Evolution blunder opens Kansas to ridicule
Date: 08/12/99 22:00
What's the matter with Kansas?
Thanks to some crackpot thinking on the Kansas Board of Education, echoes of William Allen White's famous question from a century ago are now being heard again around the country.
Ignoring pleas and protests from the governor, the state's university presidents, scientists and ordinary people with a little common sense, six members of the Board of Education have turned Kansas into a national laughingstock by purging evolution -- a cornerstone of modern scientific thought -- from the state's science curriculum.
Actually, even the advocates of ignorance on the Board of Education couldn't bring themselves to delete all references to evolution. They didn't want to appear completely out of touch with the 20th century.
So they decided to delete references to "macroevolution," which produces new species, while leaving in the references to "microevolution," which involves change within a species.
This bizarre inconsistency reveals the extent to which board members are reveling in their own ignorance. Whether an evolutionary episode is classified as intra-species or inter-species depends on how scientists define different species. But those definitions themselves can be somewhat arbitrary, subject to serious debate and sometimes revision. They were not handed down from Mount Sinai. So look out, state board members! Today's theologically acceptable "microevolution" could turn into tomorrow's dreaded "macroevolution," and then where would you be?
The fundamental conceit of those who seek to keep Kansas students ignorant is their outlandish assertion that widely accepted scientific principles rule out belief in God.
This is not true, as many respected scientists and religious leaders have made clear over the years. Science can explain a great deal about the world around us, but it cannot provide -- and does not promise -- all of the answers. It can be easily argued, for example, that the miraculous process of evolution might have been guided in some way by a divine hand.
Many scientists have explained that they do not believe their work is incompatible with their religious beliefs. Albert Einstein explained part of his fascination with the great mysteries of human existence with the statement: "I can't believe that God plays dice with the universe."
In addition, respected religious leaders and millions of other people have not found their religious beliefs threatened by science.
In a letter to the state board of education, the presidents of the state's six public universities put their finger on the fundamental mistake that is being made by those who want to keep children ignorant of evolution:
"Standards approved by the state and based on the belief that science and religion are incompatible will set Kansas back a century and give hard-to-find science teachers no choice but to pursue other career fields or assignments outside of Kansas ... "The argument that teaching evolution will destroy a student's faith in God is no more true today than it was during the Scopes trial in 1925."
In an attempt to dodge such arguments, the advocates of ignorance have tried to cloak their personal theology in the robes of science. Thus the students of Kansas are advised to study "creationism," which professes allegiance to the scientific[sic] method yet actually rejects its central principles.
The wizards of pseudo-science, for example, have for some reason seized upon recent volcanic activity as "evidence" that the world is actually much younger than is indicated by real science. So the new Kansas science standards include a curious reference to Mount St. Helen's as suggesting "alternative explanations to scientific hypotheses or theories."
The six advocates of ignorance on the state Board of Education -- Scott Hill, Steven Abrams, Harold Voth, Linda Holloway, John Bacon and Mary Douglass Brown -- have abandoned the fundamental responsibilities that the people of Kansas entrusted to them. They have shortchanged the students, embarrassed themselves and humiliated the state.
This humiliation may well prompt Kansans to reconsider the way in which seats on the state board are filled. These have been elected rather than appointed positions, but many voters around the state have paid little if any attention to the contests.
It will now be up to educators and school board members in individual school districts to see to it that Kansas students are not kept in the dark.
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