INDEPENDENCE, KAN. When the chairman of the Kansas State Board of Education told the crowd here that it was impossible to believe in the Bible and evolution - it has to be one, not the other - only one family got up and left.
"It would be very funny if it weren't so serious," Tim Emert, a local lawyer, former state Senate majority leader and former State Board of Education chairman, said after he walked out.
"There are just so many problems in public education, to create this divisiveness over something that when it translates to the classroom is not going to make any difference, I think is just a sad commentary on the State Board of Education.
"I believe that you can believe that God created the earth, and I believe evolution exists and I can't second guess God about how he created it," Emert said.
His comments came Thursday after a speech by current State Board of Education Chairman Steve Abrams, a leading critic of evolution.
Abrams, a Republican from Arkansas City, has led a successful charge by the 6-4 conservative majority on the education board to adopt science standards that cast doubts about the theory.
During a question-and-answer period to a mostly receptive audience of church-going social conservatives fed up with evolution, Abrams said one couldn't believe in the Bible and evolution. You must believe one or the other.
Evolution in Kansas
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- 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
"At some point in time, if you compare evolution and the Bible, you have to decide which one you believe," Abrams said. "That's the bottom line."
But Emert's response to Abrams was in the minority at this meeting.
The majority of the approximately 75 people who had gathered in a former post office converted to a history museum said "Amen" to Abrams' speech. The meeting was coordinated by a small, local group of Christian men called Open Public Education Now.
Abrams was introduced by fellow conservative board member Iris Van Meter, of Thayer, who urged the crowd to pray for the conservative board members.
Van Meter said the audience could pray for other board members, too, but she emphasized, "Would you pray for six of the conservative members that God will use us to see some life-changing things happen for the children of the state of Kansas."
During his talk, Abrams defended the conservatives on a variety of issues before the board, including a proposed change in the sex education policy and the hunt for a new education commissioner, who will be the top public school official in Kansas.
Currently, on sex education, local districts can decide whether to implement a policy where parents can "opt in" their children or "opt out."
Most districts, including Lawrence, "opt out," meaning if parents don't want their child to participate in the sex education curriculum they can sign a form, and the student will be given an alternative class.
The conservatives want to recommend "opt in," meaning that parents would have to sign a permission slip to allow their child to participate. Health policy experts say this will reduce the number of children getting necessary sex education because some parents aren't involved enough to sign the form. The health officials have urged the board to leave the matter to the discretion of local school districts.
Abrams disagreed. "The one thing that trumps local control is parent control," Abrams said.
And Abrams said he was "sick and tired of all this second guessing" about finalists chosen by the board for the education commissioner post. He said he had received a lot of negative comments because one of the five finalists, Bob Corkins, a Lawrence resident who is head of a conservative think tank, has no background in teaching nor education administration.
But Abrams asked how many chief executive officers of hospitals were medical doctors.
The audience, a mix of young, middle-aged and elderly people, greeted Abrams warmly, giving him a standing ovation at the end of the evening.
The group sponsoring the talk had offered books titled "The Case for A Creator," and a list of "resources for the case against Darwin." Prayers were said to open and end the meeting.
Dan Delich, a carpenter from Independence, said he wanted students to learn that there was information that debunked evolution.
"We just want equal access," Delich said. He said the theory that life was based on a "random explosion of molecules was like a bomb blowing up in a junkyard and producing a 747."
Tim Holloway, a delivery pilot for Cessna, praised the education board for being "courageous."
He said too often the doctrine of separation of church and state was "used as a club to beat back Christianity. To acknowledge the existence of God doesn't establish a religion."
Tim Nordell, of Sedan, said he believed the public school system started to decline when prayer and Bible reading were removed. Of evolution, he said, "There's a bunch of holes in it," and pointed to several scientific discoveries that were later proven wrong.
A man who declined to be identified because he promised his wife not to spout off, said, "Evolution is a religion of its own that excludes all others. It's a cult of its own."
When asked how they could join in the fight against evolution, Abrams, who had read to the group several angry e-mails he received from evolution supporters, warned that the battle "takes a huge toll."
"You must be prepared emotionally," he said.