KU student group stands for science

Organization seeks voice in evolution debate

There may be an election year shake-up at the Kansas State Board of Education, but those who’ve clashed over science and the teaching of evolution still have steam for a fight.

“It’ll never be over,” said John Calvert, managing director of the Intelligent Design Network. “There will always be a controversy over facts relating to where we come from.”

Kansas University students are joining the fray with the launch of KU Students for Science, an organization aided by and similar to Kansas Citizens for Science, a larger statewide organization that weighed in when a conservative majority on the state school board voted for new science standards that introduced criticism of evolution.

“We want to tell people what exactly science is, what is the scientific method,” said Dimitra Atri, a graduate student in astrophysics and member of the new group. “We see (evolution) as a fact like we see that the Earth is round.”

Origins in Ohio

Though the group hasn’t had its first meeting, 31 students already have joined.

It’s the brainchild of Laura Murphy, a graduate student in anthropology. Murphy came to KU this year from Ohio, where she watched a similar evolution controversy as a student at Ohio State University.

The Ohio State Board of Education in February voted to undo a hotly debated curriculum standard critical of evolution.

As she made plans to start a student group at Ohio State, Murphy helped Ohio Citizens for Science. She brought together like-minded students and attended the state group’s meetings. She did what she could to alert people about the issue, she said.

And when she moved to Kansas, she followed through with her plans. She called on Kansas Citizens for Science to assist her. The statewide organization provided Web space, including blog space and an online forum, at http://kusfs.kcfs.org.

And two Kansas Citizens for Science board members, both on the KU faculty, offered to be faculty advisers to the group.

The group plans to highlight students’ scientific research, host brown bag discussions and promote science, Murphy said.

“We’re going to be the generation who’s going to be out there and eventually on the school boards,” she said.

The KU group continues to grow and Murphy has been happy to see the diversity of its membership, both in religious beliefs and academic majors.

“Science is neutral on the religious standpoint,” she said. “You can still certainly have meaning in your life and believe in something spiritually and still believe in the theory of evolution.”

But Calvert said such groups aren’t neutral. He said they are “evangelists” for a “materialistic theory of origins.”

“They have their own gospel, and it’s a different gospel,” he said.

Another reversal

The Kansas board in November approved science standards critical of evolution. But the August primary election signaled a switch in the conservative majority on the board. Moderate board members have said they expect to revisit the standards next year.

What does the future hold for the standards?

“You don’t need to ask me,” said Steve Abrams, the board’s chairman who supported the controversial standards. “I’m not going to be chairman. I’m not going to be setting the agenda.”

But Abrams, who is not up for re-election until 2008, said he’ll still be able to weigh in at board meetings.

“I think we have great science standards,” he said.

Four other seats on the 10-member board also will be up for election in 2008. And few expect the controversy to have disappeared by then.

“The next two years are a time to work on educating the populace in an anti-divisive manner to perhaps take some steam out of the radical conservative position that people like Steve Abrams represent,” said Jack Krebs, president of Kansas Citizens for Science. “There’s no doubt that politically we’ll be back in this in two years.”