COLUMBUS - Backers of intelligent design have lost their first battle to place their theory alongside evolution in Ohio classrooms as an explanation for the origin of life.
The State Board of Education's rewrite of science and social studies standards for the state's 612 school districts continued to evolve yesterday as special writing committees presented their latest drafts of what they believe students should know and when they should know it.
Language in the science standards draft strengthens Ohio's backing of evolution, the theory that life evolved over billions of years from a single-cell organism.
However, controversy is expected to continue over whether Ohio should become the first state also to present the argument that the creation of life was too complicated to have occurred by happenstance, that some guiding hand, whether that of God or another intelligent force, was at work.
“We're not discouraged. We're still optimistic something will happen,” said Robert Lattimer, an Akron chemist and a member of the science writing team pushing for alternative theories.
Some critics of the intelligent design theory have called it “creationism in camouflage,” a revision of the biblical story of Adam and Eve. Attention shifted to Ohio after backers of intelligent design saw the Kansas Board of Education last year reverse a decision to strike evolution from its science curricula in 1999.
The 19-member state board must act by the end of the year on final standards that will ultimately be used to develop school curricula and testing.
“Evolution is the cornerstone of biological science and biology,” said Luke Bartolomeo, dean of the College of Sciences at the University of Findlay and a member of the standards-writing team. Although he did not assist in writing the life sciences section containing evolution, he said he believes the proposed standards move in the right direction.
“I don't think the [intelligent design] concept has been proven,” he said. “It has not been around long enough. The term itself has only been around 10 years or so. They're trying to prove their ideas by disproving evolution.”
Under the draft, students would be prepared in early grades by studying heredity, fossil documentation, and species extinction, but they would not be expected to directly study evolution and its history until high school.
For example, 10th grade students should “know that life on Earth is thought to have begun as simple, one-celled organisms about 4 billion years ago.”
Backers of alternative theories said they hoped the standards would at least leave the door open so local school boards could decide whether teachers could question the theory of evolution and discuss alternatives.
The latest draft does not appear to open the door but does not appear expressly to forbid such discussion.
“If it's not in the standards, teachers do not have to cover it for state tests,” said Mr. Lattimer. “There have been numerous cases where teachers have tried to bring in alternatives but were turned back by the administration and sometimes fired.”
Those interested in reviewing and commenting on the proposed standards may access them via the Department of Education's web site at www.ode.state.oh.us. Electronic mail responses are due May 15 and paper mail by June 5.