A Fair treatment of evolution?

At its February 10, 2014, meeting, the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee approved a new set of science standards for South Carolina — with the exception of a clause involving the phrase "natural selection." According to the Charleston Post and Courier (February 10, 2014), Senator Mike Fair (R-District 6) explained, "Natural selection is a direct reference to Darwinism. And the implication of Darwinism is that it is start to finish." He added, "To teach that natural selection is the answer to origins is wrong. ... I don't have a problem with teaching theories. I don't think it should be taught as fact."

The performance indicator in question reads, "Students who demonstrate this understanding [of biological evolution] can ... analyze and interpret data, using the principles of natural selection, to make predictions about the long term biological changes that may occur within two populations of the same species that become geographically isolated from one another." Fair told The State (February 10, 2014), "There's not but one theory coming from the principles of natural selection," adding, "There are more than one. But the one being taught and will continue to be taught is Darwinism."

"What frustrates us are when pieces of [the standards] — evolution — are singled out for religious and political reasons," South Carolinians for Science Education's Robert T. Dillon, a professor of biology at the College of Charleston, told The State. "Mike Fair singles out evolution for special treatment. It is no more scientifically controversial than photosynthesis.” Dillon previously told a blogger for the Post and Courier (January 8, 2014) that "critically analyze" is used in the standards only twice, with reference to evolution and climate change, and suggested the addition of the adverb "critically" to the other 129 clauses containing the word "analyze."

As NCSE previously reported, the South Carolina state board of education voted in January 2014 to adopt the new set of science standards, rejecting two different proposals that would have compromised the treatment of evolution in the process. The EOC was supposed to have voted on the standards before the board's vote, but instead sent the standards to the board with a list of recommended changes, including a revision that seemed to be intended to open the door to the use of non-scientific critiques of evolution. Both the EOC and the state board must agree on the standards for them to be adopted.

The impasse is a replay of a similar situation in 2006, when Fair and the EOC sought to expand the "critical analysis" language in the portion of the science standards that addressed evolution. The then state superintendent of education told The State (February 13, 2006), "'Critically analyze' ... carries with it a whole campaign against evolution." The board resisted, and the EOC finally voted to accept the evolution standard without the "critical analysis" language, but not until Fair attached a proviso to the state budget which required the state to purchase textbooks which incorporate "higher order thinking skills and critical thinking." 

Fair spearheaded a number of previous antievolution efforts in South Carolina, both in the Senate and on the EOC. The Greenville News (May 1, 2003) reported that Fair "said his intention is to show that Intelligent Design is a viable scientific alternative that should be taught in the public schools," and The State (June 17, 2005) described him as "the dominant voice advocating for S.C. schools to teach more than Charles Darwin's theories of evolution." Both of his most recent antievolution bills, Senate Bill 873 and Senate Bill 875, died in committee in June 2010.