OHIO REJECTS CREATIONISM...WILL IT RETURN TO KANSAS?
Broadcast twice on January 16, 2003 on KANU, during Morning Edition 7–9am
It appears that Ohio has rejected “intelligent design creationism” and will stay with solid science education standards. As a scientist I am glad, but as a Kansan I have mixed feelings. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not a creationist...
I co-authored the original evolution standards that were removed in August 1999 and worked with science colleagues to restore them in February of 2001. But this year’s State School Board elections have moved us back to a likely 5–5 split. And in two more years, when five more Board seats are up for election, loss of any four of the pro-evolution votes means the evolution-creation debate could return to Kansas.
That debate has evolved. Creationists have offered a new “intelligent design” theory—mind you, it’s “just a theory”—and somewhere, someday, a state is going to adopt it for science education. It will then be challenged in court. It could either be found to be a violation of church-state separation, as have previous “alternatives” or it could be unique enough to appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. That means that for the year or two that this appeal plays out, the eyes of the world will be focused on that state...and I don’t want that state to be Kansas.
Yet every day that goes by that another state doesn’t accept intelligent design takes us that much closer to the next elections, and the chance that Kansas will again be in the spotlight. It is probably wise to get prepared for this possibility, and having set through the previous “evolution” hearings, I will offer some suggestions.
First for the good people of Kansas who are on the creationist side. The science community does not take you seriously when you ask for “equal time” for religious creationism, because that issue has already been laid to rest. “Equal time” was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost. To turn this around will take a Constitutional Amendment in Washington, not a re-vote in Topeka. The veteran conservatives on the State School Board know this, and that is why their August 1999 action stopped short of crossing the line that separates church and state; it did not require “equal time.” Future arguments that are within the legal framework and are not religious-based will go far to raise the level of debate.
But for my science colleagues, I am more critical. Now certainly there were clear and civil presentations made by many scientists. But today, in the Kansas State Board of Education Boardroom hangs a new sign that proclaims that all decisions are made for the good of Kansas children. Sadly it was science colleagues who stated “I am not sure you have the best interests of the students in mind” to Board members in 1999. We should never question the intentions nor integrity of Board members; on both sides they each sincerely believe they are doing what is best for the school children of Kansas.
We were not always civil. Incivility can be a subtle as a scientist in effect saying “I’m the expert on this, you believe it, that settles it” to a speaker ignoring the 3 minute time limit, to an outburst calling all the boardmembers “ayatollahs”!
Some national-level scientists did not help either: one suggested no scientist should fill a vacancy at a certain Kansas university since it was obvious Kansas citizens did not support science. And another national science editor suggested universities across the country test students who graduated from Kansas schools because they were likely science deficient. These last two statements are what you expect from little children throwing fits. Since Kansas is a well-educated state with solid science production, it was easy for our opposition to conclude: if these scientists are that wrong about Kansas, they can certainly be wrong about evolution.
What we said was not as important as how we said it. In 1999, we lost a critical vote because of the perception that science was dogmatically shoving evolution down the throats of students. If this issue returns to Kansas in 2005, we can do better. Do our homework. Mind our manners. Listen. Don’t question the Board’s integrity. And if the debate doesn’t return to Kansas...well, those are fairly good habits to keep anyway.
John Richard Schrock is a professor of biology at Emporia State University.