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Intelligent design gets hearing in Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio (BP)–When a State Board of Education subcommittee began a scheduled review of Ohio public schools’ science curriculum, they had no idea an intense media firestorm would accompany their deliberations.

At issue: whether the curriculum should be limited to evolution or whether the study of the beginnings of life should include intelligent design, which holds that life is too complex to have just happened.

Ohio has thus become the first state to formally address the place of intelligent design in the classroom.

The board’s deliberations included an evolution/intelligent design debate that drew more than 1,000 people to Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium in Columbus in mid-March. The issue could erupt in the state legislature and some Ohio newspapers say the issue could put Gov. Bob Taft on the hot seat in his re-election campaign this November.

“It’s a political ballgame now,” Lynn Elfner, a member of a state education board science advisory committee and director of the Ohio Academy of Science, was quoted as saying in a front-page article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Unhappy with an early draft of the proposed science standard for grades K-12 specifically calling for teaching only evolution, the science standards subcommittee of the State Board of Education in January probed deeper. They invited John Calvert, an attorney from Kansas with specialized training in geology, to make a presentation to them on “What Should Ohio Tell Children About Their Origins.” Calvert is cofounder of the Intelligent Design Network.

“What really pricked my interest in this subject initially was learning that science essentially abandons the scientific method when it deals with origins science,” Calvert told the six-member subcommittee of the 19-member board during a 30-minute presentation. “Darwinian evolution assumes as a starting point that the unsupported hypothesis of chemical evolution is true.”

Calvert also noted, “The effect of modern origins science is to imbue a belief in naturalism” — evolution’s “doctrine that all phenomena result only from natural processes and not by design.”

“According to a naturalistic worldview,” he said, “we are mere occurrences that just happen without purpose.”

Discussion of intelligent design is essentially censored when it is kept out of the classroom, Calvert also said.

The naturalistic worldview, Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission told Baptist Press, “is what has brought us to this time in our nation when life has become so devalued.”

“Because the naturalistic worldview considers people to be no more than the product of chemical reactions, it allows no room for innate human worth,” said Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for research. “The inevitable result of a naturalistic worldview is abortion, infanticide, euthanasia and the many other atrocities committed in the name of science and technology that we are witnessing today.”

All biology textbooks and the proposed Ohio science standard address a fundamental question, Calvert told the subcommittee: Where do we come from?

“So the question becomes,” he explained, “what should we tell our kids about it? If we are just occurrences that result from random and undirected natural processes, then we have no inherent purpose. However, if we are the product of design, then we have an inherent purpose since all designs have a purpose.”

The design hypothesis is supported by an abundance of scientific evidence and does not derive its authority from any religious text, the geologist-turned-attorney said. He provided six examples to the subcommittee, noting, for example, that the fossil record is in many respects more consistent with the design hypothesis than the naturalistic hypothesis. It shows sharp bursts of increased complexity and long periods of stasis, rather than a gradual progression of complexity as predicted by Darwinian evolution.

“Although the evidence of design is scientifically derived, it clearly has religious implications,” Calvert acknowledged. “But that is also true of the naturalistic hypothesis. Any answer to the ‘Where do we come from?’ question has religious implications — either positive or negative. Design positively impacts theism; naturalism negatively impacts it.”

The Ohio State Board of Education’s science standards subcommittee responded to Calvert’s 30-minute talk by inviting two evolution proponents and two intelligent design proponents to debate the issue on March 11.

Each side’s major positions were listed the next day in The Columbus Dispatch.

For evolution:

— Nearly all scientists accept evolution; debate centers on details.

— Evolution critics avoid peer review and debate, the basic process of science.

— Arguments that complex life couldn’t have evolved from natural processes are rebutted by findings in molecular biology and genetics.

— Critics fault evolution without giving evidence for intelligent design.

— Intelligent design doesn’t explain why some species become extinct or change significantly over time.

— Science taught in schools should reflect scientific consensus.

The major positions for intelligent design:

— It would have been impossible for natural processes to have resulted in certain complex organisms unless a designer intervened.

— A growing number of scientists question Darwinian evolution.

— Intelligent design is a scientific, not religious argument.

— Instead of legitimate peer review, the scientific establishment censors contrary views.

