Evolution Debate in Kansas (12/04/06)
Evolution in public schools has been hotly debated in Kansas since 1999, when the Kansas State Board of Education voted to change education standards such that teachers were no longer required to teach evolutionary principles. A more moderate board was elected in 2000 and reversed the education standards in 2001. After the 2002 elections, the 10-member board was caught in a 5-5 gridlock between those supporting the teaching of evolution in schools and those opposed to it. In August 2004 primaries, creationists defeated more moderate Republicans in pivotal districts, and the board will most likely re-enstate anti-evolutionary language into the state education standards when they are revised in 2005.
In 1999, AGI President David Stephenson sent a letter
to Kansas Govenor Bill Graves commending his efforts for supporting
the teaching of evolution in the states' public schools. The Kansas
State Board of Education previously passed new state science standards
that Stephenson believes misguide and send wrong signals to local
school districts that will have long-term consequences for the quality
of science teaching in Kansas.
The science standards for public schools in Kansas have been rewritten five times in the past eight years, primarily because of debates about the teaching of evolution. In January, a newly elected Kansas State Board of Education will take over and is likely to rewrite the standards once again. The current standards emphasize controversies about the theory of evolution and modify the definition of science to allow supernatural explanations to explain observations. Members of the new board suggest they will take several months to rewrite the standards. They also plan to reconvene a panel of educators whose evolution-friendly work fell by the wayside last year when the board's conservative majority decided to adopt language suggested by intelligent design supporters. More information about teaching evolution in Kansas is available from the AGI Government Affairs webpage on evolution. (12/4/06)
On December 1, 2005 the University of Kansas decided to cancel a course that would teach intelligent design as mythology after the professor who would have taught it sent an e-mail mocking Christian fundamentalists. Professor Paul Mirecki, who is the chair of the religious studies department, wrote, "The fundies want it all taught in a science class, but this will be a nice slap in their big fat face by teaching it as a religious studies class under the category 'mythology' ", in an e-mail sent to a student group list serv. Mirecki's comments drew sharp criticism from many Kansas conservatives and became widely publicized, leading the University to cancel the course. University of Kansas Chancellor Robert Hemenway released a statement saying "I want to be clear that I personally find Professor Mireckis e-mail comments repugnant and vile. They do not represent my views nor the views of this university. The University maintained that it would offer the course, which 25 students registered for, with a different professor and at a later date. Meanwhile conservatives have complained about taxpayer funding of education that is hostile to christians, and some have called for changes within the University's religious studies department. "Im concerned about the taxpayer-funded hatred that he has apparently been promoting. Its an issue thats not totally resolved," said Republican State Senator Kay O'Connor. (12/05/05)
The Kansas Board of Education voted 6 to 4 on November 8 to accept
changes to the science standards that alter the definition of science
and emphasizes controversies about the theory of evolution. The modified
definition allows supernatural explanations to be included in science
teaching. Following the decision board members spoke out about the
new standards. "This is a sad day. We're becoming a laughing
stock of not only the nation, but of the world, and I hate that,"
said board member Janet Waugh, a Democrat. Supporters, however, claim
the new standards will promote academic freedom. "It gets rid
of a lot of dogma that's being taught in the classroom today,"
said Republican board member John Bacon.
In response to the Board's decision, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius
issued a statement indicating her disapproval of the changed standards.
"This is just the latest in a series of troubling decisions by
the Board of Education. If we're going to continue to bring high-tech
jobs to Kansas and move our state forward, we need to strengthen science
standards, not weaken them," she said.
