It’s All Right To Teach Evolution In Kansas

The state of Kansas has a complicated relationship with the theory of evolution.

In 1999, the state attracted international attention when the Kansas Board of Education voted to remove virtually all references to evolution from the science standards.

The response to that ill-considered action was swift and strong, and people in the state mobilized to defend sound science education and church-state separation. In July of 2000, I was among a series of speakers who barnstormed to the state to raise awareness of the issue. (One thing I remember most about that trip was the unrelenting heat. It was 100 degrees when I arrived in Wichita. I also remember that a couple of creationists came to my talk and asked what they thought were probing question during the Q&A. A biologist with a local university politely, but firmly, ripped them to shreds.)

Later that year, voters replaced two creationists on the board with moderates, and instruction about evolution was restored. Three years ago, new science standards were adopted that stress evolution.

Things are headed in the right direction, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over. Indeed, Kansas has seen sporadic skirmishes over the issue of teaching evolution since then.

Most recently, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a lawsuit asserting that teaching evolution amounts to promoting atheism.

Welcome to Kansas. Yes, you can teach evolution here.

The case was brought by a group called Citizens for Objective Public Education. (COPE). In the lawsuit, members of the group asserted that the science standards permit “only atheistic/materialistic answers to ultimate religious questions.”

A federal court didn’t find that argument persuasive and dismissed the case. That ruling was later upheld by an appeals court. The unsuccessful appeal to the Supreme Court means the legal action is over.

Carolyn Campbell, a board member from Topeka, told the Topeka Capital-Journal that she’s happy the case is over.

“I struggle to understand how people can decide that the science standards [are] promoting atheism or just whatever their thoughts are,” she said. “We’re just trying to educate children so that they will have a well-rounded understanding of science.”

Bingo. We hear a lot of talk these days about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and the need to make certain that our children are prepared for the jobs of the future. They won’t be if they aren’t taught evolution, the glue that holds together biology, geology, anthropology and other sciences.  

COPE argued that teaching evolution in Kansas public schools will “establish and endorse a non-theistic religious worldview” in violation of the First Amendment. There’s a lot wrong with that claim, but chief among them is the insistence that one can’t accept God and evolution. Millions of believers around the world can and do.

COPE and similar groups may claim to be supporting “academic freedom” or even “religious freedom,” but what they are really after is something else entirely: the right to be uneducated and ignorant of modern science.

Parents may have the right to elevate fundamentalism over science for their own children (although I feel sorry for those kids), but they have no right to make that decision for anyone else.