TOPEKA, KAN. — The Kansas State Board of Education on Tuesday threw out science standards deemed hostile to evolution, undoing the work of Christian conservatives in the ongoing battle over what to teach U.S. public school students about the origins of life.
The board voted 6 to 4 to replace the guidelines with teaching standards that mirror the mainstream in science education and eliminate criticisms of evolutionary theory.
"I'm glad we've taken this step. If we are going to have a well-educated populace, this is important," said board member Sue Gamble.
Similar efforts to weaken the teaching of evolution in public schools have occurred elsewhere in the United States, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kentucky and Georgia.
But Kansas has been in the forefront of the debate since 1999, when the board voted to sharply reduce the emphasis of evolution in science instruction. A public backlash ultimately led to a reversal of that revision.
The new standards, set to take effect immediately, replace those put in place in 2005 by a conservative majority of the board who challenged evolution and called it incompatible with religious doctrine.
It is the fourth time in eight years that science standards have been rewritten in Kansas.
The 2005 ruling by Kansas' board outraged scientists across the U.S., with the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Assn. refusing the state's request to use copyrighted material in textbooks.
The state's voters reacted by swinging the balance of power on the board to moderates in last year's elections.
The decision to once again rewrite the science standards comes one day after the anniversary of evolution scholar Charles Darwin's birth, who gained fame for his 1859 book "The Origin of Species" and for his theories on how life on Earth evolved.
Some religious groups argue that evolution cannot be proved and that it clashes with biblical teachings about how God created the Earth, humans and animals. Teaching evolution misleads and confuses students, they say.
Supporters say that religion has no valid role in a science class and that evolution is the foundation for understanding key concepts in biology and other scientific fields.