Hemenway’s e-mail was partly prompted by a statement from the chairman of Kansas’ State Board of Education saying that acceptance of evolution theory is incompatible with Christian beliefs. Hemenway disagreed, and reminded faculty and staff that evolution is the “unifying principle of modern biology.” He also said that he sees no contradiction between evolution and a belief in God, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Some officials at the university claim that the controversy has caused the school to drop in the U.S. News and World Report rankings and has made it more difficult to recruit new faculty members. The Chronicle also reports that Kansas lawmakers are concerned that Kansas’ high school seniors will not be taken seriously by college admissions counselors in other states if Kansas schools do not have a strong emphasis on the theory of evolution in their biology curriculum.
In August, the Board approved a draft of new standards along these lines and sent the draft to outside academics to be reviewed. The Board expects to approve the new standards when it meets again in October. These new standards do not explicitly state that the Board of Education advocates the teaching of intelligent design, an alternative to evolution theory that looks at the same evidence as evolution and concludes that nature’s complex mechanisms give the impression of being designed. However, according to the Associated Press, the language chosen by the Board comes from a group of advocates of intelligent design who discredit the theory of evolution.
According to the Associated Press, Kansas schools are in the midst of a debate about the place of the theory of evolution in its science curriculum. Recently, some members of the State Board of Education have made efforts to incorporate more criticism of evolution into the state’s curriculum, and some have been trying to eliminate evolution entirely.
According to The Chronicle, the State Board, which is in charge of Kansas’ public schools, does not have authority over the University, but Hemenway felt his statement was necessary because he, and many others, fear that the recent controversy has given Kansas a reputation for being an “anti-science state.”
Hemenway says that the University’s position “is not an attack on anyone,” according to the Associated Press. He asserted that the University respects individuals’ beliefs regarding creation, including those that are faith-based, but that, since they are not scientific theories, creationism and the theory of intelligent design are more appropriately taught in the University’s religion, philosophy or sociology classes, rather than in its science classes.