TOPEKA, Kan. - Risking the kind of nationwide ridicule it faced six years ago, the Kansas Board of Education approved new public-school science standards Tuesday that cast doubt on the theory of evolution.
The 6-4 vote was a victory for "intelligent design" advocates who helped draft the standards. Intelligent design holds that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by a higher power.
Critics of the new language charged that it was an attempt to inject God and creationism into public schools in violation of the separation of church and state.
All six of those who voted for the new standards were Republicans. Two Republicans and two Democrats voted no.
"This is a sad day. We're becoming a laughingstock of not only the nation, but of the world, and I hate that," said board member Janet Waugh, a Kansas City Democrat.
Supporters of the new standards said they will promote academic freedom. "It gets rid of a lot of dogma that's being taught in the classroom today," said board member John Bacon, an Olathe Republican.
The new standards say high school students must understand major evolutionary concepts. But they also declare that the basic Darwinian theory that all life had a common origin and that natural chemical processes created the building blocks of life have been challenged in recent years by fossil evidence and molecular biology.
In addition, the board rewrote the definition of science, so that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena.
The new standards will be used to develop student tests measuring how well schools teach science. Decisions about what is taught in classrooms will remain with 300 local school boards, but some educators fear pressure will increase in some communities to teach less about evolution or more about creationism or intelligent design.
The vote marked the third time in six years that the Kansas board has rewritten standards with evolution as the central issue.
In 1999, the board eliminated most references to evolution. Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould said that was akin to teaching "American history without Lincoln." Bill Nye, the "Science Guy" of children's television, called it "harebrained" and "nutty." And a Washington Post columnist imagined God saying to the Kansas board members: "Man, I gave you a brain. Use it, OK?"
Two years later, after voters replaced three members, the board reverted to evolution-friendly standards. Elections in 2002 and 2004 changed the board's composition again, making it more conservative.
The latest vote likely to bring fresh national criticism to Kansas and cause many scientists to see the state as backward.
Many scientists and other critics contend creationists repackaged old ideas in new, scientific-sounding language to get around a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1987 against teaching the biblical story of creation in public schools.
The Kansas board's action is part of a national debate. In Pennsylvania, a judge is expected to rule soon in a lawsuit against the Dover school board's policy of requiring high school students to learn about intelligent design in biology class. In August, President Bush endorsed teaching intelligent design alongside evolution.