At the new “Explore Evolution” museum exhibit in Kansas, visitors pass a banner showing the face of a girl next to the face of a chimpanzee for a lesson on how the two are “cousins in life’s family tree.”

They can also study DNA under a 4-foot-tall double helix model, peruse fossil record research, and examine how advancements in treating modern-day diseases require an understanding of the evolution of cell structures.

Curators of the exhibit, which opened Tuesday at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, hope their work provides a counterweight to the anti-evolution sentiment sweeping their state and the country. Sister exhibits, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, are opening in Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Minnesota and Michigan.

“People just don’t understand how science works. We need to better inform them about what science is,” said Teresa MacDonald, director of education for the university’s Natural History Museum, which opened the exhibit on Tuesday.

But on November 8, state education officials in Kansas are poised to do what many scientists see as just the opposite.

Led by a conservative Christian chairman who says evolutionary theory is incompatible with the biblical account of God’s creation of life on earth, the Kansas Board of Education plans to insert questions about the veracity of evolution theory into statewide teaching standards.

The action has outraged scientists across the nation and both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association have refused Kansas’ request to use their copyrighted material.

The Kansas board made a similar, but more aggressive effort to weaken evolution instruction in 1999. But a public backlash ultimately led to the reversal of those actions.

By Carey Gillam

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