If you thought it was a wild ride to watch Kansas set standards for teaching science in the classroom, imagine what the debate about teaching religion might look like.
"I anticipate it will be a discussion point in these next two years," Kansas State Board of Education member Sue Gamble said in a panel discussion Thursday on the Kansas University campus.
Gamble said that comparative religion classes already are being taught across the state, but that the board has not set any standards for the subject.
Given the controversy that's enveloped the teaching of evolution in recent years in Kansas, she said some board members have asked themselves, "Do we really want to take on religion?"
That was one of the topics covered during a five-person panel discussion titled "Knowledge: Faith & Reason" on Thursday afternoon at the Hall Center for the Humanities. More than 100 people attended the event, which wrapped up a semesterlong "Difficult Dialogues" series.
The panelists were Gamble; Scott Jones, bishop of the United Methodist Church for the Kansas area; Kansas Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt; KU Provost Richard Lariviere; and Edward O. Wiley, KU professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.
Each gave brief remarks about the role that faith and reason play in public life, then responded to questions from audience members.
One stated goal of the event was to bring some civility to a debate that has been nasty at times - and that panelists agreed is here to stay.
"I've got really bad news for you: This is never going to be settled," Lariviere said.
Wiley said the scientific method should be introduced in schools in kindergarten, and that religions of the world should be taught in high school. The problem, he said, is that some people don't want their children to understand what Hindus or others think.
Audience member Richard Vogel, who is pursuing his doctoral dissertation in neuroscience at KU, asked panelists whether religion had a place in the classroom at all.
Teachers, he said, are "required to do too much of this. There should be more education in the home."
One audience member proposed that there is no fundamental conflict between science and religion. But Wiley responded that there's a natural tension: For 2,400 years, he said, science has been explaining things that were previously thought to be supernatural.
"Science is not going to stop doing what it's doing," he said.
Moderator Leonard Krishtalka asked the panelists to address the argument made by author Sam Harris in the book "The End of Faith." Harris proposes that faith has caused more destruction than any other force in the world, that moderate apologists for religion help make religious extremists violent, and that all good in the world can be accomplished by other, nonreligious means.
In response, Jones suggested that it's also possible to blame physicists and engineers for the world's problems - for inventing deadly methods of warfare and navigation systems that led to colonization and slavery.
"When you're casting blame, it's usually from an ideological position," he said.