Ohio Board Boots Anti-Evolution Policy

15 February 2006 (All day)

The Ohio Board of Education has delivered another blow in favor of Darwinian evolution: On 14 February, the board voted 11 to 4 to rescind a policy passed in 2002 stating that public school students should be able to "describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." The seemingly innocuous phrase "critically analyze" is used by promoters of Intelligent Design (ID) to avoid making any anti-evolution references that could be construed as religious. The National Center for Science Education called the vote a "stunning triumph" for Ohio students.

The policy in question was accompanied by a model lesson plan, issued in 2004, which suggested that teachers divide up classes for pro- and anti-evolution debates, says Ohio State University biology professor Steve Rissing. It is not clear whether this was actually done at any schools. But Rissing says the Discovery Institute, ID's main think tank, has trumpeted Ohio's standard nationally as "the right way to do it."

Observers say a variety of pressures led to the change. First was Kitzmiller et al. vs. Dover Area School District, the recent Pennsylvania court decision knocking down a requirement by a local school board that students be informed about ID (ScienceNOW, 20 December 2005). Soon after, a group called Americans United for the Separation of Church and State alerted the Ohio board to comments by scientific advisers that contended that the "critically analyze" policy was creationist-inspired. There was also heavy lobbying of the board by scientists and the Ohio Citizens for Science. Even Republican Governor Robert Taft indicated that the policy needed to be reviewed.

Whether the vote marks progress for evolution or is only another swing of the pendulum is not clear. "I think it means the same old thing it always means. ... [Creationism won't disappear but] it's now going to submerge and go back into the anoxic layer of the swamp from which it came," says Rissing. Public opinion may be slower to change. As the Discovery Institute has pointed out, a recent poll in Ohio showed that two-thirds of the respondents still think both the "strengths and weaknesses" of Darwinian theory should be taught.

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