WASHINGTON -- Critics say it's creationism in the classroom by another name. Supporters say it's now the law.
Conservative Republicans in the U.S. Congress are pressing the Ohio Board of Education, which is in the midst of devising a new curriculum, to introduce religious alternatives to evolution in the classroom, saying such theories are mandated by a recently passed federal education act.
This would surprise many of the senators and representatives who voted for the act, which does not contain a word about the book of Genesis. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that teaching "creation science" violated the constitutional separation of church and state.
But the new act, which was passed with broad support from both Republicans and Democrats, contains an addendum known as a conference report, stipulating that "where topics are taught that may generate controversy -- such as biological evolution -- the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist."
To supporters of a divinely inspired humanity, this mandates that schools teach such concepts as "intelligent design theory." The theory, which has been endorsed by a small number of scientists, argues that complex organisms such as a human eye could never have evolved though Darwinian natural selection, and that a higher power must guide evolutionary process.
Supporters of the theory maintain it does not violate the separation of church and state, because no specific religious theory or deity is invoked and because it enjoys some scientific support.
"Let's teach evolution, but let's teach more than is being taught right now," Mark Edwards of the anti-Darwinian Discovery Institute said in an interview yesterday. "Because right now, you're only hearing the evidence for [evolution], and critics and dissenting opinions and the evidence against it are really being censored."
Two Republican Ohio congressmen agree. John Boehner and Steve Chabot recently wrote the Ohio board, maintaining that teaching an alternative to evolution "is now part of the law -- students are entitled to learn that there are differing scientific views on issues such as biological evolution."
To the scientific and educational community, the Ohio campaign represents the latest attempt by zealots to infiltrate the classroom with fundamentalist Christianity.
Intelligent-design theory "is a purely religious document that has absolutely no place in the science classroom," said Wayne Carley, executive director of the National Association of Biology Teachers. "The fundamental purpose is to embed a fundamentalist religious doctrine into public education."
The education bill's conference report, he and many legal experts argue, has no legislative weight and should be ignored.
Perhaps, but no one can ignore that the vast majority of Americans either believe in a divinely inspired biology, or believe alternatives to evolution should at least be offered in the classroom.
The Discovery Institute commissioned Zogby International, a nationally recognized polling company, to canvas Ohioans on their views about education evolution. Two-thirds believed that any scientific evidence against Darwinism should be included in the curriculum, while fewer than one in five felt that evolution alone should be taught.
The Zogby poll reflects the findings of earlier national Gallup polls. But "science is not a democratic process," Mr. Carley maintained. "Science is a process of testing and evaluation and it moves forward by the most rigorous methods, not simply by people voting for what they want."
The Ohio school board currently continues to embrace only Darwinian natural selection in its new curriculum, although a number of board members say they support including intelligent design as well. A final vote must be held between now and the end of the year.
A similar dispute in Kansas three years ago led to the temporary abandonment of evolution as a required component in the curriculum. The decision was reversed when board trustees who supported the move were defeated in the next election.
It has been 77 years since schoolteacher John Scopes was convicted and fined $100 for teaching evolution in a Tennessee classroom -- the famous Scopes Monkey Trial. The law banning the teaching of evolution remained on that state's books until 1967.
© 2002 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc