After months of debate over science and religion, the Kansas Board of Education has tentatively approved new state science standards that weaken the role evolution plays in teaching about the origin of life.
The 10-member board must still take a final vote, expected in either September or October, but a 6-4 vote on Tuesday that approved a draft of the standards essentially cemented a victory for conservative Christian board members who say evolution is largely unproven and can undermine religious teachings about the origins of life on earth.
“We think this is a great development … for the academic freedom of students,” said John West, senior fellow of the Discovery Institute, which supports intelligent design theory.
Intelligent design proposes that some features of the natural world are best explained as products of a considered intent as opposed to a process of natural selection.
The board is sending its drafted standards to a Denver-based education consultant before a final vote, planned for either September or October.
If they win final approval, Kansas will join Minnesota, Ohio and New Mexico, all of which have adopted critical analysis of evolution in the last four years.
The new science standards would not eliminate the teaching of evolution entirely, nor would they require that religious views, also known as creationism, be taught, but it would encourage teachers to discuss various viewpoints and eliminate core evolution theory as required curriculum.
Critics say the moves are part of a continuing national effort by conservative Christians to push their views into the public education process.
“This is neo-creationism, trying to avoid the legal morass of trying to teach creationism overtly and slip it in through the backdoor,” said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education.
Kansas itself has been grappling with the issue for years, garnering worldwide attention in 1999 when the state school board voted to de-emphasize evolution in science classes.
That was reversed in 2001 with new members elected to the school board. But conservatives again gained the majority in elections in 2004, leading to the newest attacks on evolution.
The science standards the board is revising act as guidelines for teachers about how and what to teach students.
In May, the board of education sponsored a courtroom-style debate over evolution that saw lawyers for each side cross-examining “witnesses” and taking up issues such as the age of the earth, fossil records and beliefs that humans and are too intricately designed to not have a creator.
The hearings came 80 years after evolution was the subject of the famous “Scopes” trial in Tennessee in which teacher John Thomas Scopes was accused of violating a ban against teaching evolution.