Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Darwin vs God in Kansas

The same ol' science vs. religion dispute erupts again in the same
state that had previously ruled teachers should become
"downgraded-preachers" and that scientific evidence for the
evolutionist theory is too scarce.

The State Board of Education approved new, evolution-friendly science
standards with a 6-4 vote Tuesday, replacing ones that questioned the
theory and had the support of "intelligent design" advocates.

The shift towards the evolution-friendly approach in Kansas schools is
not the result of some scientific breakthrough, it's merely the
outcome of the elections that took place last year for the State Board
of Education. A coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats
decided it's time to favor Darwin again instead of God, making this
the fifth change in standards for Kansas schools in less than 8 years.

Conservative Republicans, who had recommended in 2005 that students
should receive their tuition inside the "intelligent-design" frame,
said after Tuesday's vote they weren't planning to reopen the debate
even if elections go their way in 2008. But the state law will require
another review of school standards by 2014.

In the mean time, Darwin's newly acquired advantage against God is not
that certain, with another change possible in the next few years in
the Board.

"I think we're good for two years," said board member Janet Waugh, a
Kansas City Democrat who supported the new standards. "Who knows what
the election will hold in two years?"

The Board recommended the deletion of paragraphs that dealt with the
evolution vs. creation problem, and allowed school manuals to include
key-terms from evolution-theory that refer to the common origin of
life on Earth and random mutations that lead to the appearance of new
species. The new standards are said to reflect mainstream scientific
views of evolution.

"There seems to be a pattern," said board member Steve Abrams.
"Anything that might question the veracity of evolution is deleted."

The political decision followed a day after the 198th anniversary of
Darwin's birth, which the University of Kansas celebrated with a
costume party and an evolution theory-biased documentary called "Flock
of Dodos."

The Board also revised the definition of the word "science",
describing it only as the search for natural explanations of what's
observed in the universe.

Some scientists and science groups believed the board's latest action
was significant because it turned back a subtle attack on evolution
that encouraged schools to teach about an evolution "controversy,"
rather than mandating that creationism or intelligent design be
taught. Intelligent design says an intelligent cause is the best way
to explain some complex and orderly features of the universe.

Opponents of the new standards, grouped in Intelligent Design Network,
rallied against the Board's ruling, claiming almost 4,000 signatures
were gathered from adherents of "intelligent-design".

Convincing those people about science' merits will be difficult, said
Jack Krebs, a former maths teacher who is president of Kansas Citizens
for Science.

"The bigger issue is the cultural divide. The intelligent design
people and the anti-evolution people truly believe that science as it
is practiced is atheistic, and excludes God, and this is really the
heart of the cultural battle," Mr Krebs said.

John Calvert, a retired attorney who helped found the group, accused
the board of promoting atheism. And Greg Lassey, a retired
Wichita-area biology teacher, said the new standards undermine
families by "discrediting parents who reject materialism and the
ethics and morals it fosters."

The new standards are important because they are the basis upon which
the state builds tests that involve science and how well students are
learning it. The schools' autonomy leaves any decision about how
students are being taught science to the teachers and local school
boards, but since tests are Darwin-inclined, members of the two
parties agree that teachers will most certainly choose the alternative
that offers their students the best chances for high scores.

Similar debates or legal battles over evolution took place in
California, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Nevada and South
Carolina. In Kansas, the hearings from 2005 drew journalists from
Canada, France, Great Britain and Japan.

In the last five years, anti-evolution legislation has been introduced
in 24 state legislatures and similar policies were under consideration
in at least 20 states, according to the National Centre for Science
Education in California.

Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Centre for Science
Education said "They have really been on a rollercoaster for the last
10 years in Kansas. This isn't really good for the state of science
education in Kansas for the treatment of evolution to be in such flux.
It probably does have the effect of encouraging creationism in the
local classroom."

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