Update on Kansas

| 17 Comments

As most readers of the Panda’s Thumb know, Kansas was the scene of a major creationist success in 1999 when the creationist majority of the state Board of Education worked with a local group of mostly young-earth creationists to pass state science standards that eliminated “macroevolution” as well as other parts of earth science and cosmology.

The resulting publicity made world-wide news for the next year and a half, and in the fall of 2000 voters in Kansas elected some new pro-science Board members who promptly reinstated the eliminated standards - and all was well.

Or so we thought. But in 2001, two pro-science Board members were defeated (one by a genuine stealth campaign,) and the Board reverted to a 5-5 split between the creationist conservatives and the pro-science moderates. Now the summer and fall of 2004 finds us facing both a new round of elections and a review of the science standards. Almost certainly the teaching of evolution will come under attack, and, pending the outcome of the election, possibly send Kansas back to world-wide infamy.

So here’s a report on the current state of affairs in Kansas.

2004 Board of Education elections

Four of the pro-science Board members are up for re-election this year, and the one creationist incumbent, who was the mastermind of the 1999 standards,is a well-established representative from a conservative area of Kansas. He does, however, have a credible pro-science moderate Republican opponent.

One openly creationist candidate has filed against one of the pro-science incumbents, saying she would want to revisit the evolution issue. It is certain that all the other incumbents will have creationist opponents, as the radical right wing of the Republican party in Kansas is well-organized.

As an example of the rhetoric we will see, the above mentioned challenger to a pro-science Board member recently wrote in a fund-raising letter,

The new standards [in 1999, since overturned], which de-emphasized teaching monkey-to-man evolution as fact, were widely attacked by liberal politicians, pundits, educators, and media personalities. … [But] you see, the Board’s 1999 decision never was about forcing the Bible’s account of creation to be exclusively taught in public schools. It was not about banning Darwin’s theory of macroevolution. No, the Board’s decision was simply a refreshingly candid acknowledgment of the fact that Darwin’s theory of macroevolution is far from proven and that continuing to teach it as fact without offering competing theories for Kansas students to consider was doing them a real disservice.

As a public school teacher for 30 years and the former Lead Science Teacher for my district, I fully supported the Board’s decision in 1999 and I still do. When it comes to topics like this, we need a full discussion of all applicable theories and should go out of our way to prevent the kind of academic censorship that has suffocated science classes for decades.

All four of the pro-science incumbents will need to win re-election or the incumbent creationist will need to be defeated just in order to retain the 5-5 split on the board. The voters of Kansas need to be well informed about the views of the various candidates on the science standards and on evolution, and those that support science will need to make it a point to vote.

Science standards review

The science standards passed in 2001 come up for their five year review this year (since they were originally passed in their creationist version in 1999). This Tuesday the state Board will start the science standards review committee process. The state Department of Education has selected 15 people to be on the review committee, and each Board member gets to appoint one more, for a total committee of 25 people. Therefore, there are likely to be five people at least sympathetic to creationism (and most likely they will in fact be creationist activists.)

Although this is a review committee only (not intended to make a major overhaul of the standards,) chances are high that Kansas will once again become a focus of creationist activity, and almost certainly that activity will come in an “intelligent design” package. Both the Discovery Institute and John Calvert’s “Intelligent Design network (which is based in Kansas City) have been active in every state in which science standards revision or review had some up since Kansas, so I think it is quite likely they will return when they have the opportunity. As we know from watching other states, they will mobilize the YEC’s in the background but emphasize the standard “teach the controversy” strategy - all one has to do is look at Ohio or Montana or Minnesota to see what will come our way.

Whether the citizens of Kansas will want to go through all this again remains to be seen. I ask all interested people, in Kansas or not, to stay-tuned and be prepared to participate in whatever way they can if Kansas becomes the next state to be visited by the ID movement.

17 Comments

It is extremely sad that there even have to be “pro-science advocates”.

I’ve had a million discussions with laypeople of creationist sympathies. Sometimes my statement that ‘the overwhelming majority of scientists consider evolution established beyond doubt’ is met with a challenge like ‘prove it’. To anyone who works in related fields (mine is biophysics) it’s obvious. Research in the last century is an avalanche of evolution. Nobody with any sense doubts evolution now. But not many people know this. What’s everyone else think the best response is to this challenge? What’s the simplest, most effective thing to point to?

“But not many people know this.”

