Archive for Thursday, February 15, 2001

Evolution back on books

Board votes 7-3 to restore scientific theories to state standards

February 15, 2001


— Evolution is back in Kansas science standards.

Eighteen months, an election and a national debate after the Kansas State Board of Education removed crucial concepts of evolution from the standards, the theory is back in.

After the state board on Wednesday voted 7-3 to restore the theory about the origins of humans to the Kansas curriculum, many in the audience applauded.

But board chairman Sonny Rundell, R-Syracuse, who voted for evolution, quickly stood up and scolded them, saying that their applause was inappropriate.

And so the contentious debate that often pitted scientists against fundamentalist Christians came to an end, for now.

In August 1999, a more conservative education board voted 6-4 to remove references to many evolutionary concepts from standards that were used to test Kansas students.

The 1999 standards deleted references to macroevolution the theory that one species may evolve into another but included references to "microevolution," or changes within species.

The 1999 standards also mentioned natural selection, the idea that advantageous traits increase in a population over time, but omitted any reference to the big-bang theory of the universe's origin.

Widespread focus

The decision brought ridicule from scientific organizations, and Kansas became prime material for late-night television comedians. Gov. Bill Graves called the decision embarrassing.

The public comment period during monthly education board meetings became a battleground between evolutionists and creationists. Kansas University instructors were frequent critics of the board's decision.

By last August, the so-called moderate wing of the Republican Party mobilized against the conservatives and defeated two of the three anti-evolution board members in the primary, including then-chairwoman Linda Holloway, R-Shawnee. Mary Douglass Brown, R-Wichita, was also defeated.

With a newly seated board, the restoration of evolution was never in doubt.

In fact, tests based on the new standards already are being composed and set to be used next month.

But that didn't stop debate Wednesday.

Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, the lone conservative on the board to stand for re-election in 2000 and win, accused fellow board members of bowing to the wishes of elite scientists.

"That is passing the buck. I believe that is egregious," he said. "Just because it's taught around the world doesn't mean it's good. I don't believe we should be lemmings."

Both he and John Bacon, R-Olathe, said the new science standards taught evolution as fact.

"It's going to split a lot of people and have a detrimental effect on public schools," said Bacon, whose district includes Lawrence.

But Carol Rupe, R-Wichita, said that was part of a misinformation campaign.

"This is not being crammed down people's throats," she said.

Voting with Rupe were Rundell; Sue Gamble, R-Shawnee; Val DeFever, R-Independence; Janet Waugh, D-Kansas City; Bill Wagnon, D-Topeka; and Bruce Wyatt, R-Salina.

Voting against the new standards were Abrams, Bacon, and Harold Voth, R-Haven.

Science vs. religion

The rewritten standards were put together by a committee of scientists. The standards include a tolerance statement that says if a teacher determines that a student's question deals with religion, "The teacher should explain why the question is outside the domain of natural science and encourage the student to discuss the question further with his or her family and other appropriate sources."

Board member Waugh said the issue came down to whether Kansas students should be taught religion in science class.

"We are not atheists. I believe all board members are Christians. But a science class isn't about religion," Waugh said.

Board member DeFever said she was sympathetic to religious views and suggested that the board work on standards for a comparative religion class that could be taught as a social studies course.

'Most read, revised and refined'

Steve Case, a KU instructor who worked on the science standards, wore a button with a picture of a red heart and the words "I Love Science."

"This is a great Valentine's present," Case said after the board voted.

Case said he thinks most Kansans favor the teaching of evolution.

"Kansans are very level-headed, practical people. People in agriculture understand how nature works," he said.

He said the standards are probably the best in the nation.

"We have the most read, revised and refined science standards in the world," he said.

Graves issued a statement that said Kansas students will benefit by "the broader and more comprehensive science standards supported by the current board of education."

Lee Allison, director of the Kansas Geological Survey, attended the meeting and supports the new standards. But, he said, "This is just one more skirmish in the war that we will see across the nation" between science and religion.

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