US state shoves Darwin aside

In a ruling reflecting the resurgence of religious conservatism, a key United States state has given Charles Darwin and his evolution theory a shove, forcing them to share the classroom with Bible-inspired creationist theories.

By a vote of 6 to 4, the Kansas Board of Education on Tuesday adopted new science teaching guidelines, under which evolutionary concepts must be presented to students alongside theories that life could have had divine origins.

“Regarding the scientific theory of biological evolution, the curriculum standards call for students to learn about the best evidence for modern evolutionary theory, but also to learn about areas where scientists are raising scientific criticisms of the theory,” the board said.

It insisted it had based its decision on “credible scientific testimony” about debates among specialists about key aspects of Darwin’s theory, which holds that all species populating Earth have evolved by themselves over millions or years, adapting to existing natural conditions.

The theory has been under fierce attack from proponents of the so-called theory of “intelligent design” that is largely based on the Bible’s Book of Genesis.

“This is a big victory for the students of Kansas, providing them with full-disclosure of the scientific debate about Darwinism going on between scientists and in the scientific literature, so we’re very pleased,” said Casey Luskin, a top official with the Discovery Institute’s Centre for Science and Culture, a Seattle, Washington-based policy group that promotes “intelligent design.”

But many teachers and members of the scientific community were appalled.

“They have challenged the definition of science as seeking natural explanations,” commented Jack Krebs, a teacher and president of Kansas Citizens for Science.

“They have made it clear they would like to include supernatural explanations in science,” he added.

The ruling marks the third time since 1999 that Kansas education officials have confronted Darwinism and its supporters.

Six years ago, the board called for purging most references to the universally accepted theory from the state school curricula, prompting an outcry in the scientific community—along with a lot of ridicule.

The standards were revised again in 2002 to bring Darwin back, but the reinvigorated political muscle of religious conservatives, fully displayed in the 2004 elections, has swung the pendulum again.

Kansas is not by far the only US state where the evolution theory finds itself under attack.

In 2002, Ohio became the first state to require students to learn about “evidence” critical of Darwinism when it adopted a guideline insisting that school students “critically analyse aspects of evolutionary theory”.

Similar standards have since been adopted in Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Mexico.

Pennsylvania’s decision to give status to the theory of “intelligent design” is now being challenged in court.

Meanwhile, the Campaign to Defend the Constitution, a 25 000-strong public advocacy group, announced it is launching an internet petition drive to encourage its members to e-mail members of the Kansas board and ask them to uphold scientific integrity in state schools.

“American children are consistently falling behind those of other nations in their knowledge and understanding of science,” argued Francisco Ayala, a biology professor and a key campaign coordinator.

“We will not be able to close this gap if we substitute ideology for fact in our science classrooms,” he added. - AFP

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