New Evolution Battle Underway in Ohio

"There are no proven theories in science," he said. "If we point out that evolution is unproven, we'll need to point out that the theory of gravity is also unproven. And evolution is a much stronger theory than the theory of gravity. Evolution is the scientific view that needs to be presented."

Federal Mandate?

The push to incorporate Intelligent Design language into Ohio's standards has been partly fueled by a Seattle-based group called the Discovery Institute. The institute, which identifies itself a think tank for Intelligent Design, has been active in generating media and public attention to the theory and to the controversy in Ohio. It is funded in part by Christian foundations.

Most recently the institute publicized the arguments of two Ohio representatives who claim that a federal law passed last January under President George W. Bush calls for academic standards that include arguments both for and against evolution. Ohio is the first state to issue new science standards since the president's "No Child Left Behind" bill was signed.

But Kenneth Miller, a biology professor at Brown University who has participated in hearings in Ohio about the controversy, dismisses the lawmakers' claim. He points out there is nothing within the actual law regarding evolution. Instead, the reference to the evolution controversy is limited to language inside a report by a joint conference committee about the bill.

"They're playing very fast and loose with the facts," said Miller.

Regardless of technicalities in the bill's language, the back and forth alone suggests that Ohio politicians may be poised to take up the science standards issue if the state's board does not vote to include new language.

Unlike past movements to include the biblical theory of creation in school's science plans, proponents of Intelligent Design deny their agenda is a religious one. Behe explains the theory points out weaknesses in Darwin's theory of evolution and tries to present the "best explanation of how the world got here." The fact that the theory's explanation is mystical, says Behe, is beside the point.

A ‘Clever’ Mandate

Recently 52 Ohio scientists, mostly professors from The Ohio State University, signed a petition in support of standards that would include arguments both for and against evolution.

"The petition was partly a reaction to the claims people were making that there weren't any serious scientists who support Intelligent Design," said Robert DiSilvestro, a professor of human nutrition at The Ohio State University who signed the petition.

More than 2,700 Ohio citizens, including other scientists, have signed a petition sponsored by Ohio Citizens for Science, which urges science standards not include alternative ideas to evolution. Patricia Princehouse, a philosophy professor at Case Western Reserve University and founder of the group, suggested some of the scientists who signed the Intelligent Design petition may have been misled.

"The people pushing the agenda in Kansas learned a lot," said Steven Rissing, a biology professor who teaches evolution at The Ohio State University in Columbus. "This approach is more subtle than creation and, frankly, more clever."

DiSilvestro says he and his colleagues were well aware of the Intelligent Design reference.

"All we're saying is teachers should be encouraged to point out difficulties with the theory of evolution," he said.

Ohio's Board of Education plans to add any revisions to the science standards in June and must approve it by the end of the year. Bills pending in the state's House and Senate would require the state legislature to approve the standards as well.

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