The Republicans in Philadelphia managed to close ranks despite the divisive issue of abortion. Not so the Republicans of Kansas concerning another issue charged with emotion and religious fervor: the teaching of evolution in public schools.
There, GOP moderates and conservatives parted ways not over presidential candidates, but candidates for the state education board. That board, last year, voted in guidelines that removed Darwin's theory from the state's academic assessment tests. That could effectively remove evolution from the curriculum in many public schools, though the choice of teaching evolution was formally left up to local districts.
In primary elections held Aug. 1, voters chose who would run for five school-board slots on November's ballot. On the Republican side, moderate candidates who want to change the new guidelines challenged anti-evolution incumbents. They were largely successful, making it likely last year's action will be reversed.
That's probably good for Kansas' schoolchildren. Evolution is the standard explanation of how biological life developed on earth. Biology classes can't ignore its central place in the field and claim academic rigor.
But the political debate - and the broader intellectual discussion - won't end with a new education board in Kansas. The creationists won't give up, though their theory of a 6,000-year-old earth is so contrary to geologic evidence it will have a hard time finding a place in any mainstream science curriculum.
In a broader sense, however, the creationist/Darwinist debate underscores an important question: Isn't there more to man, to creation itself, than the chance interactions of chemical elements?
A Page 1 story in last Thursday's Monitor noted new thinking about Darwin's work, focused on his belief that moral sensibility was a defining characteristic of humanity - something that influenced the evolution of the race through history as much as natural selection.
This subject may put off those who emphasize biological determinism and see selfishness as the core human motive. But Darwin thought it was as worthy a subject for investigation as the fossil record.
Maybe today's schools should take a hint from him. Perhaps the critical issue isn't only evolution's place in biology curriculum, but finding a place in the curriculum for this other side of the human being: moral development.
Yes, this would entail difficult matters of what's taught and who teaches it. But how do you move toward "character education," an often-stated goal these days, without the study of morality?
So let biology class be biology class. But let other classes deal with Darwin's other, less physiological concerns.
In the course of taking on this project, moderates and conservatives may find themselves working together.
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