The Kansas State Board of Education's decision Aug. 11 to reject the theory of evolution as the central thread of biological studies could go a long way toward unraveling the scientific community's case for the origin of life, says a Southern Baptist professor of Christian theology.
Hal N. Ostrander, associate dean and professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's James P. Boyce College of the Bible, Louisville, Ky., and a biblical creationist, said the long-supported evolution theory is being dismantled slowly by an argument for "intelligent design" the theory that life came about intentionally and not by chance because it's too complex to be explained any other way.
"This triumph for anti-evolutionary forces in the Kansas schools may herald great changes ahead, probably making it all the more difficult to sustain the cherished evolutionary paradigm as a unifying scientific concept not only in Kansas but elsewhere too," Ostrander said.
The century-old debate over the origin of life was turned on its head when the Kansas State School Board, ignoring the pleas of presidents and chancellors of Kansas' six public universities, voted to eliminate references to the theory of evolution on state assessment tests designed to measure student-competency in science.
Anti-evolutionists or creationists say the Kansas school board decision is a victory for those who believe that God created humans and other species and that since evolution cannot be observed or replicated in a laboratory, there is no evidence it actually occurred. Many creationists believe further that the Bible shows life on Earth cannot be more than 10,000 years old. They cite examples such as the volcanic explosion of Mount St. Helens in 1980 as a catastrophe they argue proves the earth can undergo monumental changes in short periods of time.
Molleen Matsumura, network project director of the National Center for Science Education, told The New York Times: "The number of changes made [in Kansas], the thoroughness with which references to evolution are deleted or definitions changed, it's more extensive than what we've seen before."
The Kansas school board decision does not prohibit the teaching of evolution in the classroom, but the elimination of the subject on state assessment tests could discourage teachers from spending time teaching the concept.
If the new state standards survive challenges, references such as "macroevolution" - the process of change from one species to another - would be deleted, but "microevolution," or changes within species, would remain.
The new policy also includes the concept of natural selection, the idea that advantageous traits increase in a population over time. The revised standards, however, no longer contain language recommended by science educators that described evolution by natural selection as "a broad unifying theoretical framework in biology." Concepts such as the big bang theory, which hold that the universe was born from a vast explosion, were also deleted according to a New York Times report.
According to the Associated Press, the Kansas school board policy goes so far as to directly contradict a decree made last year by the National Academy of Sciences that evolution must be taught in public schools if children are to understand biology at all.
The organization issued a guidebook for teachers, parents, and school administrators that asserted: "There is no debate within the scientific community over whether evolution has occurred, and there is no evidence that evolution has not occurred."
The board's decision was met by criticism from the governor to watchdog groups arguing for the separation of church and state.
Kansas Republican Gov. Bill Graves described the board's action as "a terrible, tragic, embarrassing solution to a problem that didn't exist," the Associated Press reported. And The Washington Post reported that Graves has threatened to support an effort to abolish the board of education.
Board member Janet Waugh of Kansas City, a Democrat, said the new standards will put Kansas students at a disadvantage with students from other states on college entrance exams.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State has threatened to sue the Kansas State Board of Education if it decides the standards favor creationism.
But Steven Abrams, a Kansas school board member and leader of the movement to remove evolution from the state curricula, said the debate is about science, not the Bible or separation of church and state.
"Kids should be studying science, basic facts that can be measured and observed," Abrams told The Washington Post. "Evolution is not good science and shouldn't be taught in schools."
Phillip Johnson, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, who fathered the intelligent design argument, agrees that the theory of evolution is constructed on bad science and bad philosophy. He says the only way scientific evidence supports evolution is if the evidence is interpreted through a materialist philosophy whereby the creation began with particles in mindless motion rather than with the Creator.
Ostrander predicted the evolution theory will "one day come to an end if for no other reason than the fact there is a telltale lack of historically provided evidence, for its truthfulness, for its genuine fit with reality."