The decision marks the third time in six years that Kansas has changed its science standards because of the issue of evolution. Intelligent design advocates continue to find support for their cause in Kansas. A recent statewide poll by the media suggested a slight majority of Kansans favored teaching intelligent design. In addition, opponents of evolution sit on many local school boards, including Kent Swartz, a banker and creationist who serves on the South Barber County school board southwest of Wichita who asks for respect in a statement to CNN, "I want you to respect my side, and I will respect your side". (11/9/05)
On October 27, 2005, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association refused to grant copyright permission to the Kansas State Board of Education to make use of publications by the two organizations in the state's science education standards. They cited a poor and misleading definition of science and an overemphasis on describing evolution as a theory with flaws as reasons for the copyright denial. Both groups have offered to work with the Kansas school board to remove these misconceptions about evolution and retain the approved definition of science from the majority report of the Kansas standards science committee. A joint statement and more details are available at: http://www.nationalacademies.org/morenews/ (11/7/05)
A report from an external review board released on October 13, 2005 has criticized Kansas's revised science standards for being unclear and poorly written in places. Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning, based in Aurora, Colorado, specifically criticized sections on the teaching of evolution for being confusing, and noted that the state is not planning to test students on many key elements of evolution that are covered in the standards. The standards were sent to the review board as part of the normal revision process, and the State Board of Education will take the comments into account when they meet to approve a final version of the science standards later this year. The state board may order a committee of educators that had previously submitted proposals for the science standards to make further revisions in response to the review board's report. In a Lawrence Journal-World story, however, the committee's co-chair, Steve Case, said that most of the criticism arose from changes made by conservative board members and that his committee is unlikely to do more work on the standards. Specific parts of the standards that were singled out for criticism included sections that cast doubt on theories that life arose from natural chemical processes and that humans and apes share a common ancestor. (10/17/05)
The 10-member Kansas State Board of Education voted on July 9, 2005 to accept a draft of revised science standards requiring 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." The Board voted 6-4 in favor of the draft despite written arguments from the science standards writing committee.
Conservative members of the board edited the draft submitted by the science standards writing committee. Board Chairman Steve Abrams said, "I do thank them for their efforts. Obviously, we have a disagreement on a significant issue."
Though the revised standards do not specifically advocate for the teaching of intelligent design, new language could bring such discussions into classrooms. Changes that were made on June 9th state that "evolution is accepted by many scientists but questioned by some" and that "all scientific theories should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered." The revised and approved science standards make reference to the boycott of scientists who protested three days of hearings on the draft document last May, saying, "While the testimony presented at the science hearings included many advocates of Intelligent Design, these standards neither mandate nor prohibit teaching about this scientific disagreement."
In support of the new draft, Board member John Bacon said, "These are public schools funded by public dollars and I think the debate does belong here. I think we should teach the controversy." But Board member Janet Waugh disagreed, stating, "I think we should teach students all beliefs and philosophies, but in philosophy, social studies and comparative religion classes. It's important but should not be taught in science class. Mainstream science doesn't accept those [philosophies]."
The revised science standards have been sent to an external review board based in Denver, Colorado. The review, at a cost of more than $20,000, is intended to provide final legitimacy to the science standards, and it is expected to be completed by October or November.
On Thursday, June 9, 2005, three Kansas State Board of Education members approved a proposal to have criticisms of evolution taught in 4th, 7th, and 10th grade science classes. Connie Morris, Steve Abrams, and Kathy Martin approved the proposal in a committee meeting after reviewing an abbreviated list of the criticisms with lawyers. Pro-evolutionist groups such as American Association for the Advancement of Science and Kansas Citizens for Science, boycotted the four days of public hearings held in May and no pro-evolution witnesses gave testimony.
The 10-member state board is scheduled to consider the proposal June 15, though it may not make a final decision until August. Conservatives hold a 6-member majority that may all vote in favor of changing teaching standards for Kansas. In a one-page attached explanation of the reasoning behind changing the standards, Abrams wrote, "The Board has heard credible scientific testimony that indeed there are significant debates about the evidence for key aspects of chemical and biological evolutionary theory. We therefore think it is important and appropriate for students to know about these scientific debates and for the Science Curriculum Standards to include information about them." Changes to the standards were made under the heading "Nature of Science." One new statement reads: "Although science proposes theories to explain changes, the actual causes of many changes are currently unknown (e.g. the origin of the universe, the origin of fundamental laws, the origin of life and the genetic code, and the origin of major body plans during the Cambrian explosion)."
