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Originally published November 9, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 10, 2005 at 7:57 PM

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Corrected version

Kansas education board backs doubting Darwinism

The Kansas Board of Education voted Tuesday that students will be expected to study doubts about modern Darwinian theory, a move that defied...

TOPEKA, Kan. — The Kansas Board of Education voted Tuesday that students will be expected to study doubts about modern Darwinian theory, a move that defied the nation's scientific establishment even as it gave voice to religious conservatives and others who question the theory of evolution.

By a 6-4 vote that supporters cheered as a victory for free speech and opponents denounced as shabby politics and worse science, the board said high-school students should be told that aspects of widely accepted evolutionary theory are "controversial." Among other points, the standards allege a "lack of adequate natural explanations for the genetic code."

Tuesday's vote makes Kansas the fifth state to adopt standards that cast doubt on evolution. A trial is now under way in Pennsylvania over whether teaching "intelligent design" — a concept that holds life is too complex to have evolved without help from a higher power — violates the Constitution's ban on state promotion of religion. Ohio, Minnesota and New Mexico also have adopted standards that encourage questioning of evolution by local school districts.

"This is a great day for education. ... This absolutely teaches more about science," said Steve Abrams, the Republican Kansas board chairman who shepherded the majority that overruled a 26-member science committee and turned aside the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association.

Opposing board members accused Abrams and his colleagues of hiding behind a fiction of scientific inquiry to inject religion into public schools. They said the decision would be bad for education, bad for business and bad for the state's reputation.

"This is a sad day, not only for Kansas kids, but for Kansas," said Janet Waugh, who voted against the new standards. "We're becoming a laughingstock, not only of the nation but of the world."

The Board of Education does not mandate what will be taught to public-school students, a decision left to local school boards. But by determining what students are expected to know for state assessment tests, the state standards typically influence what students learn.

This is not the first time Kansas has altered its standards to move away from teaching evolution.

In 1999, the state approved standards that eliminated all references to evolution. Kansas became the butt of jokes on late-night television, the conservative majority on the board was swept out of office in the 2000 elections, and the anti-evolution standards were repealed.

But religious conservatives recaptured control of the education board last fall amid a statewide campaign against gay marriage.

The new standards contend that several aspects of evolution that most scientists believe are settled fact, such as the concept that all living things are biologically related, have been "challenged." They also redefine science to allow for other than natural explanations of events.

Prominent scientists and scientific organizations say there is no significant controversy and evidence from fields ranging from paleontology to molecular biology shows all life on Earth originated from a single simple life-form.

Intelligent design "does not provide any natural explanation that can be tested," said Francisco Ayala, an expert in evolutionary genetics and past president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He said the Kansas standards "are an insult to science, an insult to education and an insult to the American Constitution."

CORRECTION: A headline in an earlier version of this story stated that the Kansas education board had mandated the teaching of "intelligent design," a controversial theory that disputes the validity of Darwinism. School districts are required to teach doubts about Darwinism, but are not specifically required to teach "intelligent design."

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