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NYT on Evolution debate in Kansas

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  • Popplestone, Ann
    August 1, 2006 Evolution s Backers in Kansas Start Counterattack By RALPH BLUMENTHAL KANSAS CITY, Kan., July 29 - God and Charles Darwin are not on the primary
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 1, 2006
      August 1, 2006

      Evolution's Backers in Kansas Start Counterattack


      KANSAS CITY, Kan., July 29 - God and Charles Darwin are not on the
      primary ballot in Kansas
      ssions/kansas/index.html?inline=nyt-geo> on Tuesday, but once again a
      contentious schools election has religion and science at odds in a state
      that has restaged a three-quarter-century battle over the teaching of

      Less than a year after a conservative Republican majority on the State
      Board of Education adopted rules for teaching science containing one of
      the broadest challenges in the nation to Darwin's theory of evolution,
      moderate Republicans
      ublican_party/index.html?inline=nyt-org> and Democrats
      ocratic_party/index.html?inline=nyt-org> are mounting a fierce
      counterattack. They want to retake power and switch the standards back
      to what they call conventional science.

      The Kansas election is being watched closely by both sides in the
      national debate over the teaching of evolution. In the past several
      years, pitched battles have been waged between the scientific
      establishment and proponents of what is called intelligent design, which
      holds that nature alone cannot explain life's origin and complexity.

      Last February, the Ohio Board of Education reversed its 2002 mandate
      requiring 10th-grade biology classes to critically analyze evolution.
      The action followed a federal judge's ruling that teaching intelligent
      design in the public schools of Dover, Pa., was unconstitutional.

      A defeat for the conservative majority in Kansas on Tuesday could be
      further evidence of the fading fortunes of the intelligent design
      movement, while a victory would preserve an important stronghold in

      The curriculum standards adopted by the education board do not
      specifically mention intelligent design, but advocates of the belief
      lobbied for the changes, and students are urged to seek "more adequate
      explanations of natural phenomena."

      Though there is no reliable polling data available, Joseph Aistrup, head
      of political science at Kansas State University
      sas_state_university/index.html?inline=nyt-org> , said sharp ideological
      splits among Republicans and an unusual community of interest among
      moderate Republicans and some Democrats were helping challengers in the

      Kansas Democrats, moreover, have a strong standard-bearer in the
      incumbent governor, Kathleen Sebelius, who has distanced herself from
      the debate.

      "And if a conservative candidate makes it through the primary, there's a
      Democratic challenger waiting" in the general election, Professor
      Aistrup said.

      Several moderate Republican candidates have vowed, if they lose Tuesday,
      to support the Democratic primary winners in November. With the campaign
      enlivened by a crowded field of 16 candidates contending for five seats
      - four held by conservatives who voted for the new science standards
      last year - a shift of two seats could overturn the current 6-to-4
      majority. The four-year terms are staggered so that only half the
      10-member board is up for election each two years.

      The acrimony in the school board races is not limited to differences
      over the science curriculum but also over other ideologically charged
      issues like sex education, charter schools and education financing.
      Power on the board has shifted almost every election since 1998, with
      the current conservative majority taking hold in 2004.

      "Can we just agree God invented Darwin?" asked a weary Sue Gamble, a
      moderate member of the board whose seat is not up for re-election.

      The chairman of the board, Dr. Steve E. Abrams, a veterinarian and the
      leader of the conservative majority, said few of the opposition
      candidates were really moderates. "They're liberals," said Dr. Abrams,
      who is not up for re-election.

      He said that the new science curriculum in no way opened the door to
      intelligent design or creationism and that any claim to the contrary "is
      an absolute falsehood."

      "We have explicitly stated that the standards must be based on
      scientific evidence," Dr. Abrams said, "what is observable, measurable,
      testable, repeatable and unfalsifiable."

      In science, he said, "everything is supposedly tentative, except the
      teaching of evolution is dogma."

