Chairman leading anti-evolution effort
Chairman leading anti-evolution effort
By DIANE CARROLL - The Kansas City Star, May 5, 2005

Steve Abrams is a big man with a booming voice whose views on evolution already helped put Kansas in the national spotlight once.

In 1999, as a member of the Kansas Board of Education, Abrams worked quietly with creationists to produce science standards that were criticized by evolution defenders.

Now Abrams is chairman of the state board, and this time Kansas could end up with science standards that are friendlier to intelligent design than any in the nation.

Beginning today, he and two other conservative members of the board will preside over hearings in Topeka on the teaching of evolution.

The three days of testimony this week will provide the largest platform any state board ever has offered to proponents of intelligent design, a theory that contends the universe is too complex to be explained by natural causes alone.

It's a stage Abrams should be able to handle.

The Arkansas City veterinarian once represented the conservative wing of the Republican Party in a gubernatorial bid and has served as state chairman of the GOP. Although he tries to minimize his role in the science standards debate, he is leading the effort against evolution again this year.

Most of Abrams' political opponents on the state board say he is a fair leader. But they question his stance on evolution.

Abrams insists he is against bringing religion into the science classroom.

He says he supports empirical science, which he defines as that which is “observable, testable, measurable, repeatable and falsifiable. When engaging within these tenets, pre-existing biases of faith are eliminated,” he said.

That explanation frustrates board member Sue Gamble of Shawnee, a moderate Republican. She contends it masks a creationist/intelligent design position.

“He throws out what looks like a scientific definition that makes sense and it absolutely does not,” Gamble said. “Just because Steve Abrams says it's so doesn't mean it's so.”

The four evolution defenders on the 10-member state board criticized Abrams for taking them by surprise in March with a resolution that called for this week's special evolution hearings. When they asked for a 10-minute break to discuss the resolution, Abrams denied it.

“He literally rammed that through without any careful thought about its implications,” said board member Bill Wagnon, a Democrat from Topeka.

To Abrams' credit, Wagnon said, he later apologized and at a subsequent meeting gave the moderates all the time they wanted to discuss the hearings.

Conservative board member John Bacon of Olathe, who sided with Abrams in the 1999 vote, said Abrams was doing a fine job of handling a controversy.

Too many people fail to understand the views of the conservatives on the board, he said. Evolution does not answer all questions about the origin and diversity of the universe, Bacon said.

“Life is still a mystery, and it's important for students to understand that,” he said.

Abrams acknowledges that he worked with creationists from Missouri the last time the board debated evolution. Their belief in the Genesis account of creation showed up in various ways, including the deletion of references to the age of the Earth and the big-bang theory from state science standards. A moderate majority took control in 2001 and threw out those standards.

One of those moderates, Carol Rupe of Wichita, said she wasn't looking forward to meeting Abrams when she joined the board. However, she said, she has been pleasantly surprised by the man she has grown to know. Abrams lives outside Arkansas City on land that has been in his family since 1878. Home is the house he grew up in. He and his wife, Susan, have four grown children.

He attends a country church with a congregation of 200 where he teaches Bible classes and leads the congregation in song, said Gale Rider, the pastor, who has known Abrams since high school.

Abrams tried farming for a few years but attended Kansas State University and became a veterinarian instead. He runs Cottonwood Animal Hospital in Arkansas City.

Abrams, 55, said he became interested in the local school board after being shocked by the poor reading skills of job applicants at his hospital. Once on the local board, Abrams said, he realized he wanted to work on the reading issue on a statewide level. He has been on the state board since 1994.

In 1998, Abrams decided to run against Republican Gov. Bill Graves in the primary. Abrams felt strongly that a conservative needed to challenge Graves on the issues, said Abrams' son-in-law, Jason Brewer, and he stepped up because no one else had. Abrams, who said he doesn't like politics all that much, bowed out when David Miller announced his candidacy.

Abrams then took Miller's place as state chairman of the Republican Party. Abrams held that spot from May 1998 until January the following year, when moderate Republicans took control.

Dave Seaton, editor and publisher of the Winfield Daily Courier and a longtime critic of Abrams, said he admires Abrams' commitment to his causes on the state board but not his commitment to creationism and now intelligent design. Abrams might say he is against creationism and intelligent design, Seaton said, but “that's a smokescreen.”

Some politicians stretch the truth, Seaton said, “but Steve is a little different. He tells you the tip of the iceberg and expects you to accept it as the whole berg.”

Abrams denied that his stance on evolution is a smokescreen.

Abrams said he believes the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. And he believes the Genesis account of creation. That makes him a young-Earth creationist, he agrees.

However, he said, he is able to separate his personal beliefs from what should be taught in the science classroom.

“I'm not sure there are very many people with views like mine,” he said.