Friday, February 13, 2004


The evolution debate in Ohio yet again?

Ohioans may be having some difficulty figuring out just what the state Board of Education is up to on the subject of evolution. Some people are saying that the board's pending new lesson plans are an effort to promote the teaching of "intelligent design" over evolution. But the very people who are accused of making that effort insist that the guidelines are actually among the most pro-evolution in the country.

Citizens who are not in a position to read all the documentation - or interpret all the buzz words that only the fully initiated understand - might wonder where to turn. Best to turn to the scientists. And not just individual scientists, but the organizations that are representative of scientists and that have people who have responsibility for looking into these matters fully.

The National Academy of Sciences has entered the debate, appalled at what the Board of Education is doing. The Ohio Academy of Sciences is also upset and says it will be contacting the governor, legislators and board members "so they understand the significance of what they're doing."

One thing is clear about the scientists: Their motives have to do with science, not religion. Their organizations are not dedicated to atheism or agnosticism or humanism. Their members are all over the lot religiously, as well as politically. As a group, though, the scientists know the difference between science and theology.

A few people with scientific credentials speak up for creationism or intelligent design. But they are the rare scientists whose motives are clearly religious and political.

The state's policy on evolution should be to let individual science teachers decide for themselves whether and how to deal with the fact that some people reject the views of modern science. In dealing, for example, with questions that some students might pose about theories they have heard outside the classroom, teachers don't need any state guidelines. Such guidelines would be micro-management. Most teachers can be trusted to treat religious differences with respect.

State policy makers must be focused on bigger, broader issues. In that regard, it's time for the Board of Education to come to terms with the difference between science and religion, and to decide that what should be taught in science classes is science. It's time for a dithering Gov. Bob Taft to speak up clearly in defense of that principle.

Absent political leadership, the Board of Education seems unable to dispose of this issue. The controversy keeps coming back. That needn't be. Other states have managed to dispose of it. Ohio is getting a reputation in national education circles as benighted in this realm. That is not going to help in the recruitment of teachers.

So there is a state problem. It needs to be confronted by the state's leaders: not only the governor and those who would succeed him, but Ohio's U.S. senators. Being Republicans, they are in a position to calm some of the state's conservatives about whether their values are being trampled on. But the governor's responsibility is greatest among statewide officials. He has pursued that responsibility. Now he has to accept it.