for and against evolution.
This decision was not arrived at without disagreement. There was a last-ditch effort by pro-evolutionists to soften language in the standards that singles out evolution as a controversial theory. In the end, a majority of the Board realized that while all scientists agree that adaptation and variation within species is an observable fact, there is tremendous controversy on the mechanism and viability of macro-evolution or proof that it happened at all.
The Board also agreed to a final-hour amendment stating that, "the intent of this indicator does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design." While the pro-evolution portion of the Board required this disclaimer to achieve a unanimous vote, the statement is effectively moot because there was no lobbying or suggestion that intelligent design would be a part of the high school science requirements. Moreover, while the new language makes clear that intelligent design is not a requirement, it inadvertently emphasizes that Ohio school districts have the freedom to choose for themselves whether or not it should be taught as part of the evolution controversy.
Throughout the entire dialogue, evolutionists attempted to spread the false idea that intelligent design is a covert attempt to get religion into high school science class. But the thinking public finally realized that the actual debate was whether the selective use of evidence in the treatment of evolution should be considered a scientifically valid teaching method in Ohio's schools. If evidence can be selectively used, any argument can sound convincing. This is why dissension from the normal scope of beliefs should always be admitted in the public arena. If one side is allowed full access while the other is squelched, foundations of debate are lost and our freedom is in jeopardy.
While the new science standards should be considered as a victory for proponents of the "teach the controversy" approach, they do not go far enough to adequately demonstrate the magnitude of this controversy. Several highly arguable aspects of evolutionary theory continue to be presented as fact in these standards. Further, there should be more specific statements designed to protect educators who choose to present a more balanced view of the evidence for and against evolution.
The distinctly pro-evolution language in these standards should come as no surprise to anyone. The makeup of this writing team was heavily weighted toward an evolution-as-fact dogma.
I challenge the state School Board as this operation moves forward, to critically analyze the lack of "thought diversity" in the original group of writers and implement the necessary changes to complete the next phase of this process.
Finally, the School Board President should be commended for the atmosphere she created resulting in an open, honest dialogue of this highly controversial aspect of science. Some may disagree with the outcome of this yearlong debate, but the process used to achieve this decision provided ample opportunity for public input, discourse and education of the Board.
Patrick Young, Ph.D., Canal Winchester, Ohio
National Review Online, December 17, 2002
After months of debate, the Ohio State Board of Education unanimously adopted science standards on Dec. 10 that require Ohio students to know "how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory."
Ohio thus becomes the first state to mandate that students learn not only scientific evidence that supports Darwin's theory but also scientific evidence critical of it. While the new science standards do not compel Ohio's school districts to offer a specific curriculum, Ohio students will need to know about scientific criticisms of Darwin's theory in order to pass graduation tests required for a high-school diploma.
Ohio is not the only place where public officials are broadening the curriculum to include scientific criticisms of evolution. In September the Cobb County School District in Georgia, one of the largest suburban school districts in the nation, adopted a policy encouraging teachers to discuss "disputed views" about evolution as part of a "balanced education." And last year, Congress in the conference report to the landmark No Child Left Behind Act urged schools to inform students of "the full range of scientific views" when covering controversial scientific topics "such as biological evolution."
After years of being marginalized, critics of Darwin's theory seem to be gaining ground. What is going on? And why now?
Two developments have been paramount.
First, there has been growing public recognition of the shoddy way evolution is actually taught in many schools. Thanks to the book Icons of Evolution by biologist Jonathan Wells, more people know about how biology textbooks perpetuate discredited "icons" of evolution that many biologists no longer accept as good science. Embryo drawings purporting to prove Darwin's theory of common ancestry continue to appear in many textbooks despite the embarrassing fact that they have been exposed as fakes originally concocted by 19th-century German Darwinist Ernst Haeckel. Textbooks likewise continue to showcase microevolution in peppered moths as evidence for Darwin's mechanism of natural selection even though the underlying research is now questioned by many biologists.
When not offering students bogus science, the textbooks ignore real and often heated scientific disagreements over evolutionary theory. Few students ever learn, for example, about vigorous debates generated by the Cambrian Explosion, a huge burst in the complexity of living things more than 500 million years ago that seems to outstrip the known capacity of natural selection to produce biological change.
Teachers who do inform students about some of Darwinism's unresolved problems often face persecution by what can only be termed the Darwinian thought police. In Washington state, a well-respected biology teacher who wanted to tell students about scientific debates over things like Haeckel's embryos and the peppered moth was ultimately driven from his school district by local Darwinists.
Science is supposed to prize open minds and critical thinking. Yet the theory of evolution is typically presented today completely uncritically, as a dogma to be accepted rather than as a theory to be explored and questioned. Is it any wonder that policymakers and the public are growing skeptical of such a one-sided approach?
A second development fueling recent gains by Darwin's critics has been the demise of an old stereotype.
For years, Darwinists successfully shut down any public discussion of Darwinian evolution by stigmatizing every critic of Darwin as a Biblical literalist intent on injecting Genesis into biology class. While Darwinists still try that tactic, their charge is becoming increasingly implausible, even ludicrous. Far from being uneducated Bible-thumpers, the new critics of evolution hold doctorates in biology, biochemistry, mathematics and related disciplines from secular universities, and many of them teach or do research at American universities. They are scientists like Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe, University of Idaho microbiologist Scott Minnich, and Baylor University philosopher and mathematician William Dembski.
The ranks of these academic critics of Darwin are growing. During the past year, more than 150 scientists - including faculty and researchers at such institutions as Yale, Princeton, MIT, and the Smithsonian - adopted a statement expressing skepticism of neo-Darwinism's central claim that "random mutation and natural selection account for the complexity of life."
Deprived of the stock response that all critics of Darwin must be stupid fundamentalists, some of Darwin's public defenders have taken a page from the playbook of power politics: If you can't dismiss your opponents, demonize them.
In Ohio critics of Darwinism were compared to the Taliban, and Ohioans were warned that the effort to allow students to learn about scientific criticisms of Darwin was part of a vast conspiracy to impose nothing less than a theocracy. Happily for good science education (and free inquiry), the Ohio Board of Education saw through such overheated rhetoric. So did 52 Ohio scientists (many on the faculties of Ohio universities) who publicly urged the Ohio Board to require students to learn about scientific criticisms of Darwin's theory.
The renewed debate over how to teach evolution is not likely to stop with Ohio.
Under the No Child Left Behind Act, every state must enact statewide science assessments within five years. As other states prepare to fulfill this new federal mandate, one of the looming questions will be what students should learn about evolution. Will they learn only the scientific evidence that favors the theory, or will they be exposed to its scientific criticisms as well?
Ohio has set a standard other states would do well to follow.
John G. West, Jr., Ph.D., Discovery Institute, Seattle, Washington