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Whose religion is central to evolution debate?

By KARIN BROWNLEE, Kansas Senator

Kansas sure has been in the national limelight recently due to the decision by the state Board of Education to omit evolution from the state assessment test and allow local school boards to wrestle with this topic on their own. I don't ever remember Kansas being the topic for CNN's "Crossfire" evening political debate program. Kansas hit the jackpot on the national media coverage, be that good or bad.

We also hit the jackpot in the reactions to this decision. The letters to the editor in several newspapers are nothing short of amazing. I could not begin to respond to the many comments written, some of them supportive of the board but many of them aghast that Kansas has gone this direction.

The members of the state Board of Education have been castigated by the governor and by other public figures, and the voters who elected these people have been equally denigrated and wrongly so. After reading many of these comments, I did not want my response to be a knee-jerk reaction, so I secured a copy of both the old and new standards and read them before beginning to write.

The old science standards were passed by the state board in 1995. None of these standards included (macro)evolution. It is mentioned briefly as an example under the standard for 9-12 grade students to analyze the effects of variables on patterns of change.

This reference to evolution is so nominal that I am puzzled as to where all these science experts were in 1995. Why were they not decrying our standards then? The board's recent decision on the topic of evolution is not that different from where we have been.

However, the process the board went through exposed the notion that not everyone believes evolution nor believes it should be taught in such a manner that portrays it as the Gospel truth as to man's origins. It's as though the real offense the board committed was to expose the secret that just possibly (macro)evolution is not fact nor is it believed to be fact by a good many people.

Sometimes on these tough topics my children provide me with good insight. My 15-year-old daughter told me her freshman biology book from last school year espoused the concept that the Earth has not been in an active evolutionary period for the past few thousand years ... but it could start again anytime! We both had a good laugh over this, but I wondered how we could expect our kids to believe such nonsense.

As a parent, legislator and a scientist (my bachelor's degree is in microbiology), I am quite interested in the quality of these new science standards. Frankly, they far exceed the old standards in their detail, degree of difficulty and sheer volume of material students will be expected to learn. It's unfortunate these new standards have been categorically dismissed. Have the many critics even read these standards?

The saddest outcome of this situation is that we adults have once again proven that we cannot or will not engage in civil debate over the tough issues of our day. Instead, we tend to label, attempt to bully the person with the other viewpoint or arrogantly shut them out. The critics of the standards have communicated clearly that their objective in education is not to teach the children how to think but what to think. The board should be commended for encouraging our students to use their minds in a more challenging curriculum and draw some conclusions on their own.

Much of our education time, money and effort centers around building our children's self-esteem. To teach them that they descended from amoebae or from monkeys and don't need to worry about acting any better than animals seems to communicate a message of little value.

But for children to understand that a loving creator designed them and their world may give them a sense of self-worth, value and responsibility to care for this world. The idea of intelligent design of our universe would communicate a message of purpose and meaning rather than life merely being a purposeless accident.

So for those who charge that this whole thing is about religion, they are exactly right. But whose religion? It's not about the religion of the so-called religious right who have tolerated this secret for decades. It's about the religion of the humanists and their disdain at being exposed for not having fact- or truth-based evidence for their theory or belief system.

Now, the cat -- or should I say the monkey -- is out of the bag.


Karin Brownlee of Olathe represents the 23rd District in the Kansas Senate.


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