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Nothing Wrong With Kansas
State voters move science education out of the Victorian era.

Sunday, August 6, 2006

FOR THE SECOND time in less than a year, voters have turned out of office policymakers who insisted on teaching kids bad science. Last year, the people of Dover, Pa., got rid of a group of school board members who injected the theory of "intelligent design" into high school biology. Last week, Republican primary voters in Kansas ousted the conservative majority on the state Board of Education, which had adopted science standards embracing intelligent design and casting doubt on Darwinian evolution. Moderate Republicans replaced two conservatives -- giving those supporting science at least a 6-to-4 majority, even if the other conservatives hold on in the general election. The vote, which should lead to changes to those embarrassing standards, is an encouraging sign that even in conservative jurisdictions, most people want kids to be taught biology, not religion.

The Kansas board has been fighting over evolution since 1999, when it moved to eliminate references to Darwinian theory from statewide standards. After anti-evolutionists lost their majority, the board restored evolution's place. But the conservatives regained the majority in 2004 and moved to promote intelligent design -- a challenge to Darwinian theory based not on biblical inerrancy or overt creationism but on purportedly scientific flaws in the theory. Its proponents claim that they merely intend to make sure that schoolchildren get a full sense of the scientific controversy over evolution.

The trouble with this liberal-seeming pose is that there is no scientific controversy over whether evolution happens or over its essential mechanisms. Intelligent design is a defensible theological position -- the belief that life is so complex and perfect that a creator must lie somewhere behind it. But being untestable in its positing of a supernatural explanation for natural phenomena, it is no more scientific than the belief that Athena was born from Zeus's head. Teaching it as science does a grave disservice to students who wish to understand natural phenomena that only evolution truly explains. How do bacteria become drug-resistant? Why do birds, bees and bats all have wings? Intelligent design can lead only to unintelligent students, or at least badly educated ones. In the seesawing of Kansas politics on this issue, it is too early to declare victory. It is, however, encouraging that voters seem to be insisting, at least for now, that when students study biology, they learn the real thing.

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