For the past six weeks, the debate over evolution and intelligent design has played out in a Pennsylvania courtroom.
Today, Kansas gets the national spotlight back - and with it, the possibility of a federal lawsuit here.
"What's going on in Kansas," said Kenneth Miller, a Brown University biologist, "is much more radical and much more dangerous to science education" than the contested decision in Dover, Pa., to mandate the teaching of "intelligent design" in public school science classes.
Intelligent design speculates that the world is too complex to have evolved without the help of an unknown designer - an alien, perhaps, or God. Such teachings in public schools, the ACLU says, violate constitutional restrictions on the separation of church and state.
"Absolutely, absolutely," said T. Jeremy Gunn, director of the ACLU's Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, when asked if the new science standards Kansas is expected to adopt today could be vulnerable to litigation.
An official with the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, which helped defend the Dover school board, said Kansas should be able to avoid legal scrutiny. Casey Luskin said the standards here critique evolution, but they don't promote intelligent design.
"It's definitely a different issue in Kansas" than in Pennsylvania, Luskin said.
It's a different battle, perhaps, but definitely the same war. Many of the participants in the Pennsylvania trial are veterans of the Kansas evolution debates, and are keeping a close eye on today's meeting of the Kansas Board of Education.
Miller, for example, testified in the Pennsylvania trial against intelligent design. He came to Kansas in 2000 to campaign against conservative school board members the last time the evolution debate flared up here.
The new Kansas standards literally change the definition of science, he said, so that natural explanations aren't necessary to explain natural phenomena. That opens the door, he said, for astrology to be taught in public school classrooms.
Evolution poll: Kansas by the numbersEvolution poll: Kansas by the numbers
- Complete poll results: In Douglas County
- Complete poll results: By district
- Complete poll results: By age
- Complete poll results: By education level
- Complete poll results: By gender
- Graph gallery: Poll results
- Take the survey yourself
- Learning Evolution: Readers' Stories
- 6News video: Poll: Evolution should be taught in schools (10-09-05)
- Can God, evolution coexist?
- Douglas County in line with the rest of Kansas
- Responses appear linked to education level
- More seniors against teaching evolution
- Intelligent design good politics for some on Board of Education
"Is this what proponents on the Kansas Board of Education have in mind?" Miller asked.
Michael Behe, a Lehigh University scientist, wrote "Darwin's Black Box" - a touchstone text of the intelligent design movement. He testified in Pennsylvania, and before the Kansas Board of Education when it held hearings on the science standards.
"I think having students hear criticisms of any theory is a great idea," Behe said. "I think in one respect, it'll mean it's permissible to question evolution. For odd historical reasons, questioning evolution has been put off-limits. If Kansas can do it, it can be done elsewhere."
"In contrast to what everybody has said, Kansas students will hear more about evolution and not less about evolution," he said. "This is a victory for people who want students to learn critical thinking skills in science."
But Gunn noted that the vast majority of scientists believed in evolution as a proven explanation for the origins of life. The "handful" who don't, he said, have resorted to making their case through politics instead of through traditional scientific methods.
"Do we teach both sides of the controversy on astrology in science class? Do we teach both sides of phrenology?" Gunn said. "This is not a scientific controversy, it's a political controversy."
Testimony in the Pennsylvania trial wrapped up on Friday. A ruling in that case is expected in January.
Evolution in Kansas
- 6News video: Some question group's move with elections nearing (07-08-06)
- 49abcnews.com video: Discovery Institute starts ad campaign weeks before elections (07-07-06)
- 6News video: Film explores evolution circus (01-03-06)
- 6News video: Group takes shot at Mirecki through postcards (12-15-05)
- 6News video: Mirecki resigns from KU department post (12-07-05)
- Education board to revisit debate over evolution (02-11-07)
- As old board departs, new evolution stance takes shape (12-14-06)
- Biologist speaks for intelligent design (12-08-06)
- Cultures clash in Democratic primary (07-06-06)
- Education department spokesman leaves job (06-15-06)
- Evolution, religion comments put heat on department spokesman (05-26-06)
- KU profs support evolution skepticism (02-21-06)
- Science teachers pan new standards (02-14-06)
- 'Dodos' circling around I.D. (01-04-06)
- Attorneys in I.D. case spread message (01-04-06)
- Professor blasts KU, sheriff's investigation (12-10-05)
- Kansas ranks last in science (12-08-05)
- Discovery Institute
- Evolution timeline: Events related to the Kansas controversy
- U.S. District Court Ruling in Kitzmiller et al v. Dover Area School District (PDF)
- Center for Science and Culture: A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism
- Parody: Intelligent Design Society of Kansas
- Mirecki press release (.pdf)
- More evolution coverage
- LJWorld.com's Evolution in Kansas coverage