The Evolution of the Evolution Debate in Kansas: Where the Debate Stands Now
- Dec. 7, 2012
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The debate over teaching evolution in schools will likely resurface next year as the Kansas State Board of Education seeks to adopt new science standards.
The standards are part of the national Next Generation Science Standards project, which attempts to standardize state education to help keep students competitive in a global marketplace by providing “a sound, evidence-based foundation for standards.” The project “identifies the science all K–12 students should know.”
Kansas has seen particularly ferocious discussions about this issue since the late 1990’s when the state’s board of education initiated the debate. Since then, control of the Kansas State Board of Education has seesawed between conservative Republicans promoting anti-evolution science standards and a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats advocating the teaching of mainstream science.
Following November’s elections, socially moderate members retained control of the board, despite attempts by creationists to retake it. That means that, although there will surely be debate, it’s likely that the board will adopt the new standards, which include evolution-friendly language.
So while you can look forward to hearing board members debate the issue in coming months, we’ve compiled a timeline looking at the evolution of the evolution debate in the state of Kansas.
November 22, 1859: Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species is published
Debates about evolution begin around the world. Many think this may have been the beginning of the secularization of science. Origins was originally published in Great Britain, and up to that point, science in the UK was closely tied to the Church of England.
July 10-21, 1925: The Scopes Monkey Trial
This trial, also known as the State of Tennessee v. John T. Scopes, represented the pinnacle of the evolution debate in the U.S. John T. Scopes, a high school teacher, was brought to trial for breaking a Tennessee law that made it illegal to teach evolution in schools. Scopes was found guilty, though the verdict was later overturned.
The trial was famous for pitting Clarence Darrow against William Jennings Bryan in the courtroom. Darrow was a famous ACLU lawyer and defense attorney. Bryan was a former congressman from Nebraska, former Secretary of State, three-time presidential candidate and devout Christian who was painted as the voice of ignorance and anti-intellectualism through the trial. Though the trial ended with a loss for Darrow, many considered him the winner for his stinging questioning of Bryan over the Bible. Bryan would die just days after the trial.
1961: The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and its Scientific Implications is published
This book sparked the creationism movement. The book, written by theologian John Whitcomb and engineer Henry Morris, proposed that there is scientific evidence to support a literal interpretation of the Bible. The best-selling book would become a favorite of evangelicals and spawn a whole generation of creationists who would push for changes in the teaching of mainstream science during the next fifty years. Morris would later found the Institute for Creation Research, which is a think-tank for creationism.
1968: Epperson v. Arkansas
The Supreme Court ruled that an Arkansas law making it a crime to teach evolution in public schools was unconstitutional. All of the Court’s nine justices ruled in favor of Susan Epperson, a high school biology teacher in Little Rock.
1982: McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education
A federal court ruled that it was unconstitutional for Arkansas to require schools to give a “balanced treatment to creation-science and to evolution-science.” Judge William R. Overton ruled that the Arkansas law violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits the establishment of religion. Overton wrote in the opinion that one group shouldn’t be able to “foist its religious beliefs on others.”
1990: The Discovery Institute is launched to promote theories of intelligent design.
The intelligent design theory is another branch of the anti-evolution movement. The Institute says that it uses science and technology to “support the theistic foundations of the West.” The Institute has been accused of manufacturing controversies about the validity of evolution and promoting a Christian-based worldview. The intelligent design community attempts to label their theories alongside evolution as mainstream science. Nearly every scientific organization in the country disagrees.
August 1999: The Kansas Board of Education votes to remove the teaching of evolution from the state’s science curriculum.
The Board voted to allow local school districts to decide if their schools would teach creationism, evolution or both. Following court rulings over the previous decades, the 1999 vote represented both a major victory and a tactical change for creationists. If they couldn’t constitutionally teach creationism in schools, proponents thought, maybe evolution could be kept away from schools. The ruling provoked a major backlash from the scientific community, which would increasingly advocate for mainstream science over the following years. There would also be a voter backlash in the next election.
February 14, 2001: The Kansas Board of Education votes 7-3 to restore the teaching of evolution to the state’s science curriculum.
In the 2000 elections, Kansas voters kicked three members off the board following their votes to remove evolution from science curriculum. Only one anti-evolution member of the board was re-elected.
May 2005: The Kansas Board of Education holds hearing questioning the theory of evolution
In the 2004 elections, conservatives once again were voted into power on the State Board of Education. Following the elections, the board decided to hold hearings questioning the theory of evolution. The Discovery Institute would play a key role in the hearings, using “science” to question the teaching of evolution and promote new science standards in classrooms. The scientific community boycotted the hearings so as not to lend any sort of credibility to the debate.
November 8, 2005: The Kansas Board of Education votes 6-4 to adopt a new science curriculum that questioned evolution.The state adopted standards that recommended schools teach ideas promoted by the Discovery Institute and other advocates of intelligent design. The vote resulted in the state actually changing the definition of science itself, suggesting that science should not be limited to only natural explanations. Afterward, a member of the Discovery Institute would say that Kansas now had the “best science standards in the nation.”
January 2007: The Kansas Board of Education board votes to remove the anti-evolution guidelines adopted in 2005.Following the 2006 elections, conservatives once again lost control of the State Board of Education and there was yet another round of changes to science standards in Kansas. The board voted 6-4 to remove the anti-evolution guidelines adopted in 2005. The definition of science was once again the search for “natural explanations.” Connie Morris, a conservative who was voted off the board in 2006, said evolution was a “fairy-tale” and a “theory in crisis.” After losing her seat, Morris blamed the “lying liberal media” and lamented that the new school board would “let government schools teach children that we are no more than chaotic, random mutants.”
November 6, 2012: Jack Wu, an anti-evolution candidate for the Kansas Board of Education, lost to a Topeka Democrat.Wu, who attends the Westboro Baptist Church, lost the election and ensured that the board would remain in control of members who support the teaching of evolution. Wu made repealing the teaching of evolution a cornerstone of his campaign. He characterized evolution as “satanic lies,” and said Kansas public schools were grooming students to become “liars, crooks, thieves, murderers, and perverts.”
Feature image photo credit: Wikimedia Commons