What should the 1.8 million children who attend Ohio public schools be taught about the origin of life?
On March 11 four panelists — two proponents of evolutionary biology and two proponents of intelligent design — presented the state board of education answers to this question.
The theory of evolution contends all species evolved from a few common ancestors through natural selection and random mutation. Proponents of intelligent design argue evidence exists to suggest some entity designed our complex, varied world.
Until recently, each of Ohio's local school boards would have separately set the curriculum for their students in science and all other classes. In June 2001, Senate Bill 1 became law and transferred this power to the state.
Since then, the state school board has adopted standards for the content of English and mathematics classes. The board will set standards for science and social studies by the end of this year, after which it will address foreign languages, technology, and the arts.
A writing team of 41 individuals drawn mostly from the teaching and administrative ranks of Ohio's school districts has drafted a preliminary version of the science standards. As currently written, these standards require the teaching of evolution and do not incorporate intelligent design or creationism.
According to panelist Lawrence Krauss, chairman of the physics department at Case Western Reserve University, intelligent design should not be taught in science class because it is not scientific.
'The attempt is being made here to bypass the traditional mechanisms of science and go directly to the high school classroom,' he argued.
Krauss outlined these mechanisms of science as the scientific method and debate amongst the scientific community.
The scientific method, the road map for all scientific endeavors, is comprised of the following necessary steps: observation and description of a phenomenon, formulation of a hypothesis to explain it, testing the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena or to quantitatively predict the results of new observations and testing of predictions by several independent experimenters.
If, after these steps are complete, other scientists agree the idea was properly tested and the results were properly interpreted, the findings may be published in a journal article. Although all scientists might not agree with the findings, such publication generally signifies acceptance as valid science.
Krauss argued intelligent design has undergone no such testing, has survived no such debate and, as a result, has not been published in scientific journals.
Intelligent design seems, instead, to be stuck at number two of the scientific method — formulation of a hypothesis to explain a phenomenon.
For example, Lehigh University biologist Michael Behe believes the tiny cellular motor that powers bacterial flagellum could not have evolved from a simpler structure, as evolutionary theory would predict, because it is an irreducibly complex structure. Without any one of its fifty parts, the flagellum would not work.
From this, Behe hypothesizes the motor must have been designed by some entity. Behe's idea, which is the cornerstone of intelligent design, has not been and probably cannot be tested. It is merely a hypothesis, a possibility.
Krauss cited this shortcoming as one of intelligent design's failures.
'[Evolution] makes predictions that have been tested over and over again for 100 years,' he said. 'Intelligent design is an idea but it makes no predictions that appear to agree with observations It is not science by any modern definition of science.'
In contrast, evolution theory has enabled biologists to map the ancestral tree of certain organisms prior to discovering fossils that proved these predictions correct.
In their presentations, Jonathon Wells and Stephen Meyer, the panelists who argued for the inclusion of intelligent design in Ohio's curriculum, did not directly address Krauss' claims that intelligent design is not science. Rather, their main argument was Ohio's school children should be exposed to this controversy in the scientific community.
Wells, a senior fellow at the Center for Renewal of Science and Culture (CRSC), an organization established to promote intelligent design, highlighted several individuals and small groups of scientists who do not endorse the theory of evolution.
Wells then poses this question: Should teachers be able to tell students some scientists doubt natural selection explains the origins and complexities of life?
Wells also presents disagreements between Behe and pro-evolution biologist Kenneth Miller, also a panelist, as the 'hallmark of scientific controversy' and argues students need to hear this.
Krauss contends the untested beliefs of a few scientists should not be taught as valid science any more than the views of a few historians who believe the Holocaust never occurred should be taught as valid history. He claims all major scientific organizations and the vast majority of scientists endorse the theory of evolution, and the controversy referred to by Wells does not involve science, but was manufactured by special-interest fringe groups.
'There is no disagreement in the scientific community about the fact of evolution,' Krauss said.
A 1998 poll seems to support Krauss' contention. More than 95 percent of American scientists who were surveyed endorsed the theory of evolution.
It is interesting to note the credentials of the panelists who argued in front of the state's board of education. Pro-evolution panelists Krauss and Miller hold doctoral degrees in science, teach science at prestigious universities, perform research and publish frequently in widely respected journals such as Science and Nature.
Krauss received his Ph.D. in physics from MIT and taught at Yale before chairing the department of physics at Case Western, where he also teaches astronomy. Miller earned his Ph.D. in biology from the University of Colorado and taught at Harvard before joining the biology faculty at Brown.
On the other hand, both proponents of intelligent design, Meyer and Wells, are employees of CRSC. Meyer is a philosophy professor at Whitworth College, not a scientist. Although he holds a doctoral degree in molecular and cell biology, Wells does not perform research or teach science. He also earned a doctoral degree in religious studies at Yale.
These backgrounds might be symbolic of the differences between evolution, intelligent design and creationism. Evolution follows the rules of science and has been accepted by science. Intelligent design and creationism appear to be religion and philosophy masquerading as science.