Creationist Power Play in Kansas

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Today in Kansas the creationist majority on the state BOE brought an unannounced resolution, which they passed 6-4, that created a special Board committee to hold as yet unspecified hearings “to investigate the merits of the two opposing views [evolution and presumably some form of Intelligent Design/creationism] offered by the Kansas Science Curriculum Writing Committee.”

This action bypasses the established procedures already in place (the writing committee itself and the public hearings now going on), and gives the creationists a special forum to air there views. The resolution appointed Board chair Steve Abrams as well as Board members Connie Morris and Kathy Martin to the Hearing Committee. All are creationists, and Abrams was the Board member who secretly collaborated with the creationists back in 1999 to produce those infamous standards.

You can see the resolution itself at www.kcfs.org

The Board also voted to link to the ID/creationists minority report (which has already been voted down by the writing committee) on the state website here for public discussion.

And last the Board voted to table the decision to send the writing committee’s draft out for external review. The one bid for this was from McRel, a very reputable reviewer, and one which would undoubtedly give the committee’s draft high marks.

And, oh yeah, the commissioner of education announced his resignation. I imagine there is more to it than this situation, but just last week the commissioner gently chastised the ID contingent for working outside the process, and urged us all to follow proper procedures. Given the Board’s blatant use of their political power today to subvert that process, it would not be surprising if the prospect of working with this Board for the next two years was not very appealing to the commissioner.

Oh, I forgot this one: the resolution is going to set up a survey on the State Department of Education’s website to get the public views on this matter, and is going to publicize the number or respondents who support each view.

You are all invited to move to Kansas and help us out. We can use all the help we can get. :)

Thanks

24 Comments

Thanks for the update, Jack.

Oh, I forgot this one: the resolution is going to set up a survey on the State Department of Education’s website to get the public views on this matter, and is going to publicize the number or respondents who support each view.

What a joke. Are they also going to ask the public’s opinion on whether Iraqis were aboard the 9/11 planes, whether there is scientific evidence for an afterlife, and whether the sun orbits the earth?

You are all invited to move to Kansas and help us out.

You’re probably the coolest guy I’m aware of who lives there, Jack. You’d have to learn to love Mick Taylor-era Stones in a serious way if you want me to keep you company …

Will the online survey be open to anyone in the world or just Kansas citizens?

I almost hate to suggest it, but is this action by the board legal? Shouldn’t they be bound to follow the procedures established under state law?

Good luck.

I’m more than willing to cheat to achieve victory in any kind of stupid online voting arena. Post the website when it goes up.

The Kansas situation is another reminder that all the best scientific arguments in the world are of limited value in overcoming the power of the people. If I may be so bold as to quote myself from a previous post: “Unfortunately, scientists and other rationalists are not the only ones who may elect school boards and other legislators, engage in the political process to lobby for their views, influence legal proceedings, and pass constitutional amendments. Most people are influenced not by sound logic and evidence but by the propaganda they hear from the institutions they trust (such as literalist religious groups) that reinforce their pre-existing prejudices. Ultimately, given suitable motivation, the people will decide, and good science may have little influence on them.”

The scientific community needs to hire a public relations firm or advertising agency to promote its cause. The public is not going to be swayed by citations to the scientific literature. The scientific case against creationism is airtight, but it’s not going to win the hearts and minds of many of the people. Certainly a scientific response to creationism is very important, but I suggest those who support good science education (myself included) need to better learn how to fight the battle as a political and public relations campaign, as distasteful or boring as that may be.

For example, as a lover of science I find the science programs on public television often to be almost unwatchable (such as Brian Greene’s recent program on string theory) because of the sensationalised, multi-media techniques used to present the material. But it’s critical that such information be presented in a way that appeals to the general public. As has been pointed out many times, most people respond to stories and myths that titilate and entertain, not dry jargon-filled articles the reference the peer-reviewed literature.

The Board’s resolution directs the Department of Education …

” … to post not later than February 17, 2005 on its web site a … web page that will … gather (a) the specific comments about any aspect of the proposed Science Curriculum Standards, and (b) the name, email address, city and state of respondent.

They then direct the DoE to

… make the raw data available to the members of the Board, and … deliver to the KSBE a report that will organize the data into categories of (a) how many respondents were within Kansas; (b) the number of respondents that generally supported and generally opposed the various areas of input;

The Board apparently won’t ban out-of-staters from posting, but by requiring the name and state of residence, they are, in effect, asking each poster “Are you an alien?” And I suspect they’ll publicly state that out-of-staters have no voice, especially if they’re prominent commenters on the public website. These people are shameless in pushing their cause because supporting god justifies anything! The action has all the appearance of an attempt to run a plebiscite on what is or is not science.

Pretty soon, we may find that evolution stops working when one drives from Kansas City MO to Kansas City KS, along with the gravity, Newton’s laws of motion and many other tidbits. Oh, and we’ll also find out that Kansas doesn’t move, because the universe revolves around it, and that everyone knows Kansas is a flat plane and not a section of a sphere. And orbiting spacecraft are just an illusion crafted by the liberals in Hollywood and the bureaucrats in Washington.

My sarcasm aside, I should add that I agree with Tim Tesar. This is a political battle and not a scientific one and has to won in that arena with all the tools one can muster. Any suggestions how us out-of-staters can help?

I fear the the most productive thing us “out-of-staters” may do in the long run is keep a close eye on our own states. If I can’t do anything about Kansas, what should I do to keep this farce from being repeated where I live, in Georgia?

According to the Kansas State Board of Education’s February 9, 2005 resolution,

“WHEREAS, there seems to be significant disagreement within the Science Curriculum Writing Committee regarding revisions to the proposed science curriculum standards about issues that seem to be of legal and scientific substance, particularly with respect to the issue of the definition of science and the issue of origins and evolution;

“WHEREAS, the controversy appears to mirror a controversy within the legal and scientific communities about these issues…” (emphasis added). —-

It is problematic for the Kansas State Board of Education to say that there “appears” to be a “controversy” within the “scientific community” “with respect to the issue of origins and evolution.” The way the resolution is worded, they are even suggesting that there is “significant disagreement” within the scientific community “with respect to the issue of origins and evolution.” The two clauses sort of operate as one idea.

What do the members of the School Board mean by “origins?” In terms of “origins,” it is, to say the least, unclear as to what series of events caused the Big Bang. However, I don’t know one person in the world with a doctorate in biology who does not accept that one of, at most, a few single-celled microorganisms that lived on earth between 4 and 3.5 billion years ago evolved into all the life forms that began to live on earth after the first organisms began to live on earth. I’m sure there are some people with a doctorate in biology who don’t accept this. But I suspect that literally 99% of all people in the world with a doctorate in biology accept that hypothesis. One thing to remember: There are about 1.3 billion people in China, and a lot of scientists there. And there are lots of people in Southeast Asia and Japan, too. Apparently 96% of Japanese accept evolution. As far as all people in the world with a doctorate in any natural science (e.g. chemists and physicists), I suspect we are still nearing the 99% number.

I also don’t know one person in the world with a doctorate in biology who believes that a deity or extraterrestrial turned inert matter (or “nothingness”) directly into two elephants (one male and one female). There probably are some who believe that. But now we are moving in the direction of 99.9% of biologists.

My understanding is that it’s even problematic to say that there is “controversy” about abiogenesis. We have life on earth. It got here somehow. The oldest known fossils are of bacteria that lived 3.5 billion ago. We don’t know how it got here. But in the scientific community there is not a “controversy” in terms of rival theories, each of which is accepting by a fairly large group of scientists. Most scientists appear to accept the RNA world hypothesis. But my understanding is that basically the scientific community’s answer on abiogenesis is: “We’re working on it.” If the Kansas Board of Education were to include in their official curriculum a statement saying “we don’t know what caused the first self-replicating molecules on earth,” I don’t have a problem with that.

