The mere mention of Kansas brings many things to mind: amber waves of grain, tornadoes, basketball and, of course, Dorothy and Toto. For those following the creation/evolution debate going on today in public schools around the country, Kansas conjures up a whirlwind of controversy when it comes to questioning the dogma of neo-Darwinian thinking.
Over the years, any move towards teaching evolution other than an unquestionable truth has been like taking two steps forward and one step back. However, on August 9, the Kansas Board of Education moved one step closer to allowing critical analysis of evolution when it voted 6–4 to include greater criticism of evolution in its school science standards. The board decided to send its drafted standards to a Denver-based education consultant before casting its final vote in September or October.
According to a CNN report (August 10), the new science standards would not eliminate the teaching of evolution entirely but would encourage teachers to discuss various viewpoints and eliminate core evolution theory as required instruction. The Kansas policy would not require or prohibit discussing the theory of intelligent design (the idea that certain features of living and nonliving things were designed by an “intelligent cause” as opposed to being formed through natural causes).
John West, senior fellow of the Discovery Institute, an intelligent design “think tank,” said in the same CNN report, “We think this is a great development … for the academic freedom of students.”
Not surprisingly, critics of the revised standards, such as the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), were quick to denounce the board’s decision. According to a National Center for Science Education report (August 10), AIBS stated that the board “is doing a disservice to the state’s K–12 students by adopting a curriculum that redefines science such that intelligent design/creationism and other non-scientific concepts could be taught in science classes.” The president of AIBS, Marvalee Wake, claimed, “If our students are going to compete in the global economy and if we are going to attract the next generation into the sciences, we must teach science.” She went on to say, “We simply cannot begin to introduce non-scientific concepts into the science curriculum.”
In fact, it is the updated definition of science included in the revised standards that has outraged many scientists. They feel that students could be discussing supernatural explanations for natural phenomena in science classes. As we reported in a previous article, Kansas is the only state that does not currently have a traditional definition of science. The new standards propose a definition of science which is nearly identical to the definition adhered to in 40 states across the country. This change would actually get Kansas back into step with the way science is defined nationwide.
In a USA Today opinion/editorial (August 14), John Angus Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer, director of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, said this about the Kansas policy: “Teaching scientific controversies and arguments help students understand the nature of science. Teaching current scientific arguments about a theory also gives students an understanding of the status of a theory.” They also added in their comments that in the case of neo-Darwinian thinking, there are significant scientific criticisms of the theory students should know about.
If the new science standards are approved in the fall, Kansas will join Minnesota, Ohio and New Mexico, all of which have adopted critical analysis of evolution in the past four years.
For further reading on the history of the Kansas controversy, please see our Q&A: Education page or for more information about the definition of true operational science, read the web articles located at Q&A: Science.