Religion News Service
November 23, 2005 Wednesday 10:16 AM Eastern Time
Kansas School Board Chairman Defends Faith, Attacks Evolution ‘Dogma’
BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR.
LENGTH: 989 words
DATELINE: ARKANSAS CITY, Kan.
At the Sirloin Stockade, the state school board chairman leading an assault on “neo-Darwinian biological evolution” bowed his head and prayed aloud before eating his buffet lunch.
A veterinarian and farmer, Steve Abrams makes no secret of his Christian faith or his belief that God created the Earth in six 24-hour days less than 10,000 years ago.
“I am a young Earth creationist,” Abrams said as country music played in the background. “That is different from science. Good science has the tenets, I believe, of what is observable, measurable, testable, repeatable and falsifiable.
“I don’t believe Genesis is observable, measurable, testable, repeatable and falsifiable,” he added. “You take it on faith.’
But Abrams, 56, insisted he’s not trying to impose his religious views on the state’s 460,000 public school students.
His critics — from major science organizations to the editorial board of The New York Times — see it differently. Led by Abrams, the board’s conservative majority voted 6-4 on Nov. 8 to adopt new science standards critical of the theory of evolution first advanced by Charles Darwin. In the process, the board put Kansas near the center of an escalating national debate over how the origin of the world should be taught in public classrooms.
It’s a fight that pits advocates of intelligent design — the idea that a higher intelligence must have guided the Earth and its life forms in their development — against evolutionists who say the supernatural has no place in science class.
Board member Janet Waugh of Kansas City, who opposed the new standards, said Abrams and fellow “fundamentalist Christians” control the board and threaten to make Kansas a national laughingstock by dismissing a century of science.
“I am a Christian and I personally believe in the Genesis version of creation in the Bible,” said Waugh, a Lutheran who leaves open the possibility that the six days were not 24-hour days. “But I don’t believe my faith should be taught in a science class.”
Abrams said he first ran for his hometown school board in the late 1980s out of concern for high school graduates’ poor reading skills — not to push any kind of moral agenda.
Later, he won election to the state board, where in 1999 he helped rewrite the science standards to remove most references to evolution, including the age of the earth and the big-bang theory.
The next year, Kansas voters ousted three state board members who opposed teaching evolution. In 2001, the moderate-controlled board restored evolution to the standards. But last year, conservatives regained control of the board, setting the stage for the recent vote.
A father of four and grandfather of 10, Abrams owns the Cottonwood Animal Clinic and maintains a 1,000-acre farm that his great-great grandparents settled in 1878.
Abrams, who grew up raising livestock, said anyone watching the cattle industry has seen cows evolve over the last 30 to 40 years.
“They’re much bigger,” he said at The Sirloin Stockade. “They’re much leaner.”
But that’s different, he said, than evolution from one species to another.
“Do I think neo-Darwinian biological evolution is proven beyond a fact? No,” he said. “I believe it has great holes in it. It is not good science to teach that as dogma.”
Except for time away at Kansas State University, Abrams has lived his entire life in Arkansas (Ar-KAN-zus) City, a farming and industrial city of 12,000 a few miles north of the Oklahoma state line.
On Sundays, he steers his extended-cab pickup down a gravel road, past wheat fields and oil wells, to the Mount Zion Community Church, an old white structure with its original wooden roof, built in 1893.
“God has blessed him with a massive voice,” pastor Gale Rider said of Abrams, who leads singing and teaches Bible classes at the nondenominational, evangelical church.
Rider, who has known Abrams for 45 years and preached at his mother’s funeral, speaks in spiritual terms when talking about the criticism his friend has received about Kansas’ new science standards.
“Any time you try to show the truth from God’s word in any way, shape or form, there’s a lot of people that are going to back up against that,” Rider said, his Bible open on his desk.
Asked if he thought the board was trying to infuse religion into the public schools, Rider replied, “No, but I wish they would.”
Under the new standards, Kansas students will study not only “the best evidence for modern evolutionary theory,” but also “areas where scientists are raising scientific criticisms of that theory.”
While intelligent design proponents pushed for the changes, “these standards neither mandate nor prohibit teaching about this scientific disagreement,” according to the document.
In addition to the new science standards, the board’s conservative majority proposes changes to the teaching of sex education, expansion of charter schools and adoption of a school voucher program, according to Kansas newspaper reports.
Last month, they hired former anti-tax activist Bob Corkins as the state’s new education commissioner. Four of the six conservative members face re-election next year — Abrams is not among them — and a fierce election fight is expected over evolution and other issues.
But Abrams, who has served on the board since 1995, said he’s not worried that the board majority could swing again to moderates.
Polls show most Kansans — and most Americans — believe God was involved in the creation of the Earth and the universe, but opinions on teaching public school students about the origin of life vary according to the specific questions asked.
“There’s not many people on the fence,” said Abrams, who reported receiving 4,000 e-mails in the first three days after the board’s vote. “People are either adamant evolutionists or they’re adamantly not, at least if you go by the communications that come to me.”
LOAD-DATE: November 28, 2005