COLUMBUS - With the nation watching, the Ohio Board of Education will be asked today to strip language from its science standards and lesson plan that critics say opens the classroom door to creationism in disguise.
"I am [a] creationist. I do believe in both sides of [the] matter, but I believe good science should be taught in the science classes of Ohio," said Martha Wise, a 28-year veteran state board member whose district includes Toledo.
The issue is not on the board's agenda, but Ms. Wise plans to offer a motion at today's state board meeting to remove language dealing with "critical analysis of evolution" in the model lesson plan as well as the broader standards on which the plan was based.
A similar motion applying only to the lesson plan narrowly failed by a vote of 9-8 last month after a federal court ruling in December striking down as unconstitutional a Dover, Pa., school district's teaching of "intelligent design."
The concept generally holds that life on Earth is too complicated to have been the result of simple chemical reaction. Intelligent design maintains that some unnamed intelligence had to have played a role.
The federal judge in Pennsylvania said that intelligent design was creationism in disguise.
Since the ruling, Gov. Bob Taft has broken his silence on the issue, saying he believes intelligent design should not be taught in Ohio's classrooms.
He has stopped short of saying he believes Ohio's lesson plan does that, but he has suggested state lawyers should review the curricula to see if the fears of the National and Ohio Academies of Science are justified.
"We maintain a list of hundreds of scientists who are skeptical of Darwinian evolution because of the unresolved scientific problems with the theory, not because of any so-called religious motivation," said Bruce Chapman, president of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based conservative think tank that supports the current language.
"This isn't science versus religion," he said. "It's science versus science. It's a standard part of science to raise evidence critical of an existing scientific theory or paradigm. That's what good science is about, analyzing evidence and asking tough questions."
The state board began its monthly two-day meeting yesterday, but board members are not expected to address the evolution/intelligent design issue until today.
Ms. Wise said that, in addition to considering her resolution, the board could refer the issue to state lawyers as Mr. Taft suggested or refer it to committee and put the issue off for another month.
In 2002, the board approved broad science standards for what students would be expected to know and when they should know it, standards against which tests would be designed.
For the first time, Ohio's standards specifically mentioned evolution, Charles Darwin's largely accepted theory that life evolved over a long time from a single-cell organism.
The move was applauded by the scientific community that argued Ohio's previously weak standards contrasted with its goal of attracting scientific, medical, and technical research jobs.
But those scientists were alarmed when the board added the requirement that students "critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory."
Despite the addition of a parenthetical phrase that the standards do not "mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design," the scientific community argued that singling out evolution for such analysis opened the door for intelligent design.
"The Dover trial changes the national profile a lot ," said Lawrence Krauss, director of the Center for Education and Research at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
"It clarifies things tremendously," Mr. Krauss said.
"More important for Ohio, given the results in Dover, I believe the standards and lesson plan are illegal and violate the principles the judge in the Dover case talked about," he said.
Opponents point to language in the lesson plan that encourages students to discuss aspects of the fossil record, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, peppered moths, and other subjects that appear to conflict with the theory of evolution or natural selection.
The Washington-based Campaign to Defend the Constitution, which was involved in the lawsuit against the Dover district, is threatening to bring similar action against Ohio, which it characterizes as the latest intelligent design battleground.
But supporters of the standards and lesson plan argue that, unlike Dover's lesson plan, Ohio's is not mandatory, leaving the decision to local school districts.
When asked, opponents of the plan have difficulty proving that any of Ohio's school districts are actively teaching intelligent design in the classroom as an equal to evolution.
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