The teaching of evolution to Kansas high-school students seemed to be headed back toward 1858, the year before Charles Darwin wrote “On the Origin of Species,” but after an election Tuesday it appears that biology instruction in the state will remain in the 21st century.
Voters installed a moderate 6-4 majority on the state Board of Education, ousting the margin of conservative Republicans who had promulgated standards for the teaching of science that seemed intended to establish that the theory of evolution, the foundation of modern biology, is wrong, flawed or should be given equal weight with intelligent design or creationism.
Critics of evolution have not fared too terribly well in their efforts to derail Darwin. Ohio’s state board of education dropped plans to require skeptical teaching of evolution. And in Dover, Pa., voters ousted a school board that ordered that students be referred to materials on intelligent design. In the meantime, a federal judge, in what may be the definitive ruling on the issue, found that intelligent design was religion, not science.
Critics of evolution tend to rely on a slippery definition of “theory,” using it in the broad sense of conjecture or speculation rather than in its scientific sense as a testable hypothesis explaining a given set of facts. For the overwhelming number of scientists and their professional organizations, evolution is settled biology.
But because of voter apathy and low turnout, state and local boards of education are susceptible to agenda-driven politics. The creationist-minded Dover board was ousted only when the parents became aroused. Kansas’ board has gone back and forth three times between pro- and anti-evolution majorities.
The turnout in Tuesday’s pivotal election, admittedly affected by the heat and vacations, was only 18 percent.