Anachronism is a fascinating
thing. We often use our imagination to project some feature of the
modern world back into the past, such as humans fighting dinosaurs, or
Julius Caesar armed with nuclear weapons. Psephologists might wonder
what it would have been like to apply today’s electoral techniques to
the debates of the middle ages; science vs superstition, church vs
state.

But we don’t always have to wonder. We have Kansas, where the past can come alive. As in Tuesday’s primary elections,
where the big contest was on the Republican side for control of the
state board of education, fought out between creationists and
evolutionists.

There are ten members on the board, five elected
every two years. The current board, with a 6-4 conservative majority,
had made national headlines by approving new science standards that,
without actually mentioning “intelligent design”, call for criticism of
Darwinian evolution.

Concerned that their state was becoming a
national laughing-stock, moderate Republicans have fought back. In
Tuesday’s primary, evolutionists won Republican endorsement for two of
the board seats currently held by creationists. Together with a
Democrat member who won re-endorsement, that will give the
evolutionists a 6-4 majority on the board after November’s election.

The
result suggests that conservative control of the Republican Party, even
in its heartland, is not as solid as it’s portrayed. On the other hand,
control of the board has changed hands before; anti-evolution standards
were originally introduced in 1999 and later reversed, then reinstated
last year when conservatives again won control. As Democrat board
member Janet Waugh said,
“They just keep trying. Why won’t they accept the fact that we can
teach religion in school, but we can’t teach it in a science class?”

Tuesday’s primary was fought on a very low turnout,
so it’s possible that the result will just re-energise the
conservatives to get more of their supporters to vote. Which, with
control of Congress up for grabs in November, could be just what the
Republicans want.

Peter Fray

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