From Today's New York Times
August 12, 1999
Kansas Votes to Delete Evolution From State's Science Curriculum
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 teaching evolution.
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
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'
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 evolution.
"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
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, atoms.
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 way.
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
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
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 to.
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
The Topeka Capital-Journal recently editorialized that "creationism is as
good a hypothesis as any for how the universe began."
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 textbook.
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."