Supporters of intelligent design suffered another setback on Tuesday when the Ohio State Board of Education voted 11-4 to remove language from the state's science curriculum that was critical of the theory of evolution.
The "critical analysis" of evolution was part of the curriculum for 10th-grade biology classes that the board adopted when it set new academic standards in 2002, making Ohio the first state to officially adopt such language. But according to the New York Times, the board's vote to remove the language came in part out of fear of a lawsuit in light of a December ruling by a Pennsylvania judge that teaching intelligent design in public schools was unconstitutional.
"This lesson is bad news, the 'critically analyze' wording is bad news," said Martha W. Wise, the board member behind the emergency motion. "It is deeply unfair to the children of this state to mislead them about the nature of science." Wise, a 28-year veteran of the board who led the fight to delete the anti-evolution language from the science standards and accompanying lesson plan, is a creationist who has taken heat from other creationists for her stance, according to the Chicago Tribune.
"How could I dare do something like this if I say I believe in God? I can do that because I believe there are two separate issues here," said Wise. "One is the teaching of good science. The other is the teaching of creationism — and I think that is important, too. But I think that should be taught in any other class or at church or at home, not in science class."
Though the Ohio lesson plan didn't specifically mention intelligent design (ID) — which is based on the premise that life is too complex to be explained by evolution alone — critics said that the critical look at evolution was tantamount to teaching ID. The Ohio lesson plan was voluntary, and it is unclear how many of the state's 613 local school districts were using it.
The Times reported that defenders of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution saw the Ohio decision as proof of a backlash against the advances made by ID advocates last year, but leaders of the ID-boosting Discovery Institute warned that Ohio's move could unleash its own backlash.
"It's an outrageous slap in the face to the citizens of Ohio," said John G. West, associate director of the Institute's Center for Science and Culture, in reference to several polls that show public support for criticism of evolution in science classes. "The effort to try to suppress ideas that you dislike, to use the government to suppress ideas you dislike, has a failed history," West said. "Do they really want to be on the side of the people who didn't want to let John Scopes talk or who tried to censor Galileo?"
The Discovery Institute had touted Ohio as a national model for its "teach the controversy" approach to evolution, which it hoped would focus on questioning Darwin's theory. To date, Kansas, Minnesota, New Mexico and Pennsylvania have adopted similar "critical analysis" standards, and the South Carolina Board of Education is slated to vote next month about whether to add similar wording to its curriculum guidelines, according to the Times. Following last year's federal court ruling banning ID instruction in Pennsylvania, the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania, that had approved its teaching was voted out of office (see "Controversial Intelligent Design Policy Axed In Pennsylvania").
Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, pointed to the Ohio vote as a "significant victory" in the debate and said it should make school districts think twice about considering changes in how evolution is taught.
"This language from Ohio, the critically-analyze-evolution language, is sprouting up all over, at both the local level, as well as with other state standards," Scott said. "The Ohio board has recognized its error, and other school districts should not make that same error."