William Harris was in on the first fight over
But six years ago, when the nation was watching
what Kansas was doing, few in the state seemed ready to hear what
the medical-school professor from Prairie Village had to
Harris bets this time will be different.
conservatives who attacked evolution because it conflicted with the
Genesis account of how the world was created have faded into the
In their place are professionals such as Harris
who support intelligent design, a theory that states some aspects of
the universe and living things are best explained by intelligent
causes, not chance. Darwin's theory of evolution doesn't always add
up, they say, and students should hear more about its
"There are only two options," said Harris, who is
leading this year's fight. "Life was either designed or it wasn't."
That's not the point, evolution defenders reply. Science
is about searching for natural explanations of the world, they say,
and has no room for a theory based on faith.
The public will
join the debate beginning Tuesday, when the first of four public
hearings on new science
standards will be held in Kansas City, Kan.
states, emotions over evolution already run high.
On Jan. 13,
a federal judge in Georgia sided with evolution supporters who
objected to stickers on textbooks that read: "Evolution is a theory,
not a fact." The judge said the stickers sent a message that the
school board in Cobb County agreed with the beliefs of Christian
fundamentalists and creationists.
In Pennsylvania, the Dover
school board became the first in the nation to decide students shall
be told an alternative to evolution exists. An administrator read a
statement to that effect to students this month because teachers
wouldn't read it. A lawsuit is pending.
also are getting involved. In Missouri, a bill pending in the House
calls for every biology textbook to critically analyze the origin of
So far, no state board of education has required the
teaching of intelligent design. And the Kansas supporters of
intelligent design are not asking that it be mandated, said Harris,
who is on a committee that is rewriting the science
Harris and seven other members of the 26-member
committee instead propose students be "more adequately informed"
The eight submitted a proposal to the state Board
of Education. One recommendation was to change the definition of
science. The current definition, they say, limits inquiry because it
allows only "natural" explanations. They want it to be more objective
and to allow students "to follow the evidence wherever it leads."
Evolution supporters said such a change would shake
science at its foundation.
밒ntelligent design claims it's a
mistake to limit science to naturalistic explanations,?said Kenneth
Miller, a biologist at Brown University who has written science
textbooks used in Kansas and elsewhere.
밄ut what other kinds
of explanations are there? The straightforward answer ?which is very
clear from their document but they never quite frankly have the
courage to use the word ?is supernatural explanations. ?It means
supernatural explanations in Kansas will now be part of science.?br
/> Intelligent-design proponents deny that. They say design
can be detected without introducing a designer.
adopted the proposed changes from the group of eight, it would go
further than any state had gone in adopting a position endorsed by
supporters of intelligent design.
A different idea
1999 the Kansas Board of Education caught the nation's attention
when it voted 6-4 to downplay the teaching of evolution. The board
removed many references to evolution from the state standards, which
allowed local districts to decide whether they wanted to teach
A leader for the evolution supporters declared that day
that "Kansas just embarrassed itself on the national stage."
The vote that year (reversed two years later) was fueled by
young-earth creationists. They believe that God created the universe
and everything in it in six 24-hour days, according to the Genesis
account, and that the Earth isn't more than 10,000 years
But among those who were lobbying before the state board
were three early proponents of intelligent design: Harris, a
professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a lipid
researcher at St. Luke's Hospital; John Calvert of Lake Quivira, a
lawyer with a degree in geology; and Jody Sjogren, a former area
resident with a master's in science.
The three met and soon
founded the Intelligent Design Network Inc. The grass-roots group
holds conferences and works with supporters in other
In 2002, Calvert traveled to Ohio. He and other
design supporters persuaded the state board there to adopt language
that required students to analyze certain aspects of
Calvert said the Kansas changes would go further
because they were laced throughout the standards. He is serving as
the attorney for the group of eight.
The proposal in Kansas
is supported by the Discovery Institute, a think tank based in
"We don't favor teaching creationism,"
said John West,
an associate director with the institute's Center for Science and
Culture. "We don't favor teaching the Bible in science class. We're
not even pushing and certainly not requiring the teaching of
intelligent design, although we don't want it to be
"What we are for and what we think every reasonable
person ought to agree on is to teach evolution robustly and teach
all the evidence for it."
