Next week the Ohio School Board takes up the origins of life, and whether the view that there is an intelligent force responsible for creating life is worthy of study in Ohio's science classes. Opponents of including so-called Intelligent Design in the state science standards are pushing hard to keep it out. And people are listening, if the turnout at a forum on the subject last weekend is any indication. 2,500 people packed the Allen Theatre at Playhouse Square and listened as two science scholars denounced the idea. Those same two scholars will appear before the school board on Monday, and argue their views opposite two proponents of Intelligent Design. The political undercurrents of the debate are strong, as 90.3 WCPN's Bill Rice explains.
Bill Rice: Lawrence Krauss is visibly irked. The popular author and professor of Physics at Case Western Reserve University says the debate over Intelligent Design is actually a non-debate in the science community. The idea, he says, that a conscious, intelligent agent - a designer - is responsible for the creation of life has no place in a science classroom. Not that it's not a legitimate question, he says, but it just doesn't pass muster as science.
Lawrence Krauss: Science is based on things you can test and falsify. If you can't test and falsify it, it isn't science.
BR: Krauss and others say Intelligent Design, which they claim is Creationism in disguise, is a religious idea, not a scientific one. Kenneth Miller has authored several biology textbooks and teaches biology at Brown University. He says the hubbub in Ohio over evolution and Intelligent Design parallels what occurred in Kansas in 1999. Back then, that state's Board of Education took evolution out of the science standards altogether. Politicians had seized control of science, he says, and politics wrested that control back.
Kenneth Miller: Ordinary citizens of Kansas, doctors, biology teachers, farmers, petroleum geologists, formed an organization called Kansas Citizens for Science, and realized they had to campaign politically, not for a republican or democrat, not for conservative or liberal, but for the idea of scientific integrity, and so they did.
BR: A similar group has formed in Ohio, called, not surprisingly, Ohio Citizens for Science. They hope to sway the Ohio school board not to include Intelligent Design in the science standards. The board has set aside substantial time to hear both sides. John Calvert, who heads the Intelligent Design Network in Kansas, says despite the religious implications, the design approach deserves fair treatment.
John Calvert: The question "where do we come from?" impacts religion, positively or negatively in an unavoidable way. You can't answer that question without getting into religious arena, and the state, when it seeks to teach children about where they come from, it chooses to enter that religious arena. Once it chooses to enter that arena it must take a neutral posture.
BR: In other words, the science standards should allow essentially equal time for ideas that might run counter to the theory of evolution. Board members and lawmakers are divided on the issue. Virgil Brown, who represents much of Cuyahoga County on the board, predicts the debate will continue to be contentious for months to come, and will be a political hot potato as the campaign season gears up.
Virgil Brown: I can foresee it being an issue in the Governors race. In the state representative and state senate races… This is clearly an issue where people are adamant in their positions on one side and equally adamant on the other side. So it has the potential of not being able to satisfy everybody, maybe face a legal challenge.
BR: The state legislature is already fully embroiled in the controversy. Two bills are pending in the house. One would give the legislature final approval of the science standards. House Education Committee Chairman Jamie Callender supports the measure. He says the board has, in the past, modified standards without regard to legislative concerns.
Jamie Callender: By doing that they set a precedence that said that whatever action the GA takes in their joint meeting will be ignored. And therefore I believe its imperative we have legislative oversight.
Robert Gardner: If that happens there is going to be 132 different versions of what's going to be in the science curriculum. And that's going to cause absolute chaos down here.
BR: That's Callender's Senate counterpart Robert Gardner, chair of that chamber's education committee. Also a republican, Gardner is flatly opposed to the bill, as he is to a companion measure that would require the teaching of Intelligent Design in science classes alongside evolution.
RG: I have a very strong science background, and science is a self-correcting methodology. In other words if we come up with an idea for how something happened we can evaluate data and review data and correct inaccurate data we may have received earlier. If you come up with the idea of intelligent design there's no data that you can go back to or research or evaluate to make sure you've made an accurate assumption at the outset.
BR: Again, Gardner's view runs directly counter to that of Callender's, who has strong doubts about the validity of evolution.
JC: There are biological flaws, there are molecular flaws, there are chemical flaws in the theory of humans descending from apes. Those flaws are so great, and so clear, and the holes in the theory are so easily provable that I think it would be a sin to teach evolution as a fact rather than as a flawed theory, which it in fact is.
BR: Two Republicans, two Education Committee Chairmen, and two vastly different views on exploring the origins of life. Hearings on the two house bills began earlier this week, and are on-going. In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3 WCPN News.