Kansas voters choose between God or Darwin

Click to follow
The Independent US

Voters in Kansas will be casting ballots tomorrow in a hotly contested primary election where none of the runners have the name Bush or Gore. At stake are seats on the statewide Board of Education, which ordinarily might not make for a very thrilling contest. Until you think of it in terms of Darwin versus God.

Voters in Kansas will be casting ballots tomorrow in a hotly contested primary election where none of the runners have the name Bush or Gore. At stake are seats on the statewide Board of Education, which ordinarily might not make for a very thrilling contest. Until you think of it in terms of Darwin versus God.

At the heart of the race is a battle between evolutionists, who adhere to theories first expounded in Darwin's On the Origin of the Species, and creationists, for whom the book of Genesis offers the explanation for our existence. For a year, it has dominated politics in Kansas and in the state Republican Party it has pitted conservatives against moderates.

The controversy blew up last August, when the existing 10-member board voted 6-4 to strike the main tenets of evolution and natural selection from statewide standards for teaching science in schools. Out went all references, for example, to the "big bang"theory of the universe's origin and to macroevolution, which holds that different species, most notably apes and man, have common ancestors.

The new standards do not bar teachers from teaching evolution, but they do not encourage it, and critics say it leaves a door open for teachers to propound the creationist notions that Earth is only 6,000 years old and that humankind sprang from Adam and Eve.

Three of the board members who voted to downgrade evolution are now facing re-election amid a hubbub of criticism, if not ridicule, for their positions. In each case, they face moderate Republican opponents who favour reinstating evolution to the curriculum. Because Kansas is overwhelmingly Republican, the victors tomorrow are almost certain to win seats in the general election in November.

This month has seen the 75th anniversary of the celebrated "Monkey Trial" in Tennessee, when a young teacher, John Scopes, was prosecuted for daring to introduce thetheory of evolution to his class. Scopes was convicted of violating a law that made it illegal to propound "any theory that denies the story of Divine Creation as taught inthe Bible". His conviction was later overturned.

This month, Hollywood stars visited the University of Kansas to participate in a dramatisation of the trial for live broadcast on radio and television. They included Edward Asner, of Lou Grant fame, and James Cromwell, the farmer in Babe. Sponsoring the event was the People for the American Way, a liberal think-tank. Its president, Ralph Neas, said: "We could present this programme in dozens of states and it would be just as timely." But he added, "Kansas is today's ground zero in the battle over evolution".

States still seeing fights include Missouri, Nebraska and Lousiana, but nowhere is the argument so loud as in Kansas.

Comments