"What is so wrong," he asks, "if
a class that spends two weeks on evolution spends one day addressing
some contrary views?"
Evolution defenders don't buy
"Intelligent design is a religious movement," says Eugenie
Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science
Education in Oakland, Calif.
"The fight over evolution was
easier in 1999," she said, "because it was so obvious that just
kicking evolution out of the standards completely was a very bad
idea. But creationism has evolved."
"The tactic now is
teaching the weaknesses of evolution," she said.
hear the intelligent-design proponents say, 'teach the controversy
over evolution' and they think, 'well, yeah, that makes sense.
Students should understand all views.'"
"That's a good fairness
argument. Except that what they are saying is that teachers should
pretend to students that scientists are arguing over whether
evolution happened when actually scientists are arguing about the
pattern and process of evolution. They are arguing about the how,
not the whether."
Paula Donham, a biology teacher at
Olathe East High School, said she and other teachers encouraged
students to study all aspects of evolution.
"We spend a great
deal of time with them trying to get them to think critically and to
question what things mean," said Donham, chairwoman of the school's
As for those who say more should be
taught about the weaknesses of the theory, Donham said: "That's a
pretty false argument. If you look at what science is all about,
science is the discipline that is most self-critical. We are all
about looking at what we know already and questioning it."
Fact or theory?
Design supporters say evolution
proponents like to gloss over evidence that challenges Darwin's
That approach plays out in the classroom, they
Students should be hearing more about evidence that
questions whether all living things come from common ancestors, said
Jonathan Wells, a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute who
holds a doctorate in molecular and cell biology. There actually is
quite good evidence they did not, Wells said.
he said, the fossil record shows a sudden appearance of major kinds
of animals during the Cambrian explosion, which occurred about 500
million years ago.
"The fossil record does not show the
branching tree pattern that we would expect from Darwin's theory.
I'm not saying the fossil record disproves the theory, although
some people would argue that. I'm just saying students should at
least be aware that there is a controversy here."
the most part," Wells said, "textbooks and teachers try to give
students the impression that evolution is a fact, which in my
opinion is very misleading."
Seniors at Olathe East in
Donham's advanced-placement biology class said discussions about
whether a higher being created the world rarely came up in their
They said they did not have a problem with
"Certain investigations will eventually lead to
questions we find we can't answer," said Elke Mermis, 17. "From a
philosophical standpoint," she said, "it might make sense to believe
God's hand intervened."
But if one accepted that as an answer
in a science class, she said, "it's kind of like you just sort of
reach the end and there is nothing else to say."
least one parent, however, said public schools take too strong a
stand in favor of evolution.
Celtie Johnson said her
10th-grade daughter felt appalled and humiliated two years ago when
her biology teacher in the Shawnee Mission School District showed
'Inherit the Wind,' a film that depicted the 1925 Scopes 'monkey
"The film ridiculed the conservative Christians
in it who criticized evolution," Johnson said. "That's hardly an
unbiased view," she said.
Design supporters contend that the
current definition of science supports beliefs such as atheism,
which they call a 'nontheistic' religion. Harris and Calvert want the
definition changed to provide equal time for a 'theistic' point of
view. A theistic view might lead one to believe in a creator, they
say, but does not identify any particular god.
"When you can
detect design in a living system, the implications of that are very,
very significant," Calvert said. "If you conclude the system is
designed, it shows life has an inherent purpose."
Heppert, director of the University of Kansas Center for Science
Education, said he saw a worrisome subtext in the proposed
"Design supporters imply that science as practiced
today is somehow inherently negative," Heppert said. "They seem to
suggest that science has hurt moral values and is antagonistic to
Heppert said he could only guess at their ultimate
goals. "However," he said, "since they were arguing that science was a
dogma that was anti-religious, they could put that idea forward in a
court of law as a way to defend intelligent design."
that will be the case, I don't know," he said. "But it is certainly