LANSING (AP) – The State Board of Education supported the theory of evolution yesterday in its unanimous vote to approve what Michigan public schools should teach in science classes.
The board’s vote on high school course content expectations appears to leave intelligent design shut out of science classrooms, at least for now. But educators say there would be room to discuss intelligent design outside of science class, perhaps in courses such as philosophy.
The science curriculum language also is designed to allow some flexibility for introduction of new material and discoveries, as long as they are based on sound science.
“The intent of the board needs to be very clear,” said board member John Austin, an Ann Arbor Democrat. “Evolution is not under stress. It is not untested science.”
The state board, with help from specialists and educators from across the state, has been working for months on course criteria related to Michigan’s new high school graduation standards that start with the class of 2011.
Intelligent design’s proponents hold that living organisms are so complex they must have been created by a higher force rather than evolving from more primitive forms. Some want science teachers to teach that Darwin’s theory of evolution is not a fact and has gaps.
Some science groups and the American Civil Liberties Union had worried that state standards would not be strong enough to prevent the discussion of intelligent design in science class. But after some wording changes adopted yesterday, it became clearer that evolutionary theory was supported by the state board.
Gregory Forbes, a biology instructor at Grand Rapids Community College, said it appears the “doors have been shut” on those in Michigan who support the teaching of intelligent design as a viable scientific alternative to evolution.
Forbes, a supporter of evolution theory, told the state board there is a difference in scientific status between evolution and intelligent design.
“Science can’t answer all the questions,” he said. “Scientific theory has to be testable. To suggest intelligent design is a scientific theory is inappropriate because it is not testable. . It hasn’t earned its way into the science classroom.”
Richard Thompson, leader of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, said intelligent design should have a home in science classes.
“It would make students more knowledgeable about science and more interested in science,” he said in a phone interview. “Evolution is a theory. It’s not a fact.”
The content expectations lay out what should be taught, but how it is taught could largely be for teachers and local school districts to decide, state schools chief Mike Flanagan said.
He said yesterday’s vote has broader significance than the debate over evolution theory. It’s a move to make science class standards the same in public school classrooms across the state.
“It’s the same in Marquette as it is in Monroe, and that’s never been done before,” Flanagan said.