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Evolution returns to prominence in Kansas; vote called ‘bad science’

TOPEKA, Kan. (BP)–The Kansas State Board of Education voted Feb. 14 to reinstate evolution as the primary theory in Kansas’ science curriculum, reversing its decision 18 months ago to remove the controversial concept from state assessment tests designed to measure student competency in science.

The board voted 7-3 to approve new science standards recognizing the theory of evolution as the central thread of biological studies and the origin of life.

The new standards restore evolutionary concepts to the state’s science curriculum such as the Big Bang theory on the creation of the universe and the process of macroevolution leading to the origin of humans.

The Big Bang theory advocates that the universe originated in a colossal explosion of matter and radiation about 15 billion years ago. Macroevolution describes the process of change from one species to another, culminating in the evolution of humans from apes.

The new standards will set guidelines for what Kansas students in the state’s 304 public school districts are held accountable for on the state’s standardized science tests. Students in the fourth, seventh and 10th grades are scheduled to be tested this spring according to the new standards.

“I believe now that we have science standards that the rest of the world could look to,” board member Carol Rupe told the Associated Press.

But board member Steve Abrams, who led efforts in 1999 to de-emphasize evolution by rewriting teaching standards, said of the board’s Feb. 14 vote, “This is not good science,” the AP reported.

Abrams pointed to the volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens as an example of where the earth can undergo monumental changes in a short period of time. Since the 1980 volcanic explosion, rock at the site has tested to be millions of years old, Abrams said.

“That ought to lead us to questions of perhaps it [evolution theory] isn’t all we know and understand about it because we saw that [rock] formed,” Abrams told The Topeka Capital-Journal.

Abrams countered the newly approved standards by proposing a set of alternatives produced by Intelligent Design Network, Inc. His recommendation was defeated by a 7-3 vote.

Proponents of intelligent design theory argue that the earth, life and humanity owe their existence to a purposeful, intelligent creator.

Darwinism, or evolution, the theory first proposed by the 19th century scientist Charles Darwin, meanwhile holds that all diverse and complex organisms exist as a result of undirected mechanistic processes, primarily through random mutations and natural selection.

Hal N. Ostrander, associate dean and professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s James P. Boyce College of the Bible, Louisville, Ky., told Baptist Press that while the Kansas school board’s decision is a step forward for evolution, it could “prove to be two steps forward for anti-evolutionary thinking.”

“The intelligent design movement’s entree into the neo-Darwinian cultural stronghold … will once again be brought to a busy citizenry’s attention, no doubt allowing the intelligent design contingency to regain a foothold toward educating the public about the pitfalls of evolutionary thinking,” Ostrander said.

The Kansas school board’s reversal of its stance on evolution seemed inevitable as early as last August after voters ousted two of the six anti-evolution board members who had approved the de-emphasis of evolution in the classroom a year earlier, including then-chairwoman Linda Holloway. A third anti-evolution board member resigned before moving out of state.

In August 1999, an anti-evolution majority board created a national firestorm of controversy when they voted 6-4 to eliminate references to the theory of evolution on state assessment tests. At the time, Kansas Republican Gov. Bill Graves described the board’s action as “a terrible, tragic, embarrassing solution to a problem that didn’t exist.”

All three of the newly elected board members voted in favor of the pro-evolution standards Feb. 14.

“Teachers and scientists are very pleased that the Kansas Board of Education made the right decision,” Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education in Berkeley, Calif., told Reuters news service. “It will show other states and communities around the country that backing good science education is the politically smart thing to do as well as the educationally smart thing to do.”

John Wiester, a member of the American Scientific Affiliation’s science education commission, meanwhile told Baptist Press, “The new Kansas science standards tilt toward indoctrination rather than education.”

American Scientific Affiliation is an international organization made up of 2,500 evangelical Christian scientists who advocate teaching evolution as one of many scientific theories not an ideology.

“The new Kansas science standards have enshrined philosophical naturalism as the official definition of science,” Wiester said. “The purposeless, undirected Darwinian mechanism of natural selection is our official creator. It is by definition protected from critical analysis and alternative hypotheses by the new Kansas science standards. … Teaching our children that they are the result of an accidental process is naturalistic philosophy masquerading as science.”

David A. DeWitt, assistant professor of biology at Liberty University, Lynchburg, Va., and associate director of the school’s Center for Creation Studies, described the Kansas school board’s decision as “a political move” lacking “scientific evidence” to support it.

“Now what they’ve done is limit academic freedom and inquiry,” DeWitt told Baptist Press.

DeWitt said evolution theories such as the Big Bang and macroevolution should not be taught as the only legitimate explanations for the creation of the universe and origin of humans because they are founded on inference and not scientific fact.

“Scientists don’t have good evidence or explanation for those historical events,” he said. “When you require testing on information that is not fact but based on guesses and hypothesis, you require students to learn things that may not be correct.”

Efforts to eliminate or de-emphasize evolution theory from science curricula have been attempted in recent years with varying degrees of success in Arizona, Alabama, Illinois, New Mexico, Texas and Nebraska. Challenges to the preeminence of evolution in science curricula have not been as successful in Ohio, New Hampshire, Washington and Tennessee where some proposals would have required those who teach evolution to present evidence contradicting it.

Ostrander said the turn of events in Kansas should serve as a lesson for Christians to understand “the subtle-to-blatant ways in which the deep-rooted worldview thinking of those in cultural authority affects the very lifeblood of a nation.”

“To develop a thoroughgoing theistic science, with intelligent design as its path-forging traveling companion, is part and parcel of taking back our schools from purveyors of untruth,” Ostrander said.

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  • Lee Weeks