August 2, 2006

Anti-evolution Forces Lose Power in State Primary

By Carey Gillam

OVERLAND PARK, Kansas -- Conservative Republicans who pushed for criticism of evolution in Kansas classrooms lost control of the state school board as moderates scored a narrow victory in a primary election on Tuesday.

The shake-up came after the Kansas State Board of Education voted 6-4 in November to approve new science standards that local and national science groups charged were a product of religious zealotry because they challenged Darwin's theory.

Teachers and scientists joined with moderate and liberal political action groups to campaign for the ouster of the conservatives and return to teaching what they consider conventional science.

The Kansas standards, meant to be guidelines for teachers across the state, were seen as a victory for the "intelligent design" movement, which holds that the world is so complex that a higher authority -- God -- must have created it.

With more than 90 percent of the votes counted early on Wednesday, moderates had gained two seats and secured a third on the 10-member board, pushing conservatives -- two held their seats -- into the minority.

"We're going to have a new majority on the school board," said Boo Tyson, executive director of the MAINstream Coalition, which helped fund the campaign against the conservatives. "The people of Kansas have said they want their school board focused on something else than this hot-button issue."

The moderate challengers in the Republican primary gained the advantage by unseating one conservative on the board and giving a fourth open seat to a grandmother and teacher who has been highly critical of the board's anti-evolution actions.

Democrat Janet Waugh also held her seat against a challenger who had been dubbed anti-evolution.

The Kansas vote is the latest development in a renewed U.S. debate over evolution, which has simmered before and since the famed Scopes "monkey trial" in Tennessee 80 years ago.

The Kansas standards say there is a lack of evidence or natural explanation for the genetic code, charge that fossil records are inconsistent with evolutionary theory, and say certain evolutionary explanations "often reflect ... inferences from indirect or circumstantial evidence."

Kansas' school board has shifted repeatedly on the issue. It pushed through anti-evolution standards in 1999, prompting moderates to oust conservatives in 2000. But the conservatives regained power and pushed through the latest anti-evolution standards last year.

In February, the Ohio Board of Education reversed a 2002 mandate requiring critical analysis of evolution in science classes. That followed a federal judge's ruling that teaching intelligent design to Dover, Pennsylvania, students was unconstitutional.

The controversy made Kansas a focus of international attention and the butt of jokes by late-night television hosts, who portrayed the state as ignorant and backward.