Ira Flatow on Science: 'Intelligent Design' Voted Out Voters ousted from a Pennsylvania school board eight members who actively promoted teaching the anti-evolution "intelligent design" theory in schools. Madeleine Brand speaks with Ira Flatow, host of NPR's Talk of the Nation Science Friday, about the battle over what public schools teach about the origin of the universe.
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Ira Flatow on Science: 'Intelligent Design' Voted Out

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Ira Flatow on Science: 'Intelligent Design' Voted Out

Ira Flatow on Science: 'Intelligent Design' Voted Out

Ira Flatow on Science: 'Intelligent Design' Voted Out

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5007261/5007262" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Voters ousted from a Pennsylvania school board eight members who actively promoted teaching the anti-evolution "intelligent design" theory in schools. Madeleine Brand speaks with Ira Flatow, host of NPR's Talk of the Nation Science Friday, about the battle over what public schools teach about the origin of the universe.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

A referendum on the teaching of evolution took place this week. Voters kicked out all eight members of the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board who wanted teachers to tell students about intelligent design in biology class. But that vote came the same day that the Kansas state Board of Education voted to require teaching alternatives to the theory of evolution. Well, here to sort out the results of both is Ira Flatow. He's host of "Science Friday" and a regular Thursday contributor to DAY TO DAY.

Hi, Ira.

IRA FLATOW reporting:

Hi there.

BRAND: So tell us quickly what happened in each state, and let's start with Pennsylvania.

FLATOW: OK. Well, in Pennsylvania, a trial just finished last week in which the local school board was sued by parents because, as you say, the parents claimed that the teaching of intelligent design in biology classes, as required by the school board, violated the separation of church and state. Now the trial is over; the judge has not ruled on that case yet. But this ruling may actually be moot because all eight Republican members of the Dover school board who voted for the inclusion of intelligent design--they were all ousted by voters and replaced with Democrats, who could now remove that requirement.

BRAND: And so in Kansas, we have the opposite result.

FLATOW: Well, it was quite a different case in Kansas. The state Board of Education voted on Tuesday to require that the standards that teachers use in school must include intelligent design. Now this doesn't mean that the teachers must teach intelligent design in their classrooms, but the standards determine what students are expected to know for statewide exams. So chances are they'll have to teach that if it's going to be on the exam. And this is being seen as a major victory for the proponents of intelligent design and a setback for scientists and biology teachers, who do not believe that intelligent design should be taught in biology classes as a challenge to evolution.

BRAND: So, Ira, explain briefly what exactly intelligent design is.

FLATOW: Well, it states very simply that nature is too complex to be explained by evolution. There has to be some intelligent designer's hand in nature. And though the intelligent design people don't mention just who that designer is, they probably do not mean an extraterrestrial. Most people take it to mean God. And they purport to use the gaps in the fossil record and other questions about evolution as proof that a controversy must exist between scientists when, in fact, there really is no real controversy.

BRAND: And yet we still call it the theory of evolution. Why is that?

FLATOW: You know, it's called the theory of evolution, but really among scientists it is so widely accepted as to be closer to a law, like the law of gravity. You can't violate the law of gravity. But what's also very interesting about Kansas is that the Board of Education actually rewrote the definition of the word `science' so that they could meet this requirement. Science is no longer--at least in Kansas, science is no longer just a search for the natural explanation for the world around us using nature. You're not limited to nature in Kansas. Presumably that means that supernatural explanations can be used in this version of science.

BRAND: Well, Kansas isn't the only state questioning evolution, right?

FLATOW: Yeah. You don't have to be just in Kansas anymore. Ohio, Minnesota, New Mexico also have standards that question evolution. And since school boards change over the years, the one in Kansas has reversed itself before. And it's going to be interesting to see how the public reacts to these decisions by how they vote in election years as they did in Dover, P-A.

BRAND: Ira Flatow is the host of "Science Friday" and a regular Thursday contributor to DAY TO DAY. Thanks a lot, Ira.

FLATOW: You're welcome.

BRAND: DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Madeleine Brand.

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