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Intelligent Design suffers setbacks in midterm elections

COLUMBUS, Ohio (BP)–In Ohio and Kansas, the midterm elections brought gains for evolution backers on state boards of education that determine science standards in public school classrooms, which means proponents of Intelligent Design suffered some setbacks.

Ohio’s state board of education has 11 elected members and another six appointed by the governor. When Ohio citizens elected Democrat Ted Strickland as governor Nov. 7, they helped set the stage for a swing to the left on the school board. As The Cleveland Plain Dealer noted, the terms of four appointed board members will expire Dec. 31, and Strickland will either reappoint or replace them.

John G. West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, told Baptist Press that Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican, had appointed Darwin-only board members that enabled the board to repeal its critical analysis of evolution science standard and lesson plan earlier this year. West expects Strickland to appoint similar people.

Also in the Ohio elections, a conservative school board incumbent was defeated by a Democrat who was drafted to run by Help Ohio Public Education, a pro-evolution group. Two more pro-evolution candidates for the school board in Ohio were elected. With heads of the education committees in the Ohio House and Senate acting as ex officio members of the board of education, the total count is 19 members.

The Ohio school board voted 14-3 Oct. 10 to end its debate over teaching guidelines that would leave room for the introduction of Intelligent Design in science classrooms when students are taught to critically analyze evolution. The board had voted in February to remove the guidelines but then they referred the issue to a committee for further review. The most recent vote halted the committee’s work, and as it stands, Intelligent Design is not part of the curriculum.

A Zogby International poll in February found that by more than a 3-to-1 margin, Ohio residents strongly support public school teachers presenting both evidence for evolution and evidence challenging the theory. The poll also said 75 percent of Ohio’s residents favor teaching Intelligent Design alongside Darwinian evolution so that students can be allowed to make up their own minds regarding the origin of life.

In Kansas, control of the state board of education shifted to members who favor changing the current science curriculum standards toward declaring evolution as the only possible origin of man. The moderates’ victory of a one-vote edge means Kansas science standards likely will be rewritten for the fourth time since 1998.

The latest science standards in Kansas were implemented in 2005 under a 6-4 conservative majority, and they urge students to seek “more adequate explanations of natural phenomena.”

Results of primary elections indicated evolution supporters would gain a majority on the 10-member Kansas board, but they didn’t know how much of a majority it would be. Kansas citizens re-elected two conservative incumbents giving pro-evolution moderates a 6-4 majority now.

“The Kansas board has shifted back and forth between evolution-only supporters and teach-the-controversy over evolution proponents for several years now,” West said. “The current shift on the board means that the Kansas board will probably repeal its 2005 science standards on evolution sometime in 2007.”

West emphasized that Discovery Institute does not support mandating the teaching of Intelligent Design in public schools but favors teaching the scientific evidence for and against Darwin’s theory.

“We have worked with school districts and state boards of education that wish to encourage students to study both the strengths and weaknesses of Darwin’s theory,” West said. “The most recent state to adopt a science standard encouraging the critical analysis of evolution was South Carolina in June of this year.

“As far as legislation, we have a model academic freedom bill that we support that protects the rights of teachers and students to discuss scientific criticisms of evolution,” he added. “The bill has been introduced in Alabama and Oklahoma. Last year, it passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives by an overwhelming [and bipartisan] margin, but the Democrat-controlled Senate denied it a vote.”

The Oklahoma Senate is now going to be tied between Republicans and Democrats, news reports indicate, so West said it’s possible that the academic freedom bill will be reintroduced and get a vote in both chambers.

“As we have always said, the scientific debate over Darwin’s theory will not be decided by elections or court decisions,” West said. “It will be decided by the scientific evidence. And everyone has the responsibility to study that evidence for himself or herself.

“The recent election results bring home the truth that parents cannot simply rely on the schools to introduce their children to all of the relevant scientific evidence about Darwin’s theory,” West added. “They have an obligation to make sure their children hear about that evidence regardless of what is taught in the schools.”

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  • Erin Roach