Isintelligent design near? :S.C. senator supports it, awaits board'sdecision on applying it to teaching. ByChris Dixon

Monday,February6, 2006

Edition:FINAL, Section: LOCAL & STATE, Page B1


Sen.Mike Fair said he is not seeking a back door for getting intelligentdesign in the science curriculum of South Carolina, but that studentsneed to look critically at what he characterized as the shortcomingsof evolutionary theory.

Fair made thesecomments in response to what he said was an unfair characterizationof his intentions in a Jan. 31 Post and Courier article on Gov. MarkSanford's public support of intelligent design.

Fair filed a billin June that would require schools to expose students to a variety oftheories on controversial issues like evolution. He said the billwouldn't prevent teachers from discussing evolution, but wouldrequire them to present other theories, like intelligent design, tostudents.

But manyscientists maintain that Fair's proposals are less about science andmore about bringing God into the science classroom, and,increasingly, they fear this battle will end up in a federalcourtroom.

To Fair, aveteran legislator, insurance agency owner and member of the stateEducation Oversight Committee, the jury is still out on evolution andthat's why the EOC is wrangling with proposed changes to its 2005guidelines for state biology teachers.

Every five years,the EOC updates South Carolina's teaching standards. To that end,Fair and an EOC subcommittee want to modify four of seven biologyteaching points. In their current form, the indicators have helpedSouth Carolina garner an "A" rating for its science curriculum fromthe Fordham Foundation, an educational oversight organizationgenerally highly regarded among conservatives. An EOC subcommittee isexpected to vote on specific changes, or a compromise, sometimebefore the full EOC convenes Feb. 13 to vote on adoption of thestate's updated teaching standards.

"We're going towin this vote," Fair said, "It's going to interject language orinstruction to critically analyze something that's being offered assettled science."

"Settled science"is a term many

scientistsreject. They say they never offer any theory as unequivocally"settled." The very purpose of scientific query is to constantly askquestions, they say, and the history of science is an unendingaccumulation of discovery.

Nevertheless,three of the revised teaching standards in science call for "criticalanalysis" of widely held evolutionary tenets, while one of them callsfor a challenge of a teaching standard not previously challenged.

To Fair, thesetenets are contradictory. Fair cited the widely held view amongintelligent design proponents that there is no way for evolution toexplain the "Cambrian Explosion," a prehistoric period that resultedin a staggering diversity of life on Earth. Also, he said there is noscientific evidence of the phylogenetic tree and its supposition thatall life came from a single cell. "That's not exactly what it says,"he said, "but that's what it implies. There's an incredible wealth ofinformation that flies in the face of that idea."

Not surprisingly,such talk makes science professors, including the FordhamFoundation's Paul Gross, upset. A professor emeritus from theUniversity of Virginia who graded South Carolina's year 2000standards, Gross said the revisions to the state's indicators werenot only "essentially nonsensical" but would certainly compromise thestate's science curriculum ranking.

Gross took issuewith the phrase "critically analyze." How one "critically analyzes"the passage of genes from one parent to another, and concludes thatsuch a process doesn't affect the "continuity of life," for example,is absurd, he said.

"How youcritically analyze that, except to say you don't believe in genes, Idon't know," he said.

Gross calledother proposed revisions "pure creation science," and insisted thatthe call for students to examine evidence that supports or challengesevolution is precisely what science has been doing since CharlesDarwin first published "The Origin of Species" in 1859.

Gross and severalother scientists contacted for this story added that there weresimply no reputable scientific challenges to basic evolutionarytheory, and to teach otherwise would be to inject ideology orreligion into the classroom in a way that was rebuked by U.S.District Judge John E. Jones in a Pennsylvania intelligent designcase last December.

"Jones is a goodRepublican, a churchgoer and all around decent man," said Gross. "Hewent over this issue in enormous detail in a 139-page decision. He'snot a scientist, but he took the trouble to read the literature andlisten closely to the arguments of the intelligent design crowd.There just aren't any arguments they have that anyone would want toteach in school."

Fair defended hisefforts.

"We'reencouraging the teaching of evolution," he said, "But just teach allof it. Teach the weaknesses as well as the strengths."

Reach Chris Dixon at745-5855 or