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Inherit an Ill Wind | The Nation

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Inherit an Ill Wind

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Conservative Victory & National Response

About the Author

Edward Larson
Edward Larson is the author of Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and...
Larry Witham
Larry Witham is an author and journalist in Washington, DC.

The final 6-to-4 conservative victory came as no surprise. One swing moderate, a devout Mennonite, had let on that he would follow his conservative constituency in voting for the anti-evolution standards. Apparently in Kansas, teaching nothing about origins is a political compromise between young-earth creationism (three votes) and evolution (four votes). The decision on August 11 generated headline news stories across the country, and soon even rock singers were talking about it onstage.

Johnson and Behe tried to sound conciliatory. "In context," Johnson wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "the Kansas action was a protest against enshrining a particular world view as a scientific fact and against making 'evolution' an exception to the usual American tradition that the people have a right to disagree with the experts." Behe added in the New York Times, "Teach Darwin's elegant theory. But also discuss where it has real problems." Speaking in Topeka only a week after the vote, however, Johnson saluted the bravery of the conservatives on the state Board of Education, saying that the controversy has led to an "unrestricted debate about the scientific and philosophical issues."

Many media commentators and scientists denounced the Kansas board's action. "The Kansas skirmish marks the latest episode of a long struggle by religious fundamentalists and their allies to restrict or eliminate the teaching of evolution in public schools," current president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Stephen Jay Gould responded. "The major argument advanced by the school board--that large-scale evolution must be dubious because the process has not been directly observed--smacks of absurdity and only reveals ignorance about the nature of science." According to Gould and the NAS, creation science is bad science, and intelligent design is not science at all. Gould has planned a speaking trip to Kansas for October, when he surely will have more to say about the Kansas Board of Education. Four conservatives on that body stand for re-election next year, in what promises to be a hotly contested fight.

Politicians can spot a tide from miles away, however. When asked about the Kansas action, campaign spokespersons for all the leading GOP presidential candidates said that such decisions should be left to states and localities, with a Bush spokeswoman adding that her candidate "believes both [evolution and creationism] ought to be taught." Democratic front-runner Al Gore apparently agreed, because his spokesman immediately commented that the Vice President "favors the teaching of evolution in the public schools" but cautiously added that "localities should be free to teach creationism as well." REM's Michael Stipe has good reason to be puzzled about more than just Kansas and creationism.

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