Kansas Moves Closer to Intelligent Design Curriculum

A move to adopt guidelines encouraging Kansas schools to teach an alternative to the theory of evolution — intelligent design — gains momentum. The Kansas Board of Education has approved a draft of new science standards proposed by supporters of intelligent design. Approval is expected in October.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

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Kansas is one step closer to adopting guidelines that encourage students and teachers to question evolution. This week the Kansas Board of Education approved a draft of new science standards proposed by supporters of intelligent design. They believe the complexity of life shows evidence that it's the intentional work of a creator. NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN reporting:

While the new Kansas science standards don't include intelligent design, they go further than any state guidelines so far in raising questions about evolution. They say students should, quote, "learn about areas where scientists are raising scientific questions about the theory." They also make some suggestions about where to look. Board member Sue Gamble, who opposes the changes, says many of the ideas incorporated in the standards come directly from writings on intelligent design.

Ms. SUE GAMBLE (Kansas Board of Education): The controversy about the Cambrian explosion; there is no controversy about the Cambrian explosion within general science. It is all within intelligent design.

ALLEN: The draft guidelines approved this week in Kansas now go to an outside company for independent review but are expected to be approved in some form as early as October. When that happens, Gamble says, Kansas will have what she calls the most radical definition of science in the world.

Ms. GAMBLE: The biggest thing that has changed is the nature of science has been changed to include logical explanations that may not be natural. If they're not natural, seems to me they have to be supernatural, and once you have crossed that, then you are in the realm of religion.

ALLEN: Supporters of the changes, who make up a six-to-four majority on Kansas' elected school board, take a less dramatic view of the new standards. Board member Kathy Martin says they're merely intended to allow teachers to discusss alternate theories to evolution without fear of repercussion.

Ms. KATHY MARTIN (Kansas Board of Education): If the teacher has had any apprehension about teaching controversy about evolution or any of the things that contradict evolution, they now should understand that it's perfectly OK here in Kansas to teach evolution and both sides of the controversy, either evidence that supports it or evidence that refutes it.

ALLEN: The debate over how evolution should be taught in the schools is happening not just in Kansas. It's going on in school boards and legislatures all over the country. And in this case, John Calvert, a lawyer and founder of the Intelligent Design Network, says he believes Kansas will lead the way.

Mr. JOHN CALVERT (Founder, Intelligent Design Network): When history is written, 10, 15 years from now, it will show Kansas on the cutting edge of, you know, a new teaching paradigm.

ALLEN: Evolution proponents are already predicting a political backlash when school board members come up for re-election next year. That's exactly what happened after Kansas adopted similar changes to science standards in 1999. But those standards were pushed by creationists. This time around, it's intelligent design that's being presented as an alternate to evolution. And a recent poll conducted by The Kansas City Star shows a lot of support in Kansas for alternate theories. Nearly half of those polled supported either creationism or intelligent design. Only about a quarter said they favored evolution. Greg Allen, NPR News, Kansas City.

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