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Kansas board of education scraps
standards questioning evolution

TOPEKA, Kan. (BP)–The Kansas State Board of Education voted 6-4 Feb. 13 to rewrite the science standards for public schools for the fifth time in eight years, this time refusing to allow room for questioning the theory of evolution.

The new standards, which are used to develop tests that measure how well students are learning science, specifically will limit students to searching for natural explanations of what is observed in the universe. The board removed language that suggested that key evolutionary concepts are controversial and are being challenged by new research.

While decisions regarding what is taught about evolution in classrooms are left up to Kansas’ 296 local school boards, such standards are controversial because educators tend to teach according to what will be on state tests.

“There’s this, I think, political agenda to just ensure that evolution is the driving, underlying notion that has to be accepted in Kansas science standards in order for Kansas to keep its head up in the world, which is just bizarre,” board member Ken Willard, a Republican who voted against the most recent rewrite, told the Associated Press.

Kansas first made national headlines for its revision of science standards in 1999 when a conservative-controlled board struck most references to evolution, AP said. Two years later, the evolution language was restored by a moderate board. And in 2002 and 2004, elections altered the board’s political majority again and more changes were made to the science standards.

Elections last year overturned a conservative majority on the board when moderate Republicans took two seats from conservatives in GOP primaries. The conservative board had voted in November 2005 to implement standards allowing evolutionary concepts to be challenged in the classroom.

But critics said the standards opened Kansas up to international ridicule because they were a disguised effort to teach Intelligent Design in science classes. Some said the 2005 standards were bad for public education, and the new ones are expected to give students an understanding of science that they’ll need in a technologically advancing world, AP said.

“The purpose of science is to tell us about the nature of the world, whether we like the answer or not,” Alan Leshner, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said. “Evolution is a fundamental concept.”

Last year alone, California, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Nevada and South Carolina also had disputes about how evolution should be taught in public schools.

John West, vice president for public policy with the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, said that by voting to repeal language questioning evolution, the Kansas school board and its supporters showed closed-mindedness.

“Don’t expect the ‘mainstream’ media to notice the biting irony here: The people they like to portray as the champions of free inquiry and scientific literacy are the very ones trying to dumb-down science curricula in order to suppress information they find uncomfortable,” West wrote on the Evolution News & Views blog after the vote.

“Fortunately, Americans still have the freedom to investigate the truth for themselves, which is why the Darwinists’ current strategy will be such a loser over the long term,” West added. “Trying to stamp out the discussion of ideas you don’t like is a sign of insecurity, and thoughtful people will eventually see through such tactics.”

West wrote a letter to Kansas board members Feb. 12 urging them to reject the plan to alter the state’s science standards.

“The board’s plan to whitewash the history of science is shameful,” West wrote. “Especially disturbing is the board’s proposal — during Black History month no less — to eliminate any mention of the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment from the state curriculum, as well as any reference to the eugenics movement that targeted the disabled.”

The 2005 science standards urged students to understand that “modern science has been a successful enterprise that contributes to dramatic improvements in the human condition.”

The standards also said “modern science can sometimes be abused by scientists and policymakers, leading to significant negative consequences for society and violations of human dignity (e.g., the eugenics movement in America and Germany; the Tuskegee syphilis experiments; and scientific justifications of eugenics and racism).”

At its Feb. 13 meeting, the board struck the language addressing the abuse of science.

West had noted in his letter, “It is only by studying these past abuses that students — our scientists of the future — can learn about the critical importance of science operating within ethical standards. As has often been said, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’”

Discovery circulated a release Feb. 8 saying that another 100 scientists have signed a statement expressing their doubts about the adequacy of Darwin’s theory of evolution, raising the overall number to more than 700 scientists from major universities and international research institutions.

The statement reads: “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”

“More scientists than ever before are now standing up and saying that it is time to rethink Darwin’s theory of evolution in light of new scientific evidence that shows the theory is inadequate,” West, associate director of Discovery’s Center for Science and Culture, said. “Darwinists are busy making up holidays to turn Charles Darwin into a saint, even as the evidence supporting his theory crumbles and more and more scientific challenges to it emerge.”

West was referring to “Evolution Sunday,” which more than 530 religious congregations across the country observed Feb. 11, the day before the 198th anniversary of Darwin’s birth. Evolution Sunday, begun in 2005, was intended to show that faith and evolutionary science are compatible, according to a report by The Indianapolis Star Feb. 10.

“It is designed to demonstrate to the American people that you can be a good Christian and still accept evolution,” Michael Zimmerman, founder of the Clergy Letter Project, told The Star. “It is designed to demonstrate to the American people that those really loud and shrill fundamentalist voices saying you have to choose between modern science and religion are just incorrect.”

Zimmerman believes that if the Bible is understood as a great work of art rather than God’s inerrant Word, then it doesn’t conflict with science at all.

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  • Erin Roach