Kansas - what can we expect in 2004?

The process of reviewing the Kansas state science standards started this week, and already contention has arisen over the selection of members of the review committee. (See here for a news story.) Board members have nominated one (or in some cases more) people they would like to be on the committee along with those selected directly by the Department of Education. Given that at least four of the ten Board members are supporters of “revisiting” the issue of evolution, we can anticipate, I think, that Kansas may once again be a focus national interest in the evolution/creationism issue.

Furthermore, as noted in my previous post on Kansas here, Board of Education elections are this summer and fall and there is a possibility that the creationists will gain a majority. The architect of the 1999 standards, Steve Abrams, is still on the BOE, John Calvert and other IDnet members are still in Kansas, and other creationists from 1999 are still politically active in the state.

Therefore, in preparation for this, I would like to take a quick look at what has happened since the first time Kansas became infamous for its science standards, and then look at what we might expect this time around. In this post, I will summarize briefly what happened in Kansas in 1999, what has happened in other states since then, and, most importantly, what we might expect to happen in 2004. I offer this both for the benefit of those of you in Kansas who will directly involved and for those of you who should be preparing for when the anti-evolution movement comes to your neighborhood. (P.S. If you would like to get involved with Kansas Citizens for Science, please visit KCFS and send us an email.)

So now let’s look at the situation.

Kansas in 1999-2000

Young-earth creationist (YEC) attempts to influence the teaching of science have been common, but Kansas was the first state in which the “Intelligent Design” (ID) movement became active. The 1999 Kansas science standards passed in 1999 were primarily a young-earth creationist project which eliminated or distorted elements of biology, geology, and cosmology. However, the standards also contained the first example of ID influenced content when they proposed that the definition of science be changed from seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the physical world to seeking logical explanations. John Calvert, founder of the Intelligent Design network (IDnet) later explained that this was the one contribution the IDists made to the standards, and that they were strongly committed to getting it included. (Both the creationist 1999 standards and the revised standards of 2001, as well as other drafts, can be found at the KCFS website.)

In late 2000, after it was clear that a pro-science majority would be on the Board in 2001, the IDnet made a last attempt to insert more explicit ID material into the standards. This ID influenced draft can be found at the IDnet website, and a KCFS response to the state Board is here. The IDnet’s proposal was defeated by a 7-3 vote in February, 2001 and the same day the current standards were adopted by the same margin.

Kansas was also the first state to be visited by Discovery Institute (DI) fellows in support of creationist science standards. Wells and Meyer participated in a “debate” at Washburn, Johnson spoke twice (once at a Kansas City church in support of one of the creationist incumbent who was in fact later defeated for re-election), and once at the University of Kansas. In addition, at some point Wells started working with IDnet managing director Jody Sjogren, who became the illustrator for “Icons of Evolution.”

Even though all these attempts to insert YEC and ID into the standards failed, the ID movement saw the situation as a victory. They had made an impact in the news, they had connected with grassroots support (the IDnet), and, most importantly, they had learned some lessons to take to their next state. In the summer of 2001, Johnson gave the opening speech at the IDnet’s summer ID conference (DDD2) on “The State of the Wedge.” In this speech, he said,

After the primary election [August, 2000], when some of the members of the Kansas board were defeated, and it looked like the original Darwinist guidelines were going to be reinstated in full, one of the legislators called me up and asked if this was at all discouraging.

I said, “No, not in the least, I am not discouraged,” because what has grown out of these Kansas events is a grassroots organization that didn’t exist before.

It has brought together people of very different views; people from traditional grassroots creationist movements and people from the universities and the professions who very much stand off from the traditional creationist position but saw something wrong with the Darwinist position and the dogmatic way in which it was being taught in the school, - so we have this Kansas Intelligent Design network.

And a movement like this doesn’t really need to win all its battles. What you find is that after a temporary setback, they’re taking two steps forward. They come back strong and more determined to avoid whatever mistakes were made before, to learn from the position and to have that much more dedication in the future.

