By BILL STRAUB
Scripps Howard News Service
November 09, 2005
The new standards, adopted Tuesday in a 6-4 vote after hours of sometimes hostile debate, are seen as a victory for religious fundamentalists even though the regulations don't require that Bible teachings be presented as an alternative to the theories of Charles Darwin, who said species evolved from a common source. Scientists and other foes assert that evolution is more than a theory, and that the new standards will prove an impediment to education.
"American children are consistently falling behind those of other nations in their knowledge and understanding of science," said Francisco Ayala, a biology professor at the University of California-Irvine. "We will not be able to close this gap if we substitute ideology for fact in our science classrooms."
The dispute between natural scientists and those who embrace the creation story found in the Bible has been simmering for decades. In its initial incarnation, it was supporters of Darwin's theories on the origin of the species seeking to break through the schoolhouse door. More recently, those who maintain a literal belief in the biblical accounting of Adam and Eve are the ones trying to get their views heard.
In June 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that prohibited the teaching of evolution unless creationism also was taught. The ruling essentially banned the teaching of creationism in schools.
But Darwin's foes have proved resilient. They argued that the 19th-century scientist's teachings on natural selection and the formation of new species are unproven theories pockmarked with logical holes. They advanced an alternative premise - that matter and energy can't be credited as the sole originators of the universe and that much is owed to "a profoundly formative intervention."
This intelligent-design theory maintains that those facets of natural science that remain unexplained by Darwin should be attributed to an anonymous intelligent agent. Many suggest that intelligent agent is the Christian God.
The concept of intelligent design has gained popularity among those questioning Darwin's veracity. According to the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank promoting the concept of intelligent design, four states - Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Hampshire - preceded Kansas in requiring schools to present a critical analysis of evolution.
The newly approved Kansas regulations, which don't require the teaching of intelligent design, are significantly broader. They not only question the theory that all life has a common origin, they also rewrite the definition of science, holding that it no longer is limited to searching for natural explanations for natural phenomena.
Kansas, one of the reddest of the Middle American red states, has over the years emerged as a key battleground in the debate. In 1999, a conservative faction on the State Board of Education managed to institute science standards that removed almost all references to evolution in the curriculum. New standards, restoring evolution to its previous status, were adopted in 2001 when voters ousted the creationist bloc.
Those opposing the new standards cast them as a backdoor effort by creationists to introduce religious expression into the public classroom.
"They (state school board members) are allowing the intelligent-design minority to bypass the scientific community," said Jack Krebs, a math-and-science teacher at Oskaloosa High School in Oskaloosa, who serves as vice president of Kansas Citizens for Science, a pro-evolution group. "While not specifically mentioning religious concepts, it's advancing a sectarian religious view. They're treading on some constitutional grounds here."
But supporters of the new standards insist their effort has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with Darwin, saying that science classes present his theories as fact when plenty of questions exist about his findings.
"Under these standards, students will learn more about evolution, not less, as some Darwinists have falsely claimed," said Casey Luskin, program officer for public policy and legal affairs with the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. Anyone who reads the science standards, she said, "will see that they deal solely with science, are based on scientific debates in mainstream scientific literature and do not include any alternative theories."
The Discovery Institute praised the changes, Luskin said, "because they expand the information presented to students about biological and chemical evolution by including some of the scientific criticisms of these theories."
Kansas isn't the only place where the Darwin debate is being waged.
A federal judge in Harrisburg, Pa., is mulling a suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union seeking to overturn a declaration by the Dover Board of Education requiring that students be taught the existence of the theory of intelligent design as an alternative to Darwinian theory.
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