      Harry E. McDonald, a retired biology teacher and self-described moderate
      Republican who has been going door to door for votes in his district
      near Olathe, said the board might have kept overt religious references
      out of the standards, "but methinks they doth protest too much."

      "They say science can't answer this, therefore God," Mr. McDonald said.

      Connie Morris, a conservative Republican running for re-election, said
      the board had merely authorized scientifically valid criticism of
      evolution. Ms. Morris, a retired teacher and author, said she did not
      believe in evolution.

      "It's a nice bedtime story," she said. "Science doesn't back it up."

      Dr. Abrams said his views as someone who believes that God created the
      universe 6,500 years ago had nothing to do with the science standards

      "In my personal faith, yes, I am a creationist," he said. "But that
      doesn't have anything to do with science. I can separate them." He said
      he agreed that "my personal views of Scripture have no room in the
      science classroom."

      Dr. Abrams said that at a community meeting he had been asked whether it
      was possible to believe in the Bible and in evolution, and that he had
      responded, "There are those who try to believe in both - there are
      theistic evolutionists - but at some point in time you have to decide
      which you're going to put your credence in."

      Last year's changes in the science standards followed an increasingly
      bitter seesawing of power on the education board that began in 1998 when
      conservatives won a majority. They made the first changes to the
      standards the next year, which in turn were reversed after moderates won
      back control in 2000. The 2002 elections left the board split 5-5, and
      in 2004 the conservatives won again, instituting their major standards
      revisions in November 2005.

      Critics said the changes altered the science standards in ways that
      invited theistic interpretations. The new definition called for students
      to learn about "the best evidence for modern evolutionary theory, but
      also to learn about areas where scientists are raising scientific
      criticisms of the theory."

      In one of many "additional specificities" that the board added to the
      standards, it stated, "Biological evolution postulates an unguided
      natural process that has no discernable direction or goal."

      John Calvert, manager of the Intelligent Design Network in Shawnee
      Mission and a lawyer who wrote material for the board advocating the new
      science standards, said they were not intended to advance religion.

      "What we are trying to do is insert objectivity, take the bias out of
      the religious standard that now favors the nontheistic religion of
      evolution," Mr. Calvert said.

      Janet Waugh, a car dealer and the only moderate Democrat on the board
      whose seat is up for election, said that just because some people were
      challenging evolution did not mean their views belonged in the

      "When the mainstream scientific community determines a theory is
      correct, that's when it should be in the schools," Ms. Waugh said. "The
      intelligent design people are trying to cut in line."

      The races have been hard-fought. With the majority of the 100,000
      registered Republicans in Mr. McDonald's northeast Kansas district
      usually ignoring primary elections, a few hundred ballots could easily
      be the margin of victory.

      So Mr. McDonald, who with $35,000 is the lead fund-raiser among the
      candidates, printed newsletters showing his opponent, the conservative
      board member John W. Bacon, with a big red slash through his face and
      the slogan, "Time to Bring Home the Bacon." Mr. Bacon did not respond to
      several calls for a response.

      But many of the homeowners Mr. McDonald visited Friday night showed
      little interest in the race. Jack Campbell, a medical center security
      director, opened the door warily, and when Mr. McDonald recited his
      pitch, seemed disappointed. "I thought I won some sweepstakes," Mr.
      Campbell said.

      Last Thursday night at Fort Hays State University, Ms. Morris debated
      her moderate Republican challenger, Sally Cauble, a former teacher, and
      the Democratic candidate, Tim Cruz, a former mayor of Garden City, whom
      Ms. Morris once accused of being an illegal immigrant. (He said he was
      third-generation American, and Ms. Morris apologized.)

      The audience asked about Kansas being ridiculed across the country for
      its stance on evolution.

      "I did not write the jokes," Ms. Morris said.

      Spectators split on the winner.

      "There are so many more important issues in Kansas right now," said
      Cheryl Shepherd-Adams, a science teacher. "The issue is definitely a
      wedge issue, and I don't want to see our community divided."

      Ann Popplestone AAB, BA, MA

      CCC Metro TLC



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