A large majority of Ohioans believe the state's public schools should teach both evolution and a new explanation of the development of life known as intelligent design.
According to a poll commissioned by The Plain Dealer, 59 percent of those responding favored including both evolution and intelligent design in the state's academic standards for science. In addition, 54 percent reported that religious teachings were the primary source for their views on the issue.
We, too, believe intelligent design should be covered in school: An awareness of this nonscientific approach to explaining the origins of the universe and of life on Earth will equip students to participate in a debate that appears to have a long and contentious future. But the topic is suitable only for theology or philosophy classes - not science.
Intelligent design is a belief that a higher power is responsible for charting the way individual species progress. It embraces the spiritual realm, which certainly has a place in society, and even in some public-school classes. Science classes, however, exist not only to teach scientific facts and theories, but to teach the scientific method of testing theories using experimentation and measuring observable phenomena. Presenting intelligent design as science would be a perversion of that teaching.
Unfortunately, few public schools offer the kinds of humanities classes in which intelligent design would fit. Thus, the best option would be simply to teach 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.
Given the results of this poll, members of the State Board of Education face a stark challenge as they work to decide what to include in Ohio's science standards. They have been lobbied heavily by forces from all sides, but ultimately each member must make his or her own decision.
As they weigh competing arguments, board members should consider two additional factors: First, groups with distinct ideological and religious beliefs fund much of the advocacy for intelligent design, and some supporters even acknowledge that intelligent design is an alternative approach to try to insert creationism into public schools. Second, no other state's science standards include intelligent design.
Ohio students deserve to learn accepted scientific beliefs in science class. They also should study debates that help shape our culture. Intelligent design has a place in the state's curriculum, but it should have no place in the science standards.
File Date: 06.10.02