Evolution of a Controversy

What happened in Kansas shows why scientists must defend the search for truth

Continued from page 1

In recent years, the board has been a very controversial body. Independent of governor and legislature, it comprises 10 members who are elected directly from geographic districts that encompass the state. For the past two years, the board has been so deadlocked, with five conservative and five moderate members, that very little educational business has been conducted -- to the great frustration of Kansas's citizens.

Steve Abrams--a veterinarian from Arkansas City and a member and immediate past chairman of the board--read the committee's proposed standards for science education and found them objectionable. He took it upon himself to rewrite the standards, enlisting the assistance of a Missouri group called the Creation Science Association for Mid-America.

Abrams not only wanted to rid the standards of evolution; he also wanted to relegate all science to the status of unproven "theory." His version stated:"Since science today is defined as empirical, and therefore inductive, no one can rationally claim that any scientific theory has been certified to be true." Under that assumption, even the laws of gravity failed to qualify as scientific fact. According to Abrams, the theory of gravity "has been tested very few times, has at least a modest body of evidence against it, and was (and is) not accepted by notable scientists, e.g., A. Einstein."

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The Abrams standards created great consternation among the board and the public. The board rejected them-perhaps because of a 1987 Supreme Court decision, Edwards v. Aguillard, which held that requiring the teaching of creationism as an alternative to evolution was an impermissible endorsement of religion, violating the principle of separation of church and state. Or perhaps the board simply felt that the Abrams draft was too extreme.

Abrams and two other members of the board then prepared another draft, including material from the committee's version and Abrams's original version. That draft eliminated evolution, as normally defined by biologists; any references to the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe; and all references to the earth's being billions of years old. The three board members even removed almost all mentions of famous scientists and scientific achievements of the past. They included assignments designed to promote creationist views. For example: "Analyze hypotheses about characteristics of and extinction of dinosaurs. Identify the assumptions behind the hypothesis and show the weakness in the reasoning that led to the hypothesis."

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