The proposed science standards were carefully written by Abrams and debated in the committee to avoid violation of First Amendment rights. However, Topeka lawyer Pedro Irigonegaray, who represented the pro-evolution community at the public hearings, has said that it is still possible that the state board could be sued depending on how the standards are implemented. The new standards will not take a position on intelligent design but would allow teachers the option of addressing the idea in class.
If this proposal is passed, Harry McDonald, president of Kansas Citizens for Science, has said his group will develop model lesson plans for teachers to help them present the criticisms in a scientific context. "It's not that science is suppressing these criticisms," McDonald said in an article published in the Wichita Eagle. "Science has rejected these criticisms as invalid." (6/13/05)
In early May, the Kansas State Board of Education held four days of trial-like hearings on a minority report that calls for incorporating a different definition of science and alternatives to evolution, such as Intelligent Design, into the state science curriculum (see April's Monthly Review for more details). The hearings were boycotted by scientists, who viewed them, not as a credible discussion on science curricula, but as a "kangaroo court" constructed to attract more publicity to the creationist movement.
All relevant documents, including tesimony and written arguments, can be viewed on the Kansas State Department of Education website.
In the weeks before the hearings, local and national press coverage soared. Many framed the hearings as a sequel to the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, in which a case against a high school teacher, who broke state law to teach evolution, turned into an ideological battle between opposing attorneys culminating in the national humiliation of the creationist perspective. But after the first day of the May, 2005 hearings, media coverage dropped off dramatically and the debate fell flat, in part due to the refusal of the science community to participate.
John Calvert, a managing director of the Intelligent Design Network in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, represented the 8-member minority of the science standards committee who issued their minority report. In his written statement, Calvert urged committee members to adopt the proposed curriculum changes by default since the pro-evolutionists refused to testify. "The boycott of the hearings had the effect of coercing silence, subverting the search for good solutions to a problem that plagues public education," he said, according to an article in the Wichita Eagle.
Though he chose not to answer any questions during the hearings, the attorney defending the science standards as currently proposed, Pedro Irigonegaray, submitted 15 court decisions to the committee that related to the teaching of evolution and the establishment of religion. Irigonegaray challenged the claim that evolution can be equated to atheism, saying that "there appears to be no cases in which the judiciary has stated that evolution is the equivalent of atheism. Moreover, many scientists who do embrace evolution are not atheists. Categorically defining evolution as a dogma of atheism is incorrect." Steve Abrams, Chairman of the School Board and one of three board members who organized the hearings, has agreed to examine Irigonegaray's testimony, overriding Calvert's objections.
After reviewing the legal briefs submitted by both attorneys, the School Board subcommittee will present their evaluations of the hearings to the full committee on June 14-15. According to the Kansas Wichita Eagle, the board members stated that they have not yet decided on any recommended changes to the science standards, but changes are likely since 6 out of 10 board members support teaching intelligent design. By August, the board will have considered the proposed changes to the curriculum. More details about the hearings and its aftermath in Kansas is available from the NCSE website. (6/03/05)
The Kansas State Board of Education (BOE) has scheduled its hearings on the teaching of evolution for early May, but according to a recent editorial in the Wichita Eagle, scientists may choose to boycott the hearings. In early March, Kansas Citizens for Science told scientists not to participate in a "rigged hearing where non-scientists will appear to sit in judgment and find science lacking." According to the editorial, Diane DeBacker, a state Department of Education staff member, said "We're not getting any takers," from scientists who would testify in support of evolution. This editorial marks the latest in recent statements from educators, scientists and editorialists who deem the hearings "a show trial" that have been organized primarily for the political gain of anti-evolutionist board members. "The format of the hearings --"experts" debating for and against evolution -- suggests a rough equivalence of legitimacy that simply doesn't exist.... Besides, the three creationist BOE members presiding over the hearings appear to have already made up their minds. So what's the point?" the editorialist said. The hearings will be held from 9 am to 4 pm on May 5th, 6th,and 7th, in Memorial Hall, 120 SW 10th in Topeka and on May 12th, 13th, and 14th at Capitol Plaza Hotel, 1717 SW Topeka Blvd. (3/29/05)
On February 9, 2005, the Kansas Board of Education voted to establish
a subcommittee "to conduct hearings to investigate the merits
of the two opposing views" -- i.e., "intelligent design"
and evolution -- despite protests from moderate members of the board
like Carol Rupe, who remarked that the new process was reminiscent
of reality television shows such as "American Idol." The
proposed format of the hearings is in flux. Originally, a marathon
session of courtroom-style hearings, with ten proponents of evolution
and ten of "intelligent design" testifying over ten days,
was considered. Then a proposal to solicit written testimony was entertained.
