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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

Ideological Idiocy in Ohio

A column by S. Michael Craven at aptly demonstrates how one can come to an entirely inverted view of things starting from false premises and a false inference. The lead paragraph (below) begins with a false premise (that state science standards prohibit concepts from being presented in classes) and proceeds to a wildly false conclusion (that science teachers somehow are prevented from teaching material that is already in their textbooks).

This past February the Ohio State Board of Education voted 11-4 to remove all language that was critical of evolution from its state's science curriculum. Previously, Ohio's public school science guidelines said that students should be free to "describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." The decision by the State Board of Education effectively eliminates that freedom. This means that science teachers and students are no longer authorized to discuss scientific evidence that questions the claims of Darwin's theory.

No, Michael, the board's decision doesn't remove any "freedom" to discuss "scientific evidence that questions the claims of Darwin's theory". What it removed was wording that was specifically being treated as an invitation to discuss a bunch of false, long-refuted arguments which hied from creation science through intelligent design and into the new label of critical analysis. Science standards establish what knowledge and abilities students should have; Ohio's teachers can (and I assume often do) teach things that are not specifically mentioned in the educational standards. Popular high school textbooks do incorporate material about the limits of science and in biology discuss non-Darwinian evolutionary processes, such as genetic drift. What you won't find in the textbooks, though, are the patently false arguments that have long served the antievolution movement. There is no good pedagogical reason to teach students falsehoods, though, so much of Craven's screed completely misses the point.

Let's have a closer look at the final two paragraphs from Craven.

This should be of great concern to every American regardless of their position on Darwinian evolution. This decision was not based on the facts arising out of intelligent examination and debate of the ideas themselves. It resulted from a fear of financial risk.

Craven overlooks the fact that the Ohio State Board of Education had been assured by the advocates of the "critical analysis" wording and lesson plan that this in no way was anything like that "intelligent design" stuff, and that the ideas in the lesson plan itself had been through a rigorous review by knowledgeable experts. They were lied to. The implication was that the review had looked with favor upon the "critical analysis" lesson plan. This was not the case, but they only found out about the negative review of the lesson plan this year -- because Americans United for Separation of Church and State requested the review documents and made them available to the full board. Craven seems to be overlooking the fact that an intelligent examination of the ideas themselves occurred in the Harrisburg, PA courtroom of Judge Jones. The fact was that the Ohio State Board of Education never was in favor of giving "intelligent design" arguments a pass, and then they learned this year that the same arguments that appeared in the "critical analysis" lesson plan were just the same as ID arguments made elsewhere. This was not just about financial risk. The Ohio SBOE also considered the examination of the history of the ideas that had been hidden from them previously.

As a result of litigious intimidation, the plurality of ideas, so essential to sound public and scientific debate, is utterly undermined. Ideas are no longer allowed to compete for supremacy in the marketplace based on the merits of their respective facts and arguments. Instead, public discourse and thought is controlled by special interest groups who in this case stand to profit financially from their efforts. A dangerous precedent indeed!

Craven's final paragraph brings us to that full-blown inversion of reality I mentioned earlier. If you want an idea to show up in science classrooms, the way to bring that about is to do the hard work of convincing the scientific community that the idea has merit. That process is precisely where ideas are "allowed to compete for supremacy in the marketplace based on the merits of their respective facts and arguments". The scientific process is currently under attack from "special interest groups who in this case stand to profit financially from their efforts", certainly, but those special interest groups are not the ACLU and AU, but rather political parties and industries whose platforms and profit margins are threatened by scientific research into things like global warming, management and recovery of endangered species, health effects of industrial products, and ecology.