— Congress wants students to hear all points of view.

This last point refers to the Leave No Child Behind Act of 2001, which President Bush signed into federal law on Jan. 8. This law includes an amendment introduced by Sen. Rick Santorum, R.-Pa., stating: “Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.”

Frederick J. Hutchison, an avid debater from Ohio with an interest in the evolution/intelligent design controversy, attended the debate in Columbus and wrote a point-by-point analysis that has been circulated on the Internet.

The evolution team apparently came prepared to challenge the intelligent design team’s expected “equal time for teaching both theories” proposal, Hutchison wrote. Instead, the ID team argued merely for removal of the threat of punishment and legal action against teachers who present ID theory.

“The opposing team, taken off guard by the unexpected compromise proposal, fumbled the football,” Hutchison wrote. “They failed to effectively rebut that there are many scientific controversies with Darwinism. … [They] faced the criticism that they are against freedom of speech and inquiry. They faced the rather embarrassing charge that they are trying to prevent the students finding out about the weakness of Darwinism.”

Hutchison’s complete analysis of the debate, along with other articles and resources about intelligent design, can be found at the www.discovery.org Internet site of the Discovery Institute, which has become a key think tank for intelligent design.

Following Calvert’s presentation, the debate and other study sessions, a second draft of the proposed science standards was issued April 1 on the Internet at http://www.ode.state.oh.us. Comments on the draft proposal will be taken at that website until May 15 and via U.S. mail until June 1.

The State Board of Education has received 1,151 e-mails since the first of the year, said spokesman Beth Gianforcaro.

“We have received 19 e-mail letters that support teaching intelligent design or creationism only,” she said, along with “633 comments that support teaching both intelligent design and evolution, 371 for evolution only, 18 against the teaching of evolution, and 110 that address some other issue.”

A group of 52 Ohio scientists have signed a statement declaring, among other things, that “where alternative scientific theories exist in any area of inquiry (such as … biological evolution vs. intelligent design) students should be permitted to learn the evidence for and against them.” A group called Ohio Citizens for Science, meanwhile, has put up a petition on their website that supports the teaching of evolution only: www.ecology.cwru.edu/ohioscience/. It claims more than 3,500 signatures so far.

Despite the ID team’s insistence that intelligent design is about science rather than religion, most objections to it are because of its similarity to the biblical view of creation, which holds that God created everything. Intelligent design says there must have been a creator, but doesn’t name that creator.

“It’s a shrouded way of bringing religion into the schools,” said state school board member Martha Wise in a New York Times article. After identifying herself as a creationist, the retired business executive said nevertheless, “I think intelligent design is a theology, and it belongs in another curriculum.”

In addition to the Discovery Institute and Ohio Citizens for Science, numerous advocates on both sides of the controversy before and after the Ohio debate have used the Internet to make their points.

The Anti-Defamation League, which proclaims atop its website that it has been “fighting Anti-Semitism, Bigotry and Extremism since 1913,” has produced an online guide for parents and teachers on why it believes intelligent design and other religious theories of creation have no place in a science class.

“Religion in the Science Class? Why Creationism and Intelligent Design Don’t Belong” uses a question-and-answer format to address “why efforts to introduce creationism in the science curriculum violate the separation of church and state,” CNSNews.com reported March 29.

Information about the intelligent design group led by Calvert, meanwhile, can be accessed at intelligentdesignnetwork.org.

Chuck Colson, in a column posted on the Internet, came down squarely on the side of intellectual fairness in the March 14 edition of his BreakPoint commentary referencing the Ohio debate. Colson used Darwin’s own words to make his point: “[O]n the last page [of Darwin’s classic text, ‘Origin of Species’] Darwin says that life itself was ‘first breathed by the Creator’ — a phrase that would today give fits to civil liberties lawyers,” Colson wrote. The entire column can be accessed www.pfm.org/breakpoint.

“Sometimes it’s surprising there is so much interest this the subject, but it’s one we acknowledge people feel very deeply about,” said spokesman Gianforcaro of the Ohio State Board of Education. “We have seen what other states have gone through with this issue. It’s one the board wants to deliberate very carefully.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: ORIGINS OPTIONS and JOHN CALVERT.