"Why is it important for scientists to critically analyze evolution?"
That's the first question in the "student reflection" portion of a controversial 22-page section called "Critical Analysis of Evolution," which is now part of Ohio's 547-page public school science curriculum.
How could anybody object to such an innocuous question? Newspapers report a steady stream of news that scientists are questioning such dogmas as good cholesterol vs. bad cholesterol, vaccine links to autism, the causes of breast cancer, even fluoridation for children's teeth. Isn't the nature of science to question assertions and seek the proof from evidence?
On Feb. 10, the Ohio State Board of Education approved the new curriculum by a vote of 13-5 after being persuaded by 22 Ohio scientists that the lesson plan promotes academic freedom and that it is good for students in 10th grade to have an inquiring mind about evolution.
"Are we about teaching students how to think, or what to think?" asked one parent supporter of the lesson plan.
And it's optional; no teacher will be required to teach criticisms of evolution, and no students will be tested on the criticisms. So what's the big deal?
To some people, it's a very big deal. The American Civil Liberties Union is threatening a lawsuit.
Case Western Reserve University lecturer Patricia Princehouse - whose academic position is philosophy, not science - led the opposition to the new lesson. "It's sad day for science in Ohio," she said.
Another nonscientist, Florida State University law professor Steven Gey, flew in to warn Ohio residents that the lesson is unconstitutional and would almost certainly be struck down if it reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Maybe he is seeking an activist judge to rule that the Constitution prohibits allowing students to question anything in science class.
Gey's notions of constitutionality are unusual. He thinks that "moral relativism" is a "constitutional command," that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional, and that nude sunbathing should be given "constitutional protection."
There is nothing religious about creationism, or even about intelligent design, in the new Ohio standards. What is controversial is giving students the opportunity to question evolution; it's the inquiry-and-debate aspect that some people find so threatening.
The new lesson encourages students to consider both supporting and "challenging" evidence for evolution. The challenges to the theory are understated and are backed up with facts.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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