Fighting for your right to evolve

On Tuesday, March 9, 2004 the Ohio State School Board approved by a vote of 13-5 a scientific statewide curriculum that enjoins evolutionary theory with a theory of intelligent design. Their new curriculum “Critical Analysis of Evolution” presents an optional set of lesson plans that entreats to students to consider that a higher power must have been involved with the creation of life and, thus, the process of evolution.

One does not need to convince me that something big is happening here, so to speak. In many ways I follow the master and commander of popular science, Carl Sagan, as he marveled at the wonder of the universe in his book “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” and elegantly concluded that something beautiful was happening at the bequest of evolution. His judgment, though, did not necessitate a violation of the very evolutionary principles that led him to this conclusion. The beauty, for Sagan, was in the expansive unknown. The splendor was in the billions of stars and potential worlds that blinked across every sky in every known and unknown universe. And in this he was content to wonder and to explore the own reaches of his decidedly effusive imagination. This has been denied to the students of the State of Ohio.

Imagination, wonderment and self-illumination are very often the derivative of the remarkably simple, yet remarkably refined, study of evolutionary theory. The thirteen board members who favored placing God at the center of a scientific study of evolution have both denied the students the opportunity to grapple with the haunting questions of evolution on their own, and have also violated the students freedom to worship at the altar of their choice (and this includes science).

The board members’ decision also regretfully masquerades as a “critical thinking” exercise. They argue that scientists have critiqued evolutionary theory from the very beginning and they, the School Board, are only offering critical tools to assess the principles underpin evolution. In reality, it is well understood that the founding principles of evolutionary theory have always been in contention with religiously dogmatic creation narratives. It is quite another thing to compel students to consider the possibility of “intelligent design” when the mainstream high-school curriculum never precluded that possibility in the first place.

Evolution, simply, is what it is: a set of principles about the development and change of life over time. There was always room for God if one wished to superimpose the two. Now, however, the Ohio School Board instructs its own set of evolutionary principles using religious cravings to construct the science. They must consider ‘intelligent design’ to be in reference to their own curricular adaptation, because at every other scientific level it profoundly fails.

Yet, life has a way of evolving-as can be attested to in the many misfires, mis-starts and extinctions of a myriad of species throughout the archaeological, paleontological, and paleoanthropological record. Here intelligent design does not seem so “intelligent,” after all. This, ultimately, raises the unholy specter that evolution may be filled with… mistakes. A higher power who makes mistakes? God only knows what the Ohio State School Board will do with that.