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State drops analysis of evolution

Reversal represents a setback to backers of intelligent design in science classes

By Catherine Candisky, The Columbus Dispatch, February 15, 2006

The State Board of Education yesterday stripped controversial provisions from science standards that critics said promoted the teaching of intelligent design.

After narrowly rejecting a sim ilar attempt last month, the board voted 11-4 to eliminate portions of its curriculum guidelines for 10 th-grade biology and an accompanying lesson plan that called for the critical analysis of evolution. It also directed a committee to determine whether a replacement lesson is necessary.

The reversal marked another setback for the intelligent-design movement, which holds that some life forms are too complex to be explained by Dar win’s theory of evolution and that a higher authority must have played a role. In December, a federal judge ruled that the Dover, Pa., school board violated the constitutional separation of church and state by ordering that students be taught intelligent design.

Also last year, a federal judge ordered the school system in suburban Atlanta’s Cobb County to remove from biology textbooks stickers that called evolution a theory, not a fact.

"The (Ohio) board has protected itself from legal action," Patricia Princehouse, a biology professor at Case Western Reserve University and a leading critic of Ohio’s curriculum guidelines, said after yesterday’s vote.

"We (now) have science standards that do not try and indoctrinate students."

Although the guidelines did not mention intelligent design except for a disclaimer, critics said information came from intelligent-design and creationist literature. Singling out evolution for critical analysis unfairly undermines Darwin’s theory and invites religion into the classroom, they said.

Supporters of the curriculum guidelines say they encourage students to think analytically and, unlike the Dover policy, are not mandated.

"There was no good reason to repeal this policy. It was all false threats that this was about intelligent design," said Casey Luskin of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a leading proponent of the design movement.

"This isn’t over. You can’t change the fact that there is skepticism about evolution."

While polls consistently have shown that a majority of Ohioans favor teaching students alternatives to evolution, most scientists argue that there is no credible evidence to support intelligent design and that it has no place in the science classroom.

Martha W. Wise, a board member from Avon who has pushed to change the standards, said she believes in creationism, but considers it faith, not science.

"It is unfair to the students of Ohio to mislead them about science," she told her colleagues during a two-hour debate.

Since last month, when an effort to remove the provisions from the science standards failed by one vote, Gov. Bob Taft has urged the board to seek a legal review of the standards and more than two-thirds of the 32 members of a committee who had advised the board on the provisions said they had warned that they promoted creationism.

Board members also have been bombarded by e-mails and phone calls by those on both sides of the debate.

Wise picked up support yesterday from two members who had voted against the change in January and from a third member who was absent last month. In addition, three members who had opposed the proposal last month were absent yesterday.

Few expect the issue to disappear, but the 11-4 vote appears to ensure that it won’t be back before the board soon, perhaps not until next year when several new members join.

Board members yesterday also rejected a proposal from member Colleen D. Grady of Strongsville to ask the attorney general for an opinion on the constitutionality of Ohio’s standards.

"I want to make sure I am making decisions as part of an informed process," she said.

Virgil E. Brown Jr., a board member from Shaker Heights who supported changing the standards, said the margin of yesterday’s vote surprised him, but he doesn’t think the issue is close to being resolved.

"This won’t likely be the definite answer," he said.

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