— In a state primary election, Kansas voters have ousted two radical conservative school board members who opposed teaching evolution in schools.
The result of the 1 August election guarantees that the Kansas state school board will be transformed in January 2007 from one that mainly opposes the teaching of evolution to one that has majority support for it.
"I am thrilled," says Janet Waugh, a pro-evolution school board member and Democrat who lives in Kansas City and won her primary on Tuesday. "The people of Kansas are tired of being the laughing stock of not just the nation, but the world."
Although the election was a primary and not a general election, the result ensures that two of the school board's six anti-evolution members will not stand in the general election in November 2006.
As both the Republican and Democrat candidates for those seats are now very likely to be pro-evolution, the result of the general election should be immaterial: at least six out of 10 school board members will be pro evolution when the current school board hands over in January 2007.
"The only thing that can happen is for things to get better for us," says Jack Krebs of Kansas Citizens For Science, a non-profit group that seeks to educate the public about evolution.
A central issue in the primary election was evolution. In November 2005, the school board voted 6 to 4 to change the state's definition of science so that it could include supernatural causes and to change the definition of evolution to imply that evolution conflicts with belief in God (see Kansas backs intelligent design in science lessons).
Before November 2005, the curriculum read that "science seeks natural explanations". Now it reads that science seeks "more adequate explanations" for natural phenomena. It also adds that: "The view that living things in all the major kingdoms are modified descendants of a common ancestor...has been challenged in recent years", even though mainstream science has produced vast amounts of evidence for common descent.
These are subtle changes, but would allow supernatural ideas to be taught as science, and an unscientific amount of doubt to be heaped on Darwinian evolution, says Krebs. Anti-evolutionists have a problem accepting certain aspects of Darwinian evolution because it conflicts with the idea that a supernatural being, such as God, created the world.
Down to business
John Calvert, manager of the Intelligent Design Network in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, is in favour of the 2005 changes and denies that they were religiously motivated. "I don't think that science is just about material explanation," he says. "There is an enormous amount of data that is inconsistent with common ancestry."
The state standards form a guide for local school districts but had not yet been adopted into the curriculum of any actual schools, probably because the districts were waiting to ensure that the school board that had voted for them would stay, before going to the effort of changing their curriculums.
Pro-evolution experts feared that if a majority of anti-evolution candidates had stayed, the curriculum would have been adopted by local districts with creationist leanings. But soon the school board will not have a majority in favour of the new standards. "One of the first parts of getting down to business will be to remove these creationist standards," says Krebs.
Connie Marsh and Brad Patzer, who were in favour of the new standards in November were ousted in Tuesdays vote, and will leave the school board in January 2007.
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