But now the courtroom-style hearings are back, with six days of testimony
tentatively scheduled to be heard in Topeka in May. The "teach
the controversy" theme for the hearings is taken from the so-called
Santorum language, drafted by "intelligent design" proponent
Phillip Johnson and included in a report accompanying the No Child
Left Behind Act in 2001.
On Tuesday, March 8, 2005 the Associated Press reported that the Kansas State Board of Education refused to cancel public hearings about evolution, even though some members complained those hearings will be a "charade" to justify rewriting state science standards. The hearings, before a subcommittee of three board members, are tentatively scheduled for May 5-7 and 12-14. The subcommittee plans to review evidence supporting and opposing evolution, with only scientists testifying.
Conservatives hold six of 10 board seats, and they voted as a block to reject a proposal to cancel the hearings and simply review arguments in writing. The four other board members consider the hearings to be rigged and believe the majority already plans to rewrite the science standards to expose students to more criticism of evolution.
"You have the six votes - just use them and move forward," dissenting board member Sue Gamble, a Shawnee Republican, told the conservatives. "I resent you using my tax dollars for this charade." (3/9/05)
The three-member subcommittee of the Kansas Board of Education, who nominated themselves to "investigate the merits" of evolution and Intelligent Design decided on March 2, 2005 to request written testimony instead of holding public hearings. In a teleconference involving the three conservative panel members, Chairman Steve Abrams, Kathy Martin and Connie Morris, Morris said "I like the written debate because it is going to put it in black and white." Abrams asked the leaders from the science standards committee on both sides of the debate to submit feedback on eight questions that would be posed concerning the definition of science, evidence in support of evolution, and evidence debunking evolution. On March 4, Dr. Steve Case, Chair of the 26-member science standards committee, submitted his response to the questions in which he stated, "the credibility of these hearings, real and perceived by the public, is still in question," adding, "the questions show a clear point of view with a strong bias. The perception of the science and science education communities, and also by the public, is that the Board Subcommittee has preconceived answers to these questions." The subcommittee plans to read testimony from 10 evolutionsists and 10 proponents of intelligent design. Liz Craig, from the Kansas Citizens For Science (KCFS), told the Lawrence Journal-World "the deck is completely stacked," since testimony would be disporportionate to the number of the scientists who support evolution. In a statement, KCFS called the hearings a sham because "all three of the 'Science Hearing Committee' members are avowed creationists," who really seek to stir up public response rather than foster actual debate. (3/7/05)
On February 9th, the Kansas Board of Education voted 6-4 to establish a three-member subcommittee to reconsider the place of evolution in the state's education standards, which was determined by a 26-member panel of science educators chosen last year. The current draft, submitted at the end of February, outlines what students should know at what level, and promotes the teaching of evolution as an important concept students should learn. It does not incorporate changes advocating the inclusion of intelligent design, which were proposed in a "minority report" by a group of eight of the original panel members. In an attempt to correct for the exclusion of the minority viewpoint, three of the six conservative members offered to form the new subcommittee "to investigate the merits" of evolution and intelligent design. Because of these upsets, the board has opened a public comment period through Monday, February 28, 2005 on both the Science Curriculum Standards Draft and the minority report. Concerned citizens can register their views at http://elisten.ksde.org/cgi-bin/qweb.cgi?3thjwmq.
Moderate members of the Board contend that the new panel intends to undermine the original revision process, but Chairman of the Committee Steve Abrams insists the panel is needed, "not to circumvent the panel of educators, but to augment their review of science." But according to Steve Case, who leads the 26-member review committee, the creation of another hearing process could delay final approval of the standards. Case also denied accusations that pro-creationist minority views were stifled. "We want to hear all voices, but it's just the overwhelming numbers on this particular issue," Case said.
