Intelligent Design in Ohio and Michigan
Ed Brayton printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Sep 24, 2006 at 11:02:13 PM EST
As we approach the November elections, the subject of intelligent design (ID) in public school science classroms has become a major campaign issue in two states, Ohio and Michigan. Ohio has long been a battleground over evolution in public schools, having implemented and retracted an ID-inspired lesson plan since 2002, while in Michigan it has taken on an increasing role in politics over the last year. This post will examine some of the history and background in each state and give information on the current controversies.

In Ohio, the trouble began back in 2000, when a push by creationists to change the state science standards was turned back by the Ohio Board of Education (BOE). That led to a major reaction both within the BOE and the state legislature and prompted numerous attempts to find a way to incorporate creationist statements into the science standards one way or another, with multiple bills initiated in the legislature as well as many proposals before the BOE. In 2002, battles raged in front of the school board as ID advocates, led by Deborah Owens Fink, attempted to get ID into the science standards. They invited Stephen Meyer and Jonathan Wells of the Discovery Institute to testify on behalf of the inclusion of ID. When they appeared before the BOE, however, they proposed a compromise: rather than teaching ID along with evolution, they said, we urge you just to teach the "scientific arguments for and against evolution."

This signaled a change in strategy for the ID movement, but it was a highly dishonest one. The reality is that there is no "intelligent design theory" in the first place. ID is not  a testable model or theory, it is little more than a collection of arguments against evolution, most of them taken directly from old creationist material but dressed up in new scientific-sounding language. Every one of those arguments was either a criticism of evolution (e.g. all of Wells' "icons of evolution") or required the failure of evolution as one of its logical steps in establishing itself as valid (e.g. Behe's "irreducible complexity" and Dembski's "explanatory filter"). Thus, when they said "we don't want ID taught, we just want the arguments against evolution taught" they were engaging in a tautology. Since "ID" and "the arguments against evolution" were one and the same, they were executing a classic bait and switch. Nonetheless, in December 2002, the BOE voted down those attempts and approved new science standards that included evolution but not intelligent design.

This did not slow down the anti-evolution advocates in the legislature or on the BOE. In 2004, as the BOE considered specific lesson plans for the implementation of the science standards, Owens Fink inserted a proposed lesson plan that would put the earlier "compromise" proposed by the Discovery Institute into action. That lesson plan was entitled "Critical Analysis of Evolution", and it would represent a second subtle change of strategy by ID advocates. Rather than the "arguments for and against evolution", they would push for "critical analysis of evolution"; after all, who could be against critical analysis of any subject. In reality, of course, the lesson plan simply incorporated those core ID arguments without labelling them as such. In March of 2004, that lesson plan was adopted by the BOE.

That would change again in the aftermath of the Dover trial in December of 2005. After Federal District Judge John Jones declared the teaching of ID unconstitutional in Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District, Ohio Governor Robert Taft asked the BOE to revisit that lesson plan in light of the new court ruling. In January of 2006, a motion to remove the critical analysis lesson plan was defeated by a 9-8 vote. Spurred by a letter to Taft by the members of the original Science Standards Advisory Committee, the pressure on the BOE continued and on February 14, 2006, the board voted again and this time the vote was 11-4 to remove the ID-inspired lesson plan.

In November, the primary ID advocate on the BOE, Deborah Owens Fink, has her first serious electoral challenger in former Ohio Congressman Tom Sawyer. Sawyer is a former teacher and school administrator. He also is a former state legislator and 8-term US Congressman from Ohio, where he served on the House Education Committee. For more information on his campaign, visit his web site. For information on all of the races as they relate to science education in Ohio, visit the website of Ohio Hope. And for information on Ohio Citizens for Science, a group dedicated to fighting the creationists and protecting the integrity of science education in that state, go here.

My home state of Michigan has seen a similar pattern, following the changes in strategy by the Discovery Institute and their advocates in the state legislature, but we've been fortunate that none of their attempts have proven successful so far. But during the same time frame, their attempts have shown the same pattern. In 2001, they were advocating the explicit inclusion of ID in science classrooms. HB 4382 would have required that anytime evolution is taught they must also teach “the theory that life is the result of the purposeful, intelligent design of a creator.” That bill never made it out of committee, but in the 2003-2004 term they were back with HB 4946, which was virtually identical to the previous one. Neither bill made it out of committee.

In the 2005-2006 term, however, they altered their strategy. Rather than explicitly calling for the teaching of intelligent design along with evolution in science classrooms, they’ve followed the Discovery Institute’s strategy of instead demanding that students “formulate arguments for or against” those theories that they oppose, namely evolution and global warming. HB 5251 was the legislation that called for such measures. But as the bill's sponsor, Rep. Moolenaar, told the Detroit Free Press, the bill would allow local school districts to introduce intelligent design into science classrooms. Earlier this year, they also tried to incorporate the "critical analysis of evolution" language into HB 5606, a bill that set consistent standards for all public and charter schools in the state across the board, but that language was removed from the bill during the committee hearings that reconciled the House and Senate versions of the bill. 

