The Columbus Dispatch October 15, 2002

Committee compromises on wording of science guidelines


by Catherine Candisky

In a surprising compromise, an Ohio Board of Education committee yesterday urged adoption of science curriculum guidelines that critics say will promote the teaching of religious views instead of the evolution-only instruction about life on Earth advocated by most scientists.

"(What) I'm concerned about is that they've opened a loophole, a back door to allow intelligent design in,'' said Steven A. Edinger, a physiology instructor at Ohio University.

But committee co-chairman Joseph Roman, a board member from Fairview Park, said intelligent design is never mentioned in the standards nor will students be tested on the concept.

"We understand the theory of evolution is very important, and we're going to make sure students understand it,'' Roman said.

School districts, however, will be permitted to teach intelligent design and other concepts -- the same option they have now.

Generally speaking, intelligent design is the belief that certain life-forms are too complex to be explained by evolution alone and some greater intelligence must have played a role. Advocates point to such things as a cell, which they say is "irreducibly complex'' and could not have evolved from a simpler form as the theory of evolution seemingly dictates.

Backers of intelligent design insist they don't know who the designer is, possibly a god or alien life, but critics argue the concept is merely a twist on creationism and a religious belief that has no place in the public science classroom.

Opponents of intelligent design, according to some close to the debate, compromised to settle the issue and quiet supporters after attracting international attention as Ohio appeared poised to become the first state to require instruction of the concept.

The topic also has become somewhat of a political liability for Gov. Bob Taft's re-election. He has refused to state his position on the issue -- enraging Republican conservatives and making himself an easy target for his Democratic opponent Timothy F. Hagan, who strongly backs the evolution-only teaching of origins.

Taft's office, sources say, privately has been pushing board members to resolve the dispute. The governor appoints eight on the 19-member board.

The standards committee voted unanimously to recommend passage of the grade-by-grade guidelines for what Ohio's 1.8 million school children need to learn about science. The full board is expected to vote this morning on its intent to approve the proposal. A final vote will come in December.

But before approving the proposal yesterday, the standards committee agreed by a vote of 6-1 -- with one abstention -- to insert new language regarding what ninth- and 10th-graders are taught in life sciences.

Specifically, students should know "how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.''

Martha Wise, a board member from Avon, abstained from voting on the new language.

"I had concerns about each and every word,'' she said.

While supporters labeled the statement benign, Edinger said the phrase "critically analyze'' creates a loophole for intelligent design.

A proposal drafted by a writing team of mostly science teachers had submitted standards favoring an evolution-only approach.

The standards committee also amended the science-curriculum guidelines to include a new definition of science:

"Science is a systematic method of continuing investigation, based on observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, and theory building, which leads to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena.''

The new definition replaces this:

"Recognize that scientific knowledge is limited to natural explanations for natural phenomena based on evidence from our senses or technological extensions.''

File Date: 10.15.02