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Archive for Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Conservatives continue to tweak science standards

July 13, 2005

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— With a final vote still months away, the State Board of Education's conservative Republican majority continued Tuesday to tinker with proposed science standards that would expose students to more criticism of evolution.

The latest changes, approved on a series of 6-4 votes, are in keeping with revisions supported by advocates of intelligent design, who want to move away from the standards' evolution-friendly tone.

The standards are used in developing state tests for fourth, seventh and 10th-graders. Local schools will continue to have the final say on what's taught in their classrooms.

The newest version says the board isn't advocating intelligent design as an alternative to the theory of evolution. However, the language favored by the board comes from intelligent design advocates who challenge the theory of evolution as science.

"I keep finding things that the only justification for them being here is intelligent design and creationism," said board member Sue Gamble, of Shawnee, one of the less conservative members.

Conservative members continue to maintain they only want a more balanced view of evolution and cited testimony from a four-day hearing in May featuring intelligent design advocates.

National and state science groups boycotted those hearings before a three-member board subcomittee, viewing them as rigged against evolution.

"We just want to have both sides be able to have their information presented," said conservative Kathy Martin, of Clay Center, a subcommittee members.

For example, at Martin's urging, the board added a statement to the standards that biological evolution is an "unguided" process without a set purpose.

Some scientists argue such language presents a false picture and is designed to set up an unnecessary conflict between religion and science.

The board's final vote on the standards might not occur until October, after Kansas educators meet Aug. 2 and outside reviewers have their say. However, the additional scrutiny isn't expected to divert the board from its current course.

Conservatives' changes reflect skepticism of evolutionary theory that natural chemical processes resulted in the building blocks of life, that all life has a common origin and that man and apes had common ancestors.

Intelligent design says some features of the natural world are best explained by an intelligent cause because they're well-ordered and complex.

But many scientists view it as repackaged creationism, which the U.S. Supreme Court has banned from the classrooms.

Battles over evolution also have occurred in recent years in Georgia, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

In 1999, the Kansas board deleted most references to evolution from the science standards, bringing international condemnation and ridicule to Kansas.

Elections the next year resulted in a less conservative board, which led to the current, evolution-friendly standards.

Conservative Republicans recaptured the board's majority in 2004 elections.

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