Also on February 9th, State Attorney General Phill Kline announced during private meetings with the Board's conservative majority members that he would defend the use of textbook stickers that say evolution is a theory, not a fact. Kline held two meetings, each attended by three members. Sue Gamble, a moderate Board member, said the meetings violated, in spirit, the state's open-meetings law, which requires meetings of six or more board members be open to the public. Kline denied any violation, saying that discussions that took place were not kept secret. But the topic has already captured the attention of the press, particularly following last month's ruling in Georgia that such stickers are unconstitutional. One op-ed contributed to the Kansas City Star cautioned that "sticky notes that challenge evolution as not factually based will invite a lawsuit, as they did in Georgia. That would cost the cash-strapped state money to mount a defense."
A new resolution introduced in the Kansas Legislature by Representative Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee) adds to eight other bills introduced in other states promoting evolution alternatives. Like seven of the eight bills, Resolution 6018 includes wording modeled after the Santorum language, a clause by Intelligent Design proponent Phillip Johnson that was added to the report which accompanied the No Child Left Behind Act. This language is and was nonbinding. It suggests that schools "(a) prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science and (b), where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), provide curriculum that will help students understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society." (2/23/05)
As predicted, the balance of power on the Kansas Board of Education
tilted in favor of anti-evolutionists after the November 2, 2004,
election. The replacement of Bruce Wyatt by Kathy Martin on the District
6 board seat in January 2005 gave the anti-evolution faction a 6-4
majority. Kansans are thus braced for a reprise of 1999's battle over
the place of evolution in the state's science standards, and they
got a taste of it on December 14, 2004, when the first draft of a
revised set of science standards was received by the board. Board
member John Bacon complained that the opinions in support of creationism
and "intelligent design" were ignored, and eight members
of the twenty-six member committee submitted a "minority report,"
authored with the assistance of the Intelligent
Design Network, which criticized the draft for promoting a "naturalistic"
definition of science and for not sufficiently encouraging students
"to critically analyze the theory of biological evolution."
Evolution opponents are set to gain a majority on the Kansas State Board of Education after a closely watched Republican primary August 3rd. Kathy Martin (R) defeated moderate incumbent Republican Bruce Wyatt in the 6th district and Steve Abrams (R) won the primary in the 10th district, tipping the board to at least a 6-4 anti-evolution majority. Martin and several other Republicans are running unopposed in the November election, which shifted public attention of the elections to the primary. (8/12/04)
On February 14th, 2001, the Kansas State Board of Education voted 7-3 to reinstate the teaching of biological evolution and the origin of the earth into the state's science education standards. With this vote, the board adopts science education standards that nullify the controversial 1999 standards, which had de-emphasized evolution and removed the Big Bang Theory from teaching requirements. The Kansas Science Education Standards include teaching guidelines for all grades. The introductory statement, the eighth grade standards, and the twelfth grade standards include specific reference to students understanding biological evolution, the significance of fossils, the geologic time scale, and theories regarding the origins of the Earth. The board's favorable vote has been applauded by many organizations, but reportedly the Kansas board has received a flurry of correspondence from creationists opposed to the new standards. The Kansas Science Education Standards can be viewed on the Kansas Board of Education website. Also see the AGU alert "Kansas School Board Lets Evolution Back Into the Classroom". (2/16/01)
The Associated Press reported that on January 9, 2001 the new Kansas Board of Education announced plans to give final approval to new science education standards at their meeting in mid-February. A majority of members indicated their support for revised standards, which restore references to evolution that were removed in state standards approved in August, 1999. (1/15/01)
On August 1, 2000, nearly a year after the Kansas State Board of Education voted 6-4 to remove evolution and the age of the Earth from state science education standards, voters in the state's Republican primary assured that the next board will have a much more moderate face. Of the six board members who voted for the new standards, three faced Republican primary challenges and a fourth chose not to run for re-election. Two of the three, including board chairman Linda Holloway, were defeated by moderates, and the open seat also went to a moderate. All of the challengers made opposition to the anti-evolution standards a central focus of their campaign. Board member Steve Abrams, who helped write the new standards, was the lone anti-evolution board member to prevail. In the primary to decide the Republican challenger for Rep. Dennis Moore, the state's only Democratic House member, the moderate candidate who opposed the new standards lost to a conservative candidate who did not discuss the evolution issue. (8/3/00)
