BETTY ANN BOWSER: It was a simple majority vote, but it sent shock waves around the world, because the Kansas Board of Education kicked a sacred scientific cow.
STUDENT: What is evolution? Evolution is the change in the gene pool...
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The board took evolution out the state's mandatory science standards curriculum and said students would no longer be asked questions about it on state achievement tests. Cartoonists took to the editorial page with a vengeance. Kansas was lampooned as the Land of Oz. There were even jokes about people in Kansas believing the earth is flat. Overnight, Kansas State University ran into trouble trying to fill two biology teaching positions. And the school board in tiny Pratt, Kansas, even flirted with the idea of introducing a textbook that teaches elements of creationism.
KEN BINGMAN: The jaw, if it were there, would be directly under.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Ken Bingman has been teaching evolution for 37 years. Recently he was honored as national biology teacher of the year. And he isn't happy about the board's decision.
KEN BINGMAM: I think it represents a step backward in science. It represents, in many instances, depriving our young people in Kansas of the best science that they could get, it's depriving them the best understanding that science has to offer about our natural world. That's the real tragedy, travesty, or the real problem here.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Critics like Governor Bill Graves say the six board members who voted in the majority are religious conservatives who want to inject religion into the public schools.
GOV. BILL GRAVES, Kansas: This never was an issue. This was created as an issue as a way to promote a philosophy that I believe has no place in public education in Kansas.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Board Chairman Linda Holloway makes no bones about being a Christian conservative, but she says she voted for the change because she thinks evolution isn't valid science.
LINDA HOLLAWAY, Kansas Board of Education: What bothered me is the fact that this theory, of all theories-I mean, there's a lot of theories in science-- is not open to question. There is no investigation possible. If you don't go along with the party line on this, then you just are uneducated; flat earth, so on and so forth.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: So for you, it's not an issue of imposing your religious views into the public schools, it's just that for you, evolution doesn't cut it?
LINDA HOLLAWAY: Right.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Pure and simple.
LINDA HOLLAWAY: Yes.
PASTOR KEN LILES, Knollwood Baptist Church, Topeka: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. If you have a problem with that truth, you'll have a problem with everything else in the Bible.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: At Knollwood Baptist Church in Topeka, the board's decision has a lot of support. Pastor Ken Liles and many of his parishioners believe in Creationism, a theory that God created the earth in six days, as described in the Bible. Many also reject the belief man evolved through millions of years of natural selection, a key component of Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory.
PASTOR KEN LILES: There is a tremendous gap that exists between all other creatures and human beings, and not the slightest evidence exists for naturalistic origin of even the simplest form of life, and that's why I believe that our school board made the decision that it made. It's because evolution is just bad science.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: When the controversy erupted, parishioner Kelly Yoakum went online to download all of Darwin's work on evolution. After reading it, she decided she does not accept evolution as science, and is teaching her nine-year-old son David to reject all evolutionary theory he may be taught.
KELLY YOAKUM: To me, life is special, and each individual was created, or should be looked at as special, and wonderful -- unique. And there's not one individual on this earth that does not have something to offer. I have a small child. How do I go to him and say "you're just a bunch of protoplasm. You have no relevance, no purpose; you just happened."
BETTY ANN BOWSER: That line of reasoning makes teacher Bingman cringe. Still, Bingman has changed his teaching style because of the controversy.
KEN BINGMAN: I think it's imperative that we change our teaching. We used to lecture, we used to tell the kids that this is those data or these data, or if you please the data, that supports evolution. And we talked too much in a dogmatic, dictatorial way, and we did not get enough buy-in on the part of the students.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: So now, Bingman encourages his kids to go on the Internet and research potential problems in evolutionary theory.
STUDENT: It went okay. It went from homo sapiens and --
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Bingman reasons in the end, his students will come away with a stronger belief in Darwin's work by asking tougher questions about it.
STUDENT: Darwin's main problem with being able to defend his theory of evolution by natural selection was he was unable to explain how variations were inherited, and like through technology, we're able to see exactly how it works -- you know, DNA and coding, and stuff like that.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: And Bingman encourages disagreement over competing theories like creationism.
STUDENT: Well, people used to say that Creationism is the only way, they talk about how with evolution there is no God. Well, the whole thing that started the Big Bang and the earth forming and continental drift, how come God couldn't have done that? So why can't there... why can't we combine both ways and not just say that one is also right and one is always wrong?
KEN BINGMAN: I agree with you.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The roar from all this had not died down, when Bingman got together with other biology teachers at the Sternberg Museum in rural Hayes, Kansas, for the annual state convention of the biology teachers.
STEVE CASE, University of Kansas: In my opinion, these are a highly flawed set of standards. And it goes way beyond evolution. And the really critical issue for me is what they did to the nature of science.
JOHN RICHARD SCHROCK, Emporia State University: These are bad substitute standards. They're going to cause you a lot of confusion. A lot of people out there think it requires you to offer equal time for creationism in the classroom. It does not.
INSTRUCTOR: They've taken the heart out of a lot of science teaching.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: And although this was supposed to be a science meeting, the teachers were thinking about politics and next year when four of the six board members who voted with the majority are up for reelection.
BRAD WILLIAMSON, Biology Teacher: There will be no such thing as a stealth candidate in the next election. This may engender more enthusiasm in Kansas than the presidential elections.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Teachers like Brad Williamson think majority board members hid their true feelings about evolution until after they were elected. Members of a Kansas City area organization called the Mainstream Coalition agree. Matt Grogger is a member.
MATT GROGGER, Mainstream Coalition: The religious right, aided by low voter turnout, has seized control of some local boards and the state school board, and are busily working at policies that will put their divisive agenda in place.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The mainstream coalition was founded by Republican moderates who were concerned about the growing influence of the religious right. The organization held this informational forum suburban Kansas City recently.
SPOKESMAN: Maybe we don't need to do away with the school board. Maybe we just need to take away their self-enacting authority.
SPOKESMAN: The good news is four of the six representatives on the state board of education who voted to de-emphasize the teaching of evolution in our state will be up for election in the 2000 election, this next fall. Now, that must mean well, it's easy then, we'll just get rid of them. Well, let me tell you, it's not quite that easy.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Still, strategy is already being laid down to defeat Holloway and the others the next year. Caroline McKnight is executive director.
CAROLINE McKNIGHT: I think people are motivated out of embarrassment to care about this issue. A lot of light bulbs are going on. I'm getting calls, unsolicited, you know, telling me, "what can I do? How much money do I need to spend?"
BETTY ANN BOWSER: McKnight says the religious conservative forces who support Holloway and the others who voted with her are well organized.
CAROLINE McKNIGHT: They're not well-funded, but that doesn't seem to make a difference. These are highly committed, very sincere, dedicated workers toward a goal.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: What do you think their goal is?
CAROLINE McKNIGHT: I think it's a sense that something is amiss in America, and the answers must be within religion. And so it's an attempt not just to place it in government, but in our schools, and in every other arena where there's a crack at the door.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Scott Hill is one of the four board members up for reelection next year. He's a farmer near Abilene who home-schools his two daughters. He refuses to say whether or not he believes in Creationism, but he bristles when people say the board had a religious agenda.
SCOTT HILL: The science standards that we have passed as a board are a scientific document, and - you know -- there's been a lot of scream about religion this and religion that -- over and over again I've responded to that -- show me where. Show me where. And there isn't. There is no religious overtone to this document.
SPOKESMAN: Natural selection is the main source of microevolution.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The debate over what should be taught won't be settled in the classroom. It's likely to be settled when voters go to the polls next year. Already, a local school board member is running for Holloway's seat, and she says she believes in evolution.