That still hasn't slowed down the ID advocates. Moolenaar and House education committee chairman Brian Palmer are now pressuring the state board of education to include such language in the new science standards that would implement the provisions in HB 5606, which was signed into law earlier this year without the pro-ID language. They have succeeded in getting the BOE to delay a vote on those standards so the legislature could have input into the decision, which means there is more time for them to pressure the BOE to do what the legislature failed to do earlier and adopt standards that allow the teaching of ID in public schools. That battle is still going on.

Meanwhile, we also have an election in November for governor and ID has come up as an issue in that race. A couple weeks ago I was contacted by Eric Fauman, a biochemist from Ann Arbor and a member of Michigan Citizens for Science (MCFS). He had gone to a campaign appearance of Republican candidate Dick DeVos and during the Q&A, asked him his opinion on including ID in public schools. DeVos replied that he thinks ID should be taught along with evolution. We encouraged Fauman to write a letter to the editor of his local paper detailing the incident, which was subsequently published in the Ann Arbor News on September 14th. We publicized that letter on the MCFS webpage.

Newspaper reporters picked up on this and began asking DeVos about his position, which led the campaign to release a statement to the Detroit Free Press, which they then incorporated into an article on September 21st, along with statements from his Democratic opponent, Gov. Jennifer Granholm, opposing the inclusion of ID in the science classroom. Here's what DeVos had to say about it:

"Lots of intelligent people can disagree about the origins of life. In the end, I believe in our system of local control," he said in a news release Wednesday afternoon. "Local school boards should have the opportunity to offer evolution and intelligent design in their curriculums."

DeVos said exposing students to the concept of intelligent design -- viewed by most scientists as a nonscientific, religion-based belief -- would help them analyze competing theories...

When asked by the Associated Press whether he would "support science guidelines that allow intelligent design to be included in the science curriculum," he answered, "Yes."...

In the AP interview, during which DeVos discussed a range of education issues, he was also quoted as saying, "I would like to see the ideas of intelligent design -- that many scientists are now suggesting is a very viable alternative theory -- that that theory and others that would be considered credible would expose our students to more ideas, not less."

And here's where things get rather funny. Another MCFS member forwarded me an email from the DeVos campaign. After seeing the Free Press article came out, he wrote to the DeVos campaign asking for clarification and they replied by claiming that the Free Press had "misrepresented" his position and they offered his "real" position. But in fact, the statement they gave him matched the quotes attributed to DeVos in the Free Press article word for word. There was no misrepresentation whatsoever. On Friday, MCFS sent out a press release exposing this false claim of misrepresentation and showing the two statements side by side to prove that they are virtually verbatim the same. The DeVos campaign is clearly in scramble mode as the controversy over his pro-ID position grows. How that will influence the November elections remains to be seen.

One thing is certain: these attempts to weaken public school science teaching will continue, in Ohio and in Michigan and all around the country. The advocates of obscurantism will not stop, they will continue to offer the same old arguments wrapped continually in a shiny new coat. And the various Citizens for Science groups around the country, as well as the National Center for Science Education, will continue fighting to protect science education against these attempts to weaken our children's education. In whatever state you're in, I urge you to get involved with these groups (for a complete list, go here).

If you don't see one in your state, why not start one yourself? If you're interested, contact me and I'll be happy to point you in the right direction. We can put you in contact with other people in your state who are interested in the issue and want to help out, and we can guide you through the process of establishing a group and getting involved. Led by the tireless work and ingenuity of groups like Kansas Citizens for Science and Ohio Citizens for Science, we have learned how to effectively counter the actions of the creationists and fight to protect science education against their attacks. And we'd love to have your help, wherever you are.

By J. David Yelleman,  on Left2Right:

[ full post ]  "In previous posts
I have pointed readers to various websites devoted to debunking
Intelligent Design.  Here I'd like to point to some excellent sites
debunking Holocaust revisionism:  first, a site containing all of the expert testimony presented by the defense of Emory University historian Deborah Lipstadt against charges of libel leveled by the revisionist David Irving; second, an essay by Lipstadt published by the BBC; and finally, The Holocaust History Project, an awesome collection of essays, scanned and typed documents, and links.

Of course, the similarity between these two sets of deniers does not
extend to the content of their motives, insofar as Holocaust deniers are motivated by anti-Semitism.  The similarity is rather one of intellectual style. In both cases, a vastly sprawling body of evidence points inexorably to a single unifying explanation, which becomes the target of vague doubts and minute quibbles from people who can offer no remotely comparable alternative...."

Creationist & ID'er argumentative styles compared to those of Holocaust deniers. Heh.

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Sep 25, 2006 at 04:14:10 PM EST

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