Standards impasse resumes in South Carolina

The impasse in the dispute about the place of evolution in South Carolina's state science standards continues. "The S.C. Education Oversight Committee on Monday sent proposed language to the [state board of education] that would require biology students to construct scientific arguments that seem to support and seem to discredit Darwinism," reports the Charleston Post and Courier (April 28, 2014).

As NCSE previously reported, in January 2014 the state board of education voted to adopt a revised set of science standards, rejecting two different proposals — one from the Education Oversight Committee, one from a member of the board — that would have compromised the treatment of evolution in the process. Although the board's vote was supposed to be final, the standards then returned to the EOC for its approval.

In February 2014, the EOC voted to approve the standards with the exception of a clause involving the phrase "natural selection." Senator Mike Fair (R-District 6), a member of the EOC and a long-time opponent of evolution education in South Carolina, told the Charleston Post and Courier (February 10, 2014), ""Natural selection is a direct reference to Darwinism. And the implication of Darwinism is that it is start to finish."

Subsequently, Fair seemed to reverse himself, telling the Charleston City Paper (February 13, 2014), "I support the scientific standards as they were given to our subcommittee," adding, "I just needed a few days to look at the possible overreach of the terminology, and it's not there." It was expected, therefore, that the material about natural selection would be restored, and the standards would be approved, at the EOC's April 2014 meeting.

But Fair reversed himself again during the EOC's April 28, 2014, meeting, saying, according to the Post and Courier, "We must teach the controversy ... There's another side. I'm not afraid of the controversy." He proposed to amend the standards to call for students to "[c]onstruct scientific arguments that seem to support and scientific arguments that seem to discredit Darwinian Natural selection." The amendment passed on a 7-4 vote.

Rob Dillon, a professor of biology at the College of Charleston and president of South Carolinians for Science Education, described the events as "frustrating," "irritating," and "disappointing." "There are exactly zero scientific arguments that discredit natural selection," Dillon told the Post and Courier. "What there are is about 10,000 religious arguments that seek to weaken natural selection."

What's next for South Carolina's state science standards? According to the Post and Courier, the EOC's "recommendation now goes back to the board of education. For the EOC's recommendation to be included in the state's standards, both bodies must agree on what the language should say. Otherwise, the state keeps the current language," i.e., of the state science standards adopted in 2005.

Commenting in the Post and Courier (April 30, 2014), columnist Brian Hicks advised the state board of education not to capitulate to the EOC. Rather, he said, they "need to do the right thing and ignore this pseudo science, or else let them pay for the losing lawsuit that will result. It's about time people with so little interest in any other world view stop trying to foist theirs on everyone else."

Updated on May 1, 2014, by the addition of the final paragraph.