Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Ohio School Board Votes Down Lesson Plan Criticizing Evolution

AUTHOR: Allen MacNeill

SOURCE: Associated Press

COMMENTARY: Allen MacNeill...and you!

It's been a tough couple of months for the promoters and supporters of "intelligent design (ID)." Last December, ID supporters in Dover, Pennsylvania were handed a resounding defeat when Judge John E. Jones ( a conservative Republican Bush appointee) handed down a legal decision blocking the reading of statements supporting ID in Dover high school biology classes.

Next, a school in El Tejon, California that had allowed a course in "creation science" to be taught in a philosophy class decided to end the course prematurely and to agree not to offer it again, as part of an out-of-court settlement to a lawsuit brought by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Now late this afternoon, the Ohio state school board voted 11 to 4 to eliminate eliminate a lesson plan and science standards that supporters of evolutionary theory said opened the door to teaching intelligent design. Specifically, the board voted to delete material in the lesson plan that encouraged students to seek evidence for and against certain aspects of evolutionary biology.

This vote reversed a close 9-8 decision in January to keep the lesson plan. Three of the board members who voted to keep the lesson plan in January were absent from today's deliberations, and have vowed to reinstate the material critical of evolution at an upcoming meeting. However, given the margin of victory today, it is unlikely that they will succeed. The Panda's Thumb has a compendium of information and links spanning this entire controversy.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the governor of Ohio has recently criticized the lesson plan, saying that he should have exercised more control over the appointment of ID supporters to the state school board, with the clear implication that in the future he would do what he could to prevent ID supporters from influencing state educational policy.

Ohio Citizens for Science has issued a press release applauding the decision, while at the same time calling on supporters of evolution to continue to oppose efforts to insert ID theory into state lesson plans.

You might think that with all of these defeats, the ID movement would re-think its strategy. However, this seems unlikely as all of the recent legal maneuvering has come as the result of the ID movement having already changed their strategy. In 1998, the Discovery Institute, home and principle sponsor of the ID movement, promulgated what has now become known as the "wedge document," in which they laid out a five-year strategy to "defeat scientific materialism" and "replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God." In it, they stated clearly that their first priority was research, writing and publication: that is, to develop a program of basic science in which ID theory would be tested and presented to the scientific community in such a way as to convince a critical mass of scientists that the theory had merit. As the author(s) of the wedge document stated, "Without solid scholarship, research and argument, the project would be just another attempt to indoctrinate instead of persuade."

Only once ID theory had been established in the scientific community would its supporters attempt to influence educational and public policy:

"Once our research and writing have had time to mature, and the public prepared for the reception of design theory, we will move toward direct confrontation with the advocates of materialist science through challenge conferences in significant academic settings. We will also pursue possible legal assistance in response to resistance to the integration of design theory into public school science curricula. The attention, publicity, and influence of design theory should draw scientific materialists into open debate with design theorists, and we will be ready. With an added emphasis to the social sciences and humanities, we will begin to address the specific social consequences of materialism and the Darwinist theory that supports it in the sciences."

The history of the intervening eight years shows just the opposite: only four articles relating to ID theory have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. None of these four articles contains the results of actual empirical (i.e. field or laboratory) tests of predictions formulated using ID theory. A grand total of only 34 articles and books (i.e. approximately four per year) have been produced during that entire time, as compared with thousands of articles and books in the mainstream scientific community on the various aspects of evolutionary theory.

Instead, the ID movement, and especially the Discovery Institute, has moved directly into the public arena, spending nearly all of their energy and financial resources on interventions in school board decisions, political elections, and press releases. Clearly, having lost the battle in the scientific community, they are attempting to appeal directly to the general public, hoping that slick publicity will succeed where scientific research (or rather, the lack thereof) has failed.

If I were a scientist who supported ID theory, or even a scientist who supported the idea of free and unfettered research, I would view the people at the Discovery Institute and their supporters in the various governments and school boards as traitors. The fact that Michael Behe and William Dembski don't see them that way says a lot about their confusion about the difference between science and politics.


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