On August 11, 1999, the Kansas State Board of Education voted 6-4 in favor of science education standards that contain no mention of biological macroevolution, the age of the Earth, or the origin and early development of the universe. The board had earlier rejected science standards developed by a 27-member panel of science educators and had deadlocked over standards developed by board member Steve Abrams with the help of the Creation Science Association for Mid-America, which also assisted in developing the version that ultimately passed. As a result of the board's vote, evolutionary theory would not appear in state-wide standardized tests and it was left to the 305 local school districts in Kansas whether or not to teach it. See below for a copy of the letter written by AGI president to Kansas Governor in response to this decision. (8/15/99)
Letter to Kansas Governor Bill Graves from AGI President David Stephenson
The Honorable Bill Graves
Dear Governor Graves:
On behalf of the Executive Committee of the American Geological Institute (AGI), I commend you for your strong support of the teaching of evolution in your state's public schools. We also support the active involvement of the Kansas Geological Survey in this issue. The new state science standards passed by the Kansas State Board of Education are misguided and send a signal to local school districts that will have long-term consequences for the quality of science teaching in Kansas.
AGI is a nonprofit federation of 34 geoscientific and professional associations that represent more than 100,000 geologists, geophysicists, and other earth scientists. Founded in 1948, AGI provides information services to geoscientists, serves as a voice of shared interests in our profession, plays a major role in strengthening geoscience education, and strives to increase public awareness of the vital role the geosciences play in mankind's use of resources and interaction with the environment.
In 1981, amidst an earlier controversy over the teaching of evolution in public schools, AGI approved the following statement, which is very relevant to today's situation:
"Scientific evidence indicates beyond any doubt that life has existed on Earth for billions of years. This life has evolved through time producing vast numbers of species of plants and animals, most of which are extinct. Although scientists debate the mechanism that produced this change, the evidence for the change is undeniable. Therefore, in the teaching of science we oppose any position that ignores this scientific reality, or that gives equal time to interpretations based on religious beliefs only."
Studies show that science and technology have been the driving force behind more than half of the economic growth in this country over the past fifty years. In order to continue that growth, we must provide the next generation of Americans with the best science education possible. A strong science curriculum cannot be one that omits the core of our understanding of the development of life and Earth itself over geologic time.
Evolutionary theory, like plate tectonic theory or the theory of gravitation, is the product of scientists' continual commitment to search for a better understanding of how natural systems operate. Creationists seek to foster a popular perception that evolutionary theory and religion are contradictory, a view rejected by the many mainstream Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish denominations that have publicly stated that evolution is compatible with their faith.
If AGI can assist your office in any way, please do not hesitate to call on me or AGI Government Affairs Director David Applegate (703-379-2480 ext. 228; firstname.lastname@example.org).
cc: Kansas Board on Education
Sources: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Geophysical Union, Associated Press, National Academies, National Center for Science Education, Association for Women Geoscientists, Kansas Geological Survey, Wichita Eagle, Topeka Capital-Journal, Arkansas City Traveler, Lawrence Journal-World, Kansas State Department of Education website, Science Magazine, The Washington Post, The Johnson County Sun.
Background section includes material from AGI's Update on State Challenges to the Teaching of Evolution for the 106th Congress.
Contributed by David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs Program; Linda Rowan, AGI Government Affairs Program; Alison Alcott, AGI/AAPG Geoscience Intern; Bridget Martin, 2004 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Katie Ackerly, 2005 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern; Amanda Schneck, 2005 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern; Anne Smart, 2005 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern, Peter Douglas, 2005 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern, and Rachel Bleshman 2006 AGI/AAPG Fall Intern.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on December 4, 2006