Ohio Board of Ed Delivers Blow to Intelligent Design Movement

The Intelligent Design movement suffered a setback Tuesday when the Ohio Board of Education voted to eliminate science standards that encouraged teachers to present the theory of evolution more critically.

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Critics of the theory of evolution suffered a setback yesterday. The Ohio Board of Education voted to eliminate science standards that involve the teaching of evolution.

These Ohio standards encourage students and teachers to raise questions about the theory of how life evolved on earth, and they were part of a larger debate over what's called Intelligent Design.

NPR's Greg Allen has more.

GREG ALLEN reporting:

Ohio was the first state to adopt standards that called for a critical analysis of evolution. In 2002, the State Board of Education adopted guidelines that instructed biology teachers to, "describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory."

In December, the controversy reignited when documents emerged showing that much of what was in a school board approved lesson plan had been taken from writings promoting intelligent design, a belief that he complexity of life shows that it must be the work of a creator.

Around that same time, a federal judge in a case from Dover, Pennsylvania, ruled that the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in public schools is unconstitutional; leading to concerns that there could be a similar court challenge in Ohio.

This month, Ohio's Governor, Bob Taft, fueled the opposition to the standards, calling on the School Board to order a legal review. For eleven board members, that was enough. Yesterday they voted, over four dissenters, to eliminate the standards and the lesson plan.

Board member Martha Wise offered the motion.

Ms. MARTHA WISE (Ohio School Board): It is deeply unfair to the children of this state to mislead them about the nature of science. This lesson is bad news. The critically analyzed wording is bad news. And I think some board members rightfully feel misled.

ALLEN: In the more than three years since Ohio adopted standards that singled out evolution for critical analysis, other states have followed suit; most recently, Kansas.

The school board battles over those guidelines and the legal battles in Georgia, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, ratcheted up the controversy turning the teaching of evolution into another chapter of America's culture wars.

Deborah Owens-Fink is one of the Ohio school board members who voted to keep the old standards and the critical analysis of evolution.

Ms. DEBORAH OWENS-FINK (Ohio school board member): Some of you have bought into this issue that is very inappropriate for anyone to critically analyze evolution or to talk about the weaknesses of that theory. I find that wrong, and I find that very inconsistent with what Ohioans in this great state want.

ALLEN: Casey Luskin, of the Discovery Institute, a think tank that's at the center of the intelligent design movement, says the Ohio standards have nothing to do with intelligent design; but instead, are about academic freedom.

Science groups succeeded in overturning the standards, he says, by playing on board members' fears.

Mr. CASEY LUSKIN (Discovery Institute): By trying to link the lesson plan and by trying to link the critical analysis benchmarked to Intelligent Design, they made it more controversial, and they convinced enough board members that it's something that would bring a lawsuit upon them.

ALLEN: The vote in Ohio is another big blow for a movement that just a few months ago still seemed to be gathering steam.

Patricia Princehouse is a professor of evolutionary biology at Case Western University, and a member of Ohio's Citizen's for Science, a group that opposed the standards.

Professor PATRICIA PRINCEHOUSE (Evolutionary biology, Case Western University): People are now focused on this issue nationwide. And, I hope that we'll have not only the defeat of creationism in schools, but I hope that this will be the foundation for moving ahead, moving science education forward in this country.

ALLEN: But even in Ohio, the debate over how to teach evolution is far from over. The repealed science standards have been sent back to a Board of Education committee for further study. So it's possible they may yet emerge at some future date for reconsideration.

Greg Allen, NPR News.

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