I’m sorry, but that’s sad. Something must be done entirely wrong in the US science education if that’s the case.

sbstory asksed

Nobody with any sense doubts evolution now. But not many people know this. What?s everyone else think the best response is to this challenge? What?s the simplest, most effective thing to point to?

There are several pieces of evidence one can point to. One is Project Steve. The Steve-o-meter is now up over 400 mostly biological scientists of one discipline or another. With “Steve” and cognates forming roughly 1% of the population, that corresponds to over 40,000 biological scientists.

Another is the poll last year of Ohio science faculty members. Perhaps the most interesting result was that just 2% of those polled said they use “intelligent design” in their research. That corresponds to between 7 and 12 people given the rounding in the report. 93% responded “No” to the question “Are you aware of any scientifically valid evidence or an alternate scientific theory that challenges the fundamental principles of the theory of evolution?” with 2% responding “Don’t know.” Bear in mind that the poll queried faculty members at all colleges and universities in Ohio, including bible colleges and undergraduate institutions associated with various Christian fundamentalist denominations. With a sampling error of 4.5%, it seems pretty clear that the great majority of Ohio scientists consider evolutionary theory (that was the term used in the questions) to be well established.

“Beyond a doubt” is not a good locution to use - I don’t deem any scientific theory to be established “beyond a doubt.” The fact of evolution - the fact of common descent of life on earth - is in my opinion established beyond a doubt. The theory that explains how the diversity of life on earth came to be descended from common ancestry is (as is the case with all scientific theories) open for revision in the light of new findings, and is even vulnerable to being replaced should something better come along. I’ll be very very surprised, though, if whatever replaces current evolutionary theory is radically different. More likely it’ll be an extension and elaboration, not a wholesale replacement. There’s way too much evidence supporting a number of the mechanisms of evolution contained in current theory for them to be discarded.

RBH

thanks, RBH. obviously beyond any doubt is slightly imprecise. The Ohio info you linked to is extraordinary. That’s going to come in useful, I’m going to save that. Though when I’ve tried to explain Project Steve to a few creationists (I have a friend or two among the Steves) they didn’t understand basic statistics enough to grok it. They just seemed to think it was weird that lots of Steves support evolution. BTW, that’s the sort of thing that really broke me from arguing evolution with creationists. First, it’s pointless to argue with someone who wouldn’t under any circumstances change their mind, for instance when their thinking is faith-based, not reason-based. Second, even if they weren’t hostile, from personal experience I’m not sure many of them can understand things that abstract. That’s why my more limited goal is to try to impart the idea that evolution is serious, and much more than someone’s whimsical guess, and the experts support it in a landslide.

Patrick,

I’ve only been dealing with creationist for a couple of years now, but I’ve gained a little insight and experience in that time period.

The most overwhelming way to get a productive dialogue going imo-assuming it’s someone you care about and want to teach the facts to, you might find in most cases you don’t even want to bother with it-is to sincerely listen to the creationist advocate. People tend to listen to people they like. People tend to like those who listen to them. Let them run their entire spiel. Try to identify what it is about evolution they don’t like. In the vast majority of cases, they have basically been taught that evo=athiesm or worse. The only way to get through a creationist mindblock is to get across to them that evolution is not in conflict with most forms of religion and that their are many christians/muslims.. who accept evolution.

Then, rather than dealing with their arguments one by one, which in my experience means chasing down multitudes of painfully disjointed erroneous arguments based on every kind of misunderstanding and distortion of every field of science you can imagine, ask them what would be in their view good evidence for evolution.

That will help you gauge their sophistication. Play that angle, always ask them what they think. If they say transitional fossils would be good evidence and that their aren’t any, ask them what qualities a fossil might have to have hypothetically for them to accept it as a transitional.…ect.

If they say good evidence would be a butterfly giving birth to a kitten then you know you have some serious educating to do.

If they say there is no evidence that could convince them, then point out that it’s pointless to even discuss science, as science plays no role in their position.

I hope some of this helps.

Regards, ~DS~

You could also use the “August 2001 Joint Letter from Scientific and Educational Leaders on Evolution in H.R.1”, signed by the leaders of 80 scientific organizations: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/[…]ate0801.html

I must say, it’s horrible way to propagate one’s religion. The idea that one use science to derive empirical proof of the existence of one’s god.

What ever happened to faith?

