Topeka Kansas voters dealt a blow to national efforts to put creationism in science classes, evolution proponents said Wednesday.
"I don't think there is any other way to interpret it," said Nick Matzke, a spokesman for the Oakland, Calif.-based National Center for Science Education.
The results of Kansas State Board of Education primary contests on Tuesday mean there will be at least a 6-4 majority of moderates in office in January.
That reverses the current 6-4 conservative majority that has put in place science standards that criticize evolution and have drawn international attention and some ridicule.
Supporters of the current standards say they simply provide students with alternative views of evolution.
But opponents say the criticisms are meant to point students toward intelligent design, which postulates that life's complexities are evidence of a supernatural designer. Critics say intelligent design is dressed-up creationism and should be taught as theology and not science.
The reversal of the board's majority is the latest in a series of setbacks for the intelligent design movement, Matzke said.
In February, the Ohio Board of Education reversed a curriculum standard that singled out evolution for critical analysis. And in December, a federal judge in Dover, Pa., ruled that mention of intelligent design in science class was unconstitutional because it was a religious doctrine.
Now with the Kansas election results, Matzke said supporters of intelligent design may have to change their strategy.
"If they are having trouble winning in Kansas, a red state, and in the Republican primary, it has to be somewhat discouraging. This was their crown jewel," he said.
But Casey Luskin, a spokesman for the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that advocates for intelligent design, disagreed.
First, he insisted that the Kansas science standards have nothing to do with intelligent design.
Secondly, he said, the institute plans to continue a campaign of radio ads to educate Kansans about what the standards mean.
"We see this as an academic freedom issue," Luskin said. "The freedom of teachers to teach more about the science of evolution and the freedom of students to learn more about the science of evolution."
He said Tuesday's vote did not represent a setback.
He noted that the State Board of Education voted in 1999 and again in 2005 for standards that criticized evolution.
Election 2006 - Kansas races
More on the 2006 Elections in Kansas
- 6News video: Low turnout may result in new primary election date (08-30-06)
- 6News video: Candidate speaks at university forum (08-30-06)
- 6News video: Evolution supporters will hold board majority (08-02-06)
- 6News video: Snag-free night for primaries (08-02-06)
- 6News video: County puts new voting machines to test (08-01-06)
- 6News video: Praeger holds up over opponent (08-01-06)
- Low turnout prompts call for new primary date (08-31-06)
- Publisher blasts candidate for illegally stuffing newspapers (08-04-06)
- Election hailed as pro-evolution (08-03-06)
- New voting machines perform well on first test (08-03-06)
- Barnett wins GOP bid to take on Sebelius (08-02-06)
- Voter turnout among lowest in memory (08-02-06)
- Eudora takes plunge on pool (08-02-06)
- Praeger prevails in 'negative' contest (08-02-06)
- Primary election results
- See how the voting went in select races
- Campaign finance reports
- Statewide office
- Board of Education
- Election 2006 - Kansas races
"Places go one way and then another," Luskin said.
Moderate state school board member Janet Waugh, whose district includes eastern Douglas County, and who held onto her seat in the primary, said this may be a victory, but she's not betting that intelligent design supporters are defeated.
"It's like they won't give up," she said. "They just keep trying. Why won't they accept the fact that we can teach religion in school, but we can't teach it in a science class?"
Waugh said now that the board's makeup will change, there are other issues that must be addressed.
"What I would like to see done is to revisit all 6-4 decisions," she said.
That would also include the new policy to require parental permission before a student can take sex education. The former policy assumed students would take sex education but allowed parents to have their children removed from the class.
And she said it would include the job performance of Education Commissioner Bob Corkins, who was hired last year on a 6-4 vote.
"I think we need to evaluate him," she said. "I would assume he will probably be a priority."
Corkins was on vacation and couldn't be reached for comment.
Waugh said she was eager to see how conservative board members will respond to the shake-up.
"If they make a lot of decisions, we can reverse them in January," she said.
Conservative board member Kathy Martin said she hopes the board can work together and perhaps set in place science standards that both sides can agree on.
"Perhaps we can find the right compromise on it," she said.
Martin said she won't be surprised if Corkins gets the boot. And though she approves of him, she would accept his dismissal.
"If he's gone, he's gone," she said. "He knew that when he took the job."
Though evolution will make national headlines, Matzke conceded other issues may have led to changing the makeup of the board.
But, he added, "When you have politicians who are willing to compromise science education, then they are going to be fast and loose with other things."