I know that 350 people, some of whom have a doctorate in a natural science, signed the statement that the Discovery Institute put out. Here is what the statement says: “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”

That’s a vague statement. What do they mean by “random mutation?” Although I doubt mosquitoes can cause themselves to have mutations by the use of will-power, mutations are not “uncaused events.” Let’s look at these events people call “mutations.”

When cells divide, sometimes the daughter-cell has a different genome than that of the parent-cell. I’m not an expert, but, partly from my reading on the issue, I’d say that daughter- cells have a different genome than those of their parent-cells in at least one-tenth of all divisions. It might happen in as many as one-third of all divisions. Apparently lytic RNA viruses average 1 “new mutation” per division.

The presence of disanalogous daughter-cells happens in sexually reproducing organisms, as well. For instance, people get cancer. Moreover, after a sperm-cell has fertilized an egg-cell, the cell divides. That’s how I got here. Often in the course of these divisions, a daughter-cell has a different genome than that of its parent-cell. Sometimes it goes back to the original, and then organism does not get born with the disanalogous genome. But often the organism gets born with this different genome in most — or all — of its cells. When this happens, scientists tend to say: “The organism has a new mutation.” According to the studies I’ve read, humans average about two of these “new mutations” per sexual generation among only “coding genes.” And perhaps between 150 and 200 across the entire genome.

My understanding is that most times a daughter-cell has a different genome than that of its parent-cell it does not affect the organism’s ability to reproduce. In other words, most “new mutations” are trivial.

What kinds of events cause daughter-cells to have different genomes than those of their parent-cells? Exposure to radiation. Diet. Probably levels of stress. Perhaps temperature oscillations near a gene. Mundane stuff like friction and gravity.

In sexually reproducing organisms, when the woman experiences stress or is exposed to certain molecules, that can contribute to the organism in her uterus dividing so that a daughter-cell is different than that of its parent-cell. And, clearly, particular rates of disanalogous daughter-cells – particular “mutation rates” – within a population of organisms has helped some organisms reproduce. This would be the “Three Little Bears” affect — not too many mutations and not few…but just right. That doesn’t mean that organisms will their “mutations” – their disanalogous daughter-cells – the way I will eating a ham sandwich. It means that particular rates of disanalogous daughter-cells have helped some organisms reproduce more times than other populations of organisms.

Also, what do the authors of the Discovery Institute statement mean by “natural selection?” It is sort of a vague term. They should specify.

Two other points. On at least one level, the Discovery Institute statement is accurate, namely the first self-replicating molecules on earth did not get here through “random mutation and natural selection.” Second, the Discovery Institute statement does not even mention genetic drift. Genetic drift probably has been important in terms of “account[ing] for the complexity of life.”

We should be encouraging all the Wiccan and Gaian constituents in Kansas to add their input to the online survey. If there is one thing that frightens the religious right more than “secular” science it is possibility of opening the door to New Age beliefs.

It’ll also be interesting to see if they will allow multiple points of view on the creationist side. If they’re not careful, the majority of the feedback will support YEC and I don’t think they want to go down that road again.

Longhorn wrote

It is problematic for the Kansas State Board of Education to say that there “appears” to be a “controversy” within the “scientific community” “with respect to the issue of origins and evolution.” The way the resolution is worded, they are even suggesting that there is “significant disagreement” within the scientific community “with respect to the issue of origins and evolution.” The two clauses sort of operate as one idea.

… and he has a point. The resolution does read in a way that links the two “whereas’s” together. More to the point they have accepted as gospel that there is a scientific controversy where there is none. That there is none should be demonstratable if the Jack Krebs group can marshal the kind of support they did when voters booted the previous group of creationists off the board or that people in Texas marshaled during the last biology adoption cycle to thwart the ID crowd. Longhorn’s point about the use of the word “origins” is likewise well taken. It’s bandied about by the ID promoters but rarely used in evolutionary biology and certainly not as a technical term. I think the only place it has ever been used prominently was when Darwin used in the title of his opus. Of course, laymen, like those on the Kansas board equate it with the creation of life, which, of course, evolution doesn’t concern itself with.

And Mike Walter observed …

It’ll also be interesting to see if they will allow multiple points of view on the creationist side. If they’re not careful, the majority of the feedback will support YEC and I don’t think they want to go down that road again.

My devilish side is inclined to agree. If they want to inject religious origins, then the assorted American Indian origin myths should be mentioned and surely the Potawatami, Kickapoo, and other tribes would be interested in their stories being included, unless, of course, they’ve all become evangelicals. But to pursue that path, as satisfying as it might be, would stoop to the ID level and imply an admission that evolution is some kind of religion in need of blind faith. That’s not a good public posture for science. However, there is something to be made from the point that different religions, even different denominations of Christianity, view evolution and science very differently from the ID world. Catholics and many Protestant groups find evolution just fine and would be repelled by what the ID group wants to inject into biology. Someone in Kansas should approach those denominations to see if public support can be generated, illustrating that the Kansas board and the minority on the science curriculum committee are speaking for a particular brand of evangelical fundamentalism and not for science.

Red State Rabble and I are organizing a letter writing campaign.

It’s fun, join in.

Here is the letter I sent to board members, and the media:

As the father of two girls who are students in the Blue Valley School District, I’m deeply disappointed in the example set by Kansas School Board members who circumvented the Kansas Open Meeting Act (KOMA) by meeting with Attorney General Phill Kline.

By participating in a meeting that was kept secret from members of the board they disagreed with, and not announced to the public, they told young Kansans that it is all right to violate laws they disagree with. That they apparently met in separate groups of three tells me that the violation of KOMA was not a simple oversight, but part of a design.

This is not the sort of example a person entrusted with the care of impressionable young children should set.

These school Board members and Mr. Kline are part of a movement that often speaks of traditional values. If violating the public trust and subverting the laws of Kansas are a part of their value system, then I pray my children don’t learn their values from them.

I respectfully ask the six members, John Bacon, Connie Morris, Kathy Martin, Kenneth Williard, Iris Van Meter, and Steve Abrams to resign from the Kansas State Board of Education to restore integrity to a school system, that I thought until recently, was one of the best in the country.

P.S. – You can find contact information, including email links, to the Kansas board members who are giving us sticker shock here: http://redstaterabble.blogspot.com

I often wonder what would happen If a school would teach creationism in the class room. Personally, I think of it as a travesty, however if a school was to pioneer the process, who would end up teaching it? In most schools (at least where I’m from) the teaching of any science can only be done by someone with at least a bachelors degree in that subject, in not a masters. If this is the case, and if the school board are going to try to push the idea of creationism as a scientific theory, then there is most likely only going to be one type of person who would be able to teach it- the local biology teachers.

I have not researched the politics of the creation/evolution school board debates at all, so I may be speaking from ignorance. However if what I have is correct, I do believe that creationism would die all the much faster if it WAS taught in schools.

cheers, Christoph

Christoph; You might want to check out the Feb 2nd PT entry: New York Times: Teachers pressured to avoid evolution. The NYT article indicates up to a third of American biology teachers may be creationists, and I believe they’d take you up on this offer. It’s alarming, how many creationists get certified to teach science in this country.….

Christoph; You might want to check out the Feb 2nd PT entry: New York Times: Teachers pressured to avoid evolution. The NYT article indicates up to a third of American biology teachers may be creationists, and I believe they’d take you up on this offer. It’s alarming, how many creationists get certified to teach science in this country.….

Christoph; You might want to check out the Feb 2nd PT entry: New York Times: Teachers pressured to avoid evolution. The NYT article indicates up to a third of American biology teachers may be creationists, and I believe they’d take you up on this offer. It’s alarming, how many creationists get certified to teach science in this country.….

My apologies for the triple (triple???) post! I received an error message after the first attempt, and re-tried, only to find the first post was on-line after all. I’ve no idea where the third one came from. Is there any way to correct this?