And so there was nothing to be discouraged about at all. We were going through a joint learning experience.

So Kansas was a victory for ID, and the ID movement was ready for their next opportunity - onward to Ohio!

After Kansas

Ohioan Robert Lattimer attended the IDnet’s DDD2 conference, met Calvert, Johnson, and others, and took the ID movement back to Ohio, which was beginning to start revising their science standards. At the same time, Jody Sjogren moved back to Ohio, and in early 2002 Calvert was invited to make the case for ID to the Ohio school board.

The ID movement took a new turn during a public forum in March 2002 when DI fellow Stephen Meyer seemed to abandon the idea of inserting ID concepts into the standards, and suggested instead that the standards adopt a “teach the controversy” about evolution. Later the ID movement adopted the Kansas tactic of working to change the definition of science itself, stating that the Ohio standards should contain “no definition of science that would eliminate alternative theories;” that is, the standards should define science as “the systematic search for the best explanation of natural phenomena, not the best naturalistic explanation.” (source)

Politically, the ID movement mobilized conservative and traditional creationist groups for support but kept YEC beliefs out of sight At DDD2, Johnson had counseled that

there should be a central issue that people agree to discuss first, that they agree as the starting point to put other issues aside until they have addressed this first issue. There should be a central issue that they argue around and about. And that position would not involve the days of Genesis, and how long they were, or a world wide flood, or the doctrines of any church. It would involve the simple question of creation - do you need a Creator to do the creating, or don’t you.

The Ohio situation ended with a small but important “victory” - the insertion of the statement that students should “describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.” This phrase was the door they needed to assert that their “teach the controversy” position had been adopted. They then capitalized on this by placing several ID advocates on the model curriculum committee, and eventually producing a “model lesson plan” built primarily on Wells’ “Icons of Evolution” that was meant to meet the “critically analyze” standard.

After Ohio, some combination of the DI and the IDnet were active in New Mexico, Georgia, Texas, Minnesota, and Darby, Montana. Interestingly enough, the DI did not get involved in either West Virginia or Missouri (although Calvert was involved in West Virginia) because of the blatant YEC involvement.

The DI got quite involved in Texas, where the issue was not curriculum standards but rather textbooks. Textbook selection in Texas is of national importance because Texas adopts state texts and they are a large market. The DI focused on material from “Icons of Evolution,” arguing that the textbooks were full of information that offered false or misleading support for evolution.

And last, note that activity is not limited to activity at the state level. Places like Cobb County, Georgia, Darby, Montana, and Pratt, Kansas in 2000 are perfectly acceptable places for the DI to expend their energies - anyplace where they can get publicity and have a chance of “winning a small victory for ID.” is worth the effort.

So what can we expect in Kansas

The ID movement has refined their tactics considerably since Kansas in 2000. So what can we expect in Kansas? We can expect the ID advocates to attempt to amend the standards to include some of the following or to offer the following arguments for such amendments:

  • The standards should include “the scientific evidence for and against evolution.”
  • The standards should allow discussion of “alternative scientific theories of origins.”
  • “Origins science,” being an “historical science,” cannot be directly tested, and therefore naturalistic and design interpretations are matters of philosophical viewpoint.
  • The standards have a philosophical bias towards “naturalism” that must be remedied, both for the sake of fairness and in order to conform to the constitutional requirement that the state be neutral in respect to issues that bear on religion.
  • ID is about science, not religion.
  • Similarly, ID is about detecting design, but not about identifying the designer.
  • A “growing body” of scientists are doubting “Darwinism.”

Note that none of these actively include the idea of teaching ID, as the ID movement has dropped that goal for now. However, as was clear in the Ohio lesson plan issue, the point of all their arguments is to open the door for ID and to allow it to come out in the course of instruction.

The other thing we can expect in Kansas is political activity, and of course the pro-science supporters will need to be ready to respond in kind. We can expect ID supporters to speak at state Board meetings and to cultