The Kansas Board of Education restored evolution to the state science curriculum yesterday, 18 months after excising all references to the origin of man and the age of Earth at the urging of conservative Christians.
The new science standards, adopted by a 7-3 vote, require students to learn that all life on Earth evolved from a few scraps of genetic material over the course of 4 billion years. That theory - which most mainstream scientists view as the cornerstone of biology - was eliminated from the state's list of required study topics in August 1999, when a majority of the board members decided it was too speculative to merit a place in Kansas classrooms.
The new standards also require children to study plate tectonics and the "big bang" theory, two topics the board had stricken from the curriculum in 1999 on the grounds that they were not true science because they could not be directly observed or measured.
That position drew immediate ridicule - it "made Kansas an international laughingstock," the Topeka newspaper wrote.
After a ferocious election campaign, religious conservatives lost their majority on the board in November. One of the new board's first actions was to junk the old science standards. The version approved yesterday was written by a committee of 27 scientists and science educators.
"In a word: hallelujah," said Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit group that promotes the teaching of evolution.
Kansas Gov. Bill Graves - who had called the 1999 standards "tragic" - hailed the new version as "broader and more comprehensive," and predicted: "The students of Kansas will benefit."
But activists on both sides warned that the battle was far from over.
"If the scientific community thinks they can sit back and say, `Phew, we got that done,' that would be very presumptuous of them," said John Bacon, a Board of Education member who opposed the new standards.
"Kids are not stupid. They're going to realize that what they've learned at home [about their origins] is not what their science teacher is trying to push on them. This issue is not going to go away."
For one thing, the state standards control only so much: They indicate which topics will be covered on assessment tests, but don't dictate grade-by-grade lesson plans. That's up to individual teachers.
And 40 percent of biology teachers in rural Kansas describe themselves as creationists.