Poll: Ohioans Want Students To Learn More Than Evolution

CLEVELAND (AP) - A majority of Ohioans want public schools to teach evolution and a concept called "intelligent design" when they discuss how life originated and changed, according to a statewide poll commissioned by The Plain Dealer.

The poll showed that about three in five Ohioans favor teaching both the long-standing theory that life evolved by natural processes as well as the newer concept that a supernatural designer guided human development.

The state Board of Education, scheduled to meet in Columbus on Monday to resume discussions on the issue, is struggling to rewrite state science curriculum, which in part will recommend what students should know about life's origins and diversity.

The 19-member board must approve the standards by year's end and is evenly divided on the issue. A majority of members on the standards committee favor including the alternative to evolution.

Ohio would be the first state to include intelligent design in its curriculum.

Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, the Washington, D.C.-based firm that conducted the telephone poll for the newspaper, interviewed 1,507 randomly selected Ohioans by telephone from May 28 to June 4.

The poll's margin of sampling error was plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.

The poll found that 59 percent supported teaching both ideas, 15 percent supported teaching the evidence both for and against evolution but not necessarily intelligent design, 9 percent supported teaching nothing about human development, 8 percent advocated teaching evolution only, and 8 percent wanted intelligent design only. One percent was undecided.

Advocates of intelligent design, who see Ohio as a bellwether for the rest of the country and have been waging an intense campaign to sway board members, were buoyed by the findings.

"The people of Ohio evidently think they should teach both," said Bruce Chapman, president of Seattle's Discovery Institute, a leading proponent of intelligent design.

But the poll also found that Ohioans aren't buying supporters' claim that the concept is not religiously based. Two-thirds of the poll respondents believe the unspecified "designer" in intelligent design is God.

And, although Ohioans want to give evolution some competition in the classroom, 59 percent of those interviewed said it is a somewhat or completely valid account of how humans developed.

Those numbers provide some small comforts to supporters of evolution, the theory that naturalist Charles Darwin put forth nearly 150 years ago and that has been bolstered by a wealth of data since.

However, the main findings still are distressing, said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, and Oakland, Calif., organization defending the teaching of evolution.

"This tells me that science education has a long way to go," she said.

Scott said intelligent-design backers have been successful at packaging the concept "as an equity issue as opposed to a science and religion issue."

Former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim Hagan, the Democrat who is challenging Gov. Bob Taft's re-election in November, said adopting intelligent design would hurt Ohio's chances of recruiting the nation's top scientists, engineers and mathematicians, a majority of whom dismiss the concept as pseudo-science.

"It undermines the very effort we're trying to do to attract people to this state," Hagan said.

Taft won't disclose his position on the debate, saying it is a matter for the state school board to decide.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)