August 12, 1999
Kansas Votes to Delete Evolution From State's Science
Discussion on Religion in Schools
By PAM BELLUCK
HICAGO -- The
Kansas Board of Education voted on Wednesday to delete virtually any
mention of evolution from the state's science curriculum, in one of
the most far-reaching efforts by creationists in recent years to
challenge the teaching of evolution in schools.
While the move does not prevent the teaching of evolution, it will
not be included in the state assessment tests that evaluate students'
performance in various grades, which may discourage school districts
from spending time on the subject.
And the decision is likely to embolden local school boards seeking
either to remove evolution from their curriculums, to force teachers
to raise questions about its validity or to introduce creationist
ideas. Some local boards have already said they will consider adopting
creationist textbooks, while others have said they will continue
Creationists say a divine being created humans and other species.
They say that since evolution cannot be observed or replicated in a
laboratory, there is no evidence that it actually occurred.
Kansas is the latest state to face a battle
over evolution and creationism in recent years. Alabama, New
Mexico and Nebraska have made changes that to varying degrees
challenge the pre-eminence of evolution in the scientific curriculum,
generally labeling it as a theory that is merely one possible
explanation. Others, like Texas, Ohio, Washington, New Hampshire and
Tennessee, have considered, but ultimately defeated, similar bills,
including some that would have required those who teach evolution also
to present evidence contradicting it. At the local level, dozens of
school boards are trying to make similar changes.
More than a decade after the Supreme Court said states could not
compel the teaching of creationism, creationists appear to be
increasingly active, adopting a new strategy to get around the
constitutional issues. Instead of trying to push creationism
onto the curriculum, many creationists are trying to keep Darwin out
of the classroom or insure that if evolution is taught, it is
presented as merely one unproved theory.
In Alabama, for example, biology textbooks carry a sticker calling
evolution "a controversial theory some scientists present as a
scientific explanation for the origin of living things." The
disclaimer adds: "No one was present when life first appeared on
earth. Therefore, any statement about life's origins should be
considered as theory, not fact."
Randy Moore, a biology professor at the University of Louisville
and editor of the magazine of the National Association of Biology
Teachers, said, "It's going on everywhere, and the creationists are
winning." He said the issue was so charged in some districts that some
teachers simply chose not to teach evolution.
Phillip E. Johnson, a law professor at the University of California
at Berkeley, who has written books attacking "propaganda" in the
teaching of evolution, said defending evolution was becoming "the
science educators' Vietnam."
The Kansas decision is significant because the new curriculum,
which is a guideline, deletes not only most references to biological
evolution, but also references to the big bang theory, which holds
that the universe was born from a vast explosion, contradicting
creationists' biblical interpretation. The new curriculum also
includes at least one case study that creationists use to debunk
"The number of changes made, the thoroughness with which references
to evolution are deleted or definitions changed, it's more extensive
than what we've seen before," said Molleen Matsumura of the National
Center for Science Education.
Mark Looy of Answers in Genesis, a creationist group, said:
"Students in public schools are being taught that evolution is a fact,
that they're just products of survival of the fittest. There's not
meaning in life if we're just animals in a struggle for survival. It
creates a sense of purposelessness and hopelessness, which I think
leads to things like pain, murder and suicide."
Scientists say that evolution is the cornerstone of biology and
that based on fossils, anatomy and genetic evidence, life began on
earth about 3.9 billion years ago and humans and other species evolved
from a common ancestor. They point out that much science cannot be
repeated in a laboratory and yet no one doubts the existence of, say,
Many creationists believe the Bible shows life on earth cannot be
more than 10,000 years old. Some have adopted a less religious
interpretation, saying the earth was created by an "intelligent
designer" because it is simply too complex to be explained any other
Recently, creationists have been searching for events they say
raise doubts about evolution or suggest the world is much younger than
scientists claim. One common example is the 1980 eruption of Mount St.
Helen's, which creationists say proves geologic changes can happen
very rapidly. The new Kansas science standards include Mount St.
Helen's and Mount Etna as examples that "suggest alternative
explanations to scientific hypotheses or theories."
The Kansas debate began more than a year ago when the state
appointed a committee of 27 scientists and professors to write a state
version of new national science guidelines.
But when those standards were submitted to the board, a
conservative member, Steve Abrams, a former state Republican chairman,
said he "had some serious questions about it," claiming "it is not
good science to teach evolution as fact."
With the help of creationists, Abrams rewrote the standards,
deleting most of the two pages on evolution. What remained was
"micro-evolution," which refers to genetic adaptation and natural
selection within a species. But "macro-evolution," the origin of
species, was gone.
Abrams also tried to insert these words: "The design and complexity
of the design of the cosmos requires an intelligent designer." But
after protest from scientists, that sentence was stricken. After
months of a 5-to-5 deadlock, the new standards were approved by a vote
of 6 to 4, with some anti-evolution board members and others
supporting local control.
Biologists, like Steve Case, who was on the original standards
committee, said that because "evolution is such a unifying principle
of biology," the new standards could mean students would be unprepared
for college admission tests and college science courses. Some teachers
said they would continue to teach evolution and resign if forced not
Bill Wagnon, a board member who opposed the new standards, said
"the effort to emphasize the rock of ages more than the age of rocks"
could make Kansas science students "the laughing stock of the world."
Gov. Bill Graves, a Republican, also opposed the changes and
predicted that the Legislature might try to make the board an
appointed, rather than an elected body.
The Topeka Capital-Journal recently editorialized that
"creationism is as good a hypothesis as any for how the
And even some science teachers underscore the complexity. Lu
Bitter, co-chairwoman of the high school science department in Pratt,
Kan., said she strongly opposed the new standards and was also
fighting a proposal before her school board to adopt a creationist
But she said the school's biology teachers had spent time
discussing creationism, as well as evolution.
"We've covered all views, read Genesis in the classroom," Mrs.
Bitter said. When students leave class, "they know that there are
different ways of looking at the way life exists on earth."