The voice is not what you'd expect. Over the past two weeks, state Board of Education member Michael Cochran has been pilloried across Ohio for trying to include "intelligent design," the New & Improved term for creationism, in the state science curriculum. Cleveland ACLU chief Christine Link calls it going "back to the 14th century." Newspapers offer stern, tweed-jacket rebukes that, if distilled to the People's English, would simply read, "What are you, some kinda $#@&%* moron?"
So you expect Cochran to have the rat-tat-tat cadence of a USDA-approved religious nut, a man whose thoughts and theories so outstrip his intellectual capacity that they spill from his lips in a torrent of nonsense. At least that's how Jesus kooks usually sound. But Cochran's voice is slow, almost listless, and he comes off as -- dare it be said -- reasonable.
He's not attempting to cast aside evolution or insert religion into science studies, he says. He simply argues that evolution is a theory, not proven fact. And since science is essentially the art of educated conjecture, why can't teachers at least examine the idea that life was created by the intelligent design of a greater power?
"It wouldn't be a Sunday-school class, as it's been painted," says Cochran. "I'm not arguing that evolution shouldn't be taught, and it may be taught as the main theory. But the spotlight should be shared with other theories."
There are, of course, problems with Cochran's argument. Similar attempts in Arkansas and Louisiana have already been ruled unconstitutional. It's never good science to follow Arkansas and Louisiana.
Moreover, not a single major scientific organization agrees with Cochran, says John Crooks, director of science and math at Lorain County Community College.
The ACLU's Link has seen this scam before. That organizers of the latest push simply changed the word "creationism" to "intelligent design" -- and try not to reference God -- speaks both of their ham-fisted tenacity and a serious lack of cunning.
Link says the movement is sponsored by the American Family Association. "This is a well-organized and highly funded campaign that's going on across the country. They're not doing it because they're an august, scientific body. They're a religious organization promoting it as a vehicle for proselytizing."
Indeed, for a man who holds a master's in divinity, Cochran is disingenuous in protesting that "No one I'm aware of assigns [intelligent design] to God." But regardless of his motives, he does have a point.
Since Cincinnati rednecks conquered state government, Ohio seems hell-bent on becoming New Appalachia. The public school system has been reduced to a 1954 curriculum based largely on taking tests, so that students may someday gain lucrative employ in the Sherwin-Williams test-taking department. (Expect the state to soon decree that children should have only four teeth.)
Somewhere along the line, we lost faith in teachers thinking freely with their students. Since America only leads the world in medicine, technology, commerce, and damn near everything in between, it was logical to conclude that our teachers failed, and that they should be strictly regulated in what they can say, so we can be like Cuba.
Yet Cochran's push might actually lead to more open debate. The National Opinion Research Center notes that 47 percent of Americans disbelieve in evolution. Since creationism is such a prevalent theory, it's only natural that teachers and students test its scientific merits. You know, free thinking? Deductive reasoning? It's stuff we used to cherish before Ohio returned to rules and rote memorization.
The right and left will squawk, of course, believing teachers unequipped to translate the word of God or too quick to supplant science with the Bible. And no doubt the idea will become thoroughly perverted now that the Legislature wants a say. But the alternative -- "Let's pretend it doesn't exist!" -- ranks an 8.4 on the Moronic Scale.