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Junk science

Education | Ohio school board caves to legal threats, dumps critical teaching on evolution

Issue: "Nuke nightmare," Feb. 25, 2006

Last month's removal of intelligent design (ID) from science classrooms in the Dover, Pa., school district has not yet generated further legal battery. But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brandished that ruling like a sledge hammer in Ohio on Feb. 14, intimidating the state school board into dropping a curriculum that questioned Darwinism.

Under threat of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, the Ohio board voted 11 to 4 to toss out its mandate for critical analysis of evolution and an accompanying voluntary lesson plan. The decision defies public opinion, with 68 percent of Ohio respondents in a recent Zogby poll agreeing that biology teachers should teach Darwin's theory of evolution and the scientific evidence against it. Only 20 percent advocated teaching evolutionary theory without mentioning its weaknesses.

The board's reversal of last month's 9-8 ballot to uphold its standards resulted partially from the absence of three board members at the Valentine's Day meeting. Two members changed their votes in the interest of avoiding a lawsuit while the matter is discussed further and revisited down the road. "The people who switched sides got the wool pulled over their eyes," said Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute, which supports critical analysis of Darwinism. "The political strategy is not to file a lawsuit; it's to threaten a lawsuit."

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Ohio's curriculum has stood without legal challenge for three years, as have similar standards in Kansas, New Mexico, Minnesota, and a handful of other individual districts. The difference from Dover: The critical analysis approach to evolution does not teach ID.

But Ohio board member Martha Wise, who spearheaded efforts to remove critical analysis, argued that teaching scientific challenges to Darwinism amounted to thinly veiled creationism, violating the Constitution's Establishment Clause. "The plan itself does not say anything about intelligent design or creationism. However, the way the topics are written leads to creationism," she told WORLD. Ms. Wise, who is running for state senate, celebrated the removal of critical analysis as "a win for science, students, and the state of Ohio."

The matter is far from settled, however. The school board elected to send the curriculum before an achievement committee for review. Deborah Owens-Fink, a member of that committee and the school board, told WORLD the issue would not die "until we have another lesson that critically analyzes evolution. Anytime you have a state board that goes against the public, that's not going to last long." One forthcoming change may include a broadening of the critical analysis approach to other scientific subjects such as global warming-an adjustment aimed at debunking charges that Ohio unfairly singled out evolution for increased scrutiny.

For now, the Ohio situation furthers the national perception that the ID movement is reeling. The New York Times called the decisive vote ID's "second serious defeat in two months." The ACLU, which had labeled Ohio's standards as a way of slipping ID into public schools, celebrated as well.

But ID was not up for review in Ohio, the board having rejected a plan to teach that theory three years ago. "What the Darwinists have been trying to do for a long time is equate critical analysis of evolution with intelligent design, because intelligent design has always been more controversial," Mr. Luskin said.

The strategy of dogmatic evolution proponents also now includes efforts to display religious motivation for supporting Darwinism-a curious move given their overwhelming criticism of religious motives on the other side. On Feb. 12, the 197th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, backers of evolution enlisted hundreds of Christian churches throughout the country to speak in favor of their agenda.

The Darwinists in Ohio found their Christian face as well: "I'm a creationist," said Ms. Wise, who once claimed God told her the Ohio plan was wrong. "I believe that God created the heavens and the earth, but I believe that should be taught in the home, the church, or another classroom in the schools. Science should stay pure under the definition of science."

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