Here’s the letter I sent the Board members:

Dear Board Members,

As a Biology teacher in Kansas, I am writing to let you know how disappointed I am with your recent decisions concerning the Kansas Science Standards. The writing committee you appointed has followed the required procedures to produce a set of standards that represent the mainstream viewpoints of the scientific community. As a result, the committee has produced standards that describe evolution as a theory central to our understanding of biological science. You have the right to be displeased with the outcome. However, you do not have the right to to subvert the normal review process and put off hiring independent scientists to review the science standards.

Contrary to the opinion of the Board majority, the review process has not marginalized those who hold views critical of evolution. The critics of evolution have simply failed to present their objections in a manner that is persuasive to the other professionals on the committee. Having failed to convince others in the marketplace of ideas, they now depend on the Board to provide them with a government handout. Sadly, you seem overly willing to indulge them.

Kathy Martin was recently quoted in the Wichita Eagle saying:

“We just want to address it by putting something in our standards to allow critical analysis of the theory of evolution.”

This statement offends me because it conveys a lack of confidence in the professional integrity of Kansas science teachers. Our current standards already allow for critical analysis of evolution. I have been teaching Biology in the state of Kansas for the last five years. Throughout this time period, I have continually encouraged my students to critically analyze all scientific concepts they learn about in my classroom. Your recent decisions have the potential to make my job more difficult by unnecessarily singling out evolution as a concept that somehow requires extra skepticism. How do you expect me to explain this situation to my students?

In my view, your recent departure from the normal review process reveals a disregard for your professional responsibilities. To me, your recent decisions expose a desire to alter the Kansas Science Standards so that they promote your personal viewpoints, even though such an alteration may not coincide with the viewpoints of the general public you represent. Combine this with your apparent willingness to skirt the provisions of the Kansas Open Meetings Act by intentionally meeting in groups of three to discuss this issue with the Attorney General, and your motivations become even more questionable. Together, these actions convey the message that if you do not like the rules, you should do whatever you can to bend them in your favor, even if others might be adversely affected. In my opinion, your actions set a bad example for the young people of Kansas.

Jeremy, this is an excellent letter. May we post this on the KCFS website?

Jack Krebs Wrote:

May we post this on the KCFS website?

Of course you can.

Jeremy

I agree with Roadtripper that many high school science teachers are creationists. I went to two different small high schools (7th - 12th grade), where the district pretty much had to hire someone willing to travel an hour each way to teach all of the science classes. The one we had was a devout mormon, and during the evolution chapter in biology would tell the class that she is not allowed to say what her beliefs are, that she is not going to teach evolution at all, and for that chapter we were to read quietly to ourselves, there would be no test, and, no, she would not answer any questions.

This was a pretty republican area (rice farming towns), so there wasn’t much of an uproar from the community, but those of us who were actually thinking people took this opportunity to learn as much as we could, being unincumbered by the strict and useless teaching methods of this person.

Given the chance, she would have had absolutely no problem presenting her beliefs.

-Tiskel

Another gentle reminder that to the creationists, evolution does not occur. The word “origins” simply refers to God waving his magic wand and creating everything. The origin of life, origin of species, origin of the Earth, and origin of the universe were all the same event. To the creationist, distinguishing any one origin from any other makes no sense at all. Even recognizing any distinction is a concession that the evilutionists have a point. Not gonna happen.

Strictly speaking the following is not about evolution, ID or Kansas, but it is about mixing religion and public schools, so I thought I’d post it here.

Saturday the AP released a story datelined Staunton, Virginia (Jerry Falwell country) that once a week the Staunton Public Schools “ … shuttle students in first through third grades to churches during class time for voluntary half-hour Christian lessons and activities … “ and have been doing so for at least 60 years. And apparently at least 20 other districts in the Shenandoah Valley, where Staunton lies, follow the same practice. Presumably at that level, evolution and creationism are not touched on, but I strongly suspect the high schools in the area most likely either omit evolution altogether or manage to minimize it. This is not the same as Kansas, but is indicative of the larger issue, the intertwining of religion and the state in some locales. Anyone know anything about this particular instance or whether similar practices are found elsewhere in the US?

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This page contains a single entry by Jack Krebs published on February 9, 2005 10:46 PM.

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