I guess it’s also why I believe that fundamentalism is a sociological pathology. Because it leads people to reject reality in the service of some childish belief system.

Eddie

I made a similar comment above:

I am working for Jim Newberry ( http://www.newberryforcongress.com ) and I will point out that it isn’t just in academia that you have the “teach the controversy” meme spreading. Our opponent in this race, Roy Blunt, House Majority Whip, and probable next Majority Leader, pushes it - even in short interviews.

If you want to stem the tide of pseudo-science, then you are going to have to look at where their money, support and air cover comes from.

DS: I don’t think it’s possible to have very productive arguments in which I convince them of evolution, by and large. The much smaller victory that I think I should aim for is they often think that evolution is little more than a sort of guess, which lacks evidence, and is therefore in some unproven form. My goal is to convince them that evolution is a well-understood set of statements which are more or less laws at this point, and that scientists doubt it about as much as they doubt atoms. My purpose in trying to accomplish this is to make them realize that evolution is a serious and powerful thing, which should not be dismissed. Then on their own, they might educate themselves, or at least stop being so loud for creationism.

Steve

thanks Richard, that’s really good. Also one of the best ones I’ve found is the amicus curae (sp?) brief in Edwards v Aguillard, which was signed by like 72 nobel laureates.

Regarding small victories and what is possible when arguing with Creationist, I am always discouraged when I am reminded that for all the wonderful and intelligent people who are attracted to religion, some of the most stubbornly ignorant people are attracted to the most extreme fundamentalist religious positions.

For example, look at this response from a self-confessed Biblical “plenary-literalist” presented with the results of studies showing the ineffectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrant to violent crime:

“Regarding information on the deterring effect of capital punishment on crime, I don’t need to look at studies. If one sees the consequences for an action he is contemplating, even if someone else is dealing with those consequences, he is going to think twice about his planned course of action. If I see several people reach into a fire and they proceed to get burned, I probably won’t reach into a fire, nor will anyone else who saw what I saw. “

The short version of this: the study can’t be right if it refutes what my preacher told me and if its conclusions contradict my intuition in any way.

To the extent this level of “rational thinking” is average (or maybe even above average) for the general population, rather than identifying scientists named “Steve’s” who reject ID we should be trying to identify all the prominent evangelical Christians or fundamentalist ministers who recognize the bogusness in ID.

Does anyone know of any?

It is important to remember that by definition scientific fact is tentative. Heliocentrism, plate tectonics, and macroevolution are facts inferred from observation, but are not “absolute truth.” Science does not deal with absolute truth although religion claims to.

Steve,

Yes, I agree it’s difficult to have a productive discussion with most IDCists.

My experience is that to have any impact on the typical IDC victim, it’s critical that said victim understands that evo/science does not contradict the existence of God. This is imo the crux of the IDC strength, and the biggest mistake we ‘evols’ make is not recognizing that dilemma.

Until that evo=atheism misunderstanding is addressed, it’s usually not a good idea to go charging in with scientific evidence contradicting the line of swill the poor bastard has been fed by the IDC leaders.

Like it or not, the creationists have done a ‘good’ job of tricking their fellow theists into believing that science, specifically origin science, conflicts with theistic faith.

If the IDC victim thinks that evo conflicts with their faith, they’ll just shut out any evidence you present, no matter what it is or how strong it may be. You could have a videotape of birds evolving from dino’s shot from a time machine, it wouldn’t matter. I know it seems hard for those of us who grew up with science to understand, but it’s a big deal for a creationist to change their mind about this. If you read stories of that proccess by Glenn Morton or Wendy Wendel, you’ll get the idea it’s a scary, soul searching, event, for them to reconcile evolution with their religious beliefs. It shakes their faith, and they hold their faith dear.

Yes, it usually takes enormous effort to get through to IDC victims. It’s frustrating. You have to have a basic understanding of widely diverse fields of science at your mental finger tips. You have to have a great deal of patience.

One has to consider on a case by case basis if it’s worth the investment of time and energy to even try. For me it is worth it. I’m not a professional scientist. I’m just a weekend warrior, so I have time to take on a few ‘cases’ a month. It teaches me a lot of science I might not otherwise learn.

About 95 % of discussions between IDCists and myself degenerate into name calling or the IDC victim just disappears.

But, it’s not always futile. I have witnessed success in such endeavors and I’ve even been lucky enough to be a part of it a few times. It’s rare, but it does happen. Those rare successes are pretty satisfying. And in the event the IDCists turns into a trolling asshole, they can always be immortalized on The Creationist Wall of Shame :^)

~DS~

Thanks for the update, Jack. I’d been kinda wondering what the Kansas pro-evolution side had been up to lately: their Kansas Citizens for Science website is quieter than a dead mouse these days.

It is true that Kansans underwent an extraordinary barrage of harsh ridicule and pressure tactics in 1999. And as you say, it remains to be seen whether or not they’re up for another public discussion of science standards and origins teaching.

Still, this is 2004, post-Ohio. It may well be that what worked so well for evolutionists in 1999, won’t work so well this time around.… But we’ll just have to see how things have, um, “evolved” during the past five years. As you said, stay tuned.

as a native kansan, born in the small town of ft. scott, i still cringe when i hear about this. and certainly after the oz jokes, the evolution thing is always brought up.

it is a disgrace to the real kansas, which in the age of the great editor william allen white was once called “an athens on the plains” by the new york times.

although white was a life-long “conservative” republican because he admired abraham lincoln, he was still known for his open mind, tolerance, respect for others, and insistence on accurately representing both sides of an argument.

while i’m a “liberal” democrat who now lives in new york, i still have to say that this spirit is the true soul of kansas – & i don’t know where these intolerant, religious bigots come from…they certainly don’t represent the average kansan.

Ah, the Cringe Factor. Indeed, as Frelkins mentioned, that is the first thing many Kansans have to deal with when the topic of the 1999 Kansas controversy is brought up. Just that little ‘cringe’ thing, sort of a post-traumatic stress legacy of the intense media ridicule Kansans were subjected to.

There was no “disgrace” to Kansans, of course. Disagreement? Yes. Debate? Yes. Disgrace? Nope.

I guess when the schoolyard bully beats you up, and then tells you it’s your own disgrace in that he beat you up, you may be somewhat inclined to agree with him, since you’re the one on the ground. But maybe, just maybe, the bully was actually the one who has behaved disgracefully.

Do you really think that Kansans voted for pro-evolution board members in 2000 because they had carefully compared, charted, and contrasted the reams of print/online arguments from evolutionists and non-evolutionists during 1999-2000? Nope, not at all. Though many Kansans already had their minds made up one way or the other, I suspect that many Kansans were just plain tired of getting beat up and ridiculed in the media and the late-nite TV hosts and elsewhere, and that’s the way they voted.

They didn’t vote for “science”; they merely voted to persuade the bully to stop slapping them.

(Certainly the Kansas media and the Kansas politicians were far more focussed on the state’s “public image” instead of the actual scientific merits of the arguments being presented by both sides. Kansas doesn’t have a lot of money in the public piggybank, hence “attracting new businesses” and “Kansas’ public image” is all that matters for many of the Kansas media and politicians.)

I realize that this doesn’t sound very scientific, of course, but then again, some political tactics were never too scientific in the first place!

But, as been suggested before, that was pre-Ohio. I can’t prove it, but I certainly suspect that the lessons learned in Kansas did prove valuable in opening a few minds down Ohio way. Certainly Ohio’s media was singin’ a noticeably different tune about things, and somehow the bully never quite got as arrogant over in Ohio as it had in Kansas.

Evolutionists were forced to rely on rational debate instead of media ridicule over in Ohio, and even then, the non-evolutionists did succeed in leaving an clear imprint, however modest, on the way origins are officially taught over there.

So, I can understand Krebs’ concern. That a “Cringe Factor” still exists among Kansans is certain, but if non-evolutionists approach things as they did in Ohio, nice and gradual, maybe the evolutionists won’t be able to count on said Cringe Factor too much.

Maybe this time around, when a Jonathan Wells and a Stephen C. Meyer show up for a university debate in Topeka, the biology professors at Kansas University and Washburn University will NOT have the luxury of ducking the debate and hiding out somewhere.

Last time around, evolutionists got away rather easily with defining everything taught in the name of evolution as “science” while relegating all non-evolutionary alternative hypotheses or objections as “religion”. Maybe this time, it might be just a wee bit more difficult to pull that off a second time, now that things have “evolved”, and at least a few folks (from what I’ve seen on the local level) are now a bit more prepared for the discussion.

We’ll just have to see. :)

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This page contains a single entry by Jack Krebs published on May 2, 2004 7:14 PM.

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