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Kansas Biology Classrooms Might Not Be Affected By Changes To State Science Standards

By Ben Embry

Kansas City, MO – According to Kansas State Board of Education Chairman Steve Abrams, before any criticisms of evolution can be taught in public school classrooms, they must first be vetted by peer-reviewed journals, articles and books. The peer-review process is seen as an essential part of the scientific community where articles are sent out to independent experts in the field who ensure that they meet a journal's standards of quality and are scientifically valid. Scientists say this process is critical to establishing scientific credibility. When asked if there are any alternative theories critical of evolution that meet that standard, Abrams' response was unequivocal.

Not that I'm aware of, at least, he said.

Abrams' admission backs off earlier statements by him in which he has talked about scientific journal articles that question evolutionary theory. His statement also would seem to discredit the board's contention that there is a schism in the scientific community over evolution. Abrams has been the chief architect behind the board's controversial decision to adopt the new standards and is the leader of the board's 6-to-4 conservative majority. His comments surprised moderate board member Sue Gamble, who voted against the new standards. Gamble says she has asked Abrams on numerous occasions if any theories critical of evolution have been published in such journals and the response had always been the same: yes. Gamble says Abrams' comments echo what critics of the board's decision have been saying all along.

I am glad to finally have the chairman of the state board respond directly to that question because it is one I have been asking him for months and have not received a satisfactory answer, Gamble said. And so, I think this finally does reveal that there is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence to support what the majority have put into the science standards.

Abrams comments came after a Pennsylvania judge ruled last week that intelligent design can not be taught in public school classrooms. In his ruling, Judge John Jones wrote that current alternative theories to evolution, such as ID or young earth creationism, cannot be uncoupled from their creationist origins and are, therefore, inherently religious in nature. He also decried the Dover PA school district's quote breathtaking inanity in attempting to cast doubt on evolution and expanding the definition of science to include supernatural explanations. Abrams says the ruling won't affect Kansas because the new standards don't mention intelligent design. But Gamble points out that the Kansas standards also redefine science to go beyond natural explanations, opening the door to alternative explanations that exceed traditional scientific limits on natural observation.

In spite of the judge's harsh ruling, Abrams defended the board's decision and reiterated his commitment to only allowing theories from peer-reviewed journals, books and articles that cast doubt on evolution.

What the standards currently do is that it allows those evidences from peer-reviewed journals, articles and books that seem to cast some negative response on evolution it allows teachers to teach that and within the parameters of good science, Abrams said.

Before adopting the new standards, the board held a trial this summer, where opponents of evolution were to face off against scientists who support evolutionary theory - which is accepted as the cornerstone of modern biology by the majority of scientists. But the scientific community didn't show up - claiming the trial was a sham. Filling in for the scientific community was Pedro Irigonegaray, a Topeka civil rights lawyer. Still, the board pushed forward with the trial, flying in well-known advocates of intelligent design who testified about the so-called flaws in evolutionary theory. The cost to taxpayers came to over $20,000. But given Abrams admission that no alternative theories meet the board's criteria for legitimate science and the fact that the science standards will remain much as they are today unless such scientifically sound theories challenging evolution are published, some are questioning the point of those hearings and why so much time and taxpayer money was spent on them. Steve Case, assistant director of the Center for Science Education at the University of Kansas.

I really think we need to ask the question: what was the point? And what did we get for our money and investment? Case asked.

Still, because of the lack of any scientifically valid criticisms of evolution, it is unlikely that what is taught in science classrooms will effectively change anytime soon, making the board's changes to the state's science standards essentially moot. But with the added fuel provided by the Pennsylvania ruling and next year's board elections, the evolution controversy in Kansas is far from over.

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