3:00 a.m. 11.Jun.99.PDT
updated 4:30 p.m. 15.Jun.99.PDT
In a resurgence of the controversy surrounding the infamous 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial," the Kansas school system has become a battleground for religious conservatives intent on turning back the clock on evolutionary science.
The battle pits educators who support the teaching of evolution in the classroom against those who say evolution confuses children and undermines biblical teachings. "It's a real mud fight," said Kansas State Board of Education chairwoman Linda Holloway. "After 150 years of the evolution 'debate,' it still hasn't been settled."
The trouble in Kansas began in May as a 27-member science committee neared the end of a year-long process of writing new curriculum standards that included evolution as a unifying concept linking all scientific disciplines.
A group called the Creation Science[sic] Association for Mid-America challenged the committee and came up with an alternate set of standards that sidestep evolution. The 10-member Kansas Board of Education deadlocked in a vote on the matter in May, then chose not to vote on it at its 8 to 9 June meeting after being besieged with opposing views. Another vote was scheduled for the July meeting, though Holloway believed a decision will not be made until August.
To be sure, arguments over evolution are not new. The most famous occurred in 1925 when Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes went to trial over the teacher's knowing infringement of a law banning the teaching of evolution. Thirty years later, the trial inspired the play Inherit the Wind.
In this modern version of the old debate, Kansas is not alone. In February, the Nebraska attorney general complained that new science standards being written for children promoted evolution as fact rather than theory and could contradict religious beliefs.
Education officials in Nebraska are expected to vote on the new standards on Friday. Similar debates have arisen recently in other states, including Michigan, Arizona, and New Mexico.
While evolution opponents are not demanding students be taught a biblical, or creationist theory, they do call for evolution to be eliminated from curriculums, or at least be treated as highly speculative.
"There has been in the last decade or two a very significant increase in the number of skeptics who question evolution on purely scientific grounds," said Bill Hoesch, spokesman for the Institute for Creation Research in Santee, California. "It's becoming inescapable."
Hoesch cited the work of Michael Behe, a professor at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and author of Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution.
The scientific community, however, views evolution theory as key to many applied sciences, including medical research.
Calling the Kansas anti-evolution proposal "just awful," Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education in Berkeley, California, said evolution is a key concept that students must understand to advance educations in biology, medicine, and many other fields.
"Evolution is an overarching concept that explains why things are like they are," Scott said.
The Kansas science committee refused to work with opponents to draft a mutually acceptable set of standards. The controversy raised the ire of Kansas Governor Bill Graves, who said the debate was distracting the board of education from other matters.
Copyright (©) 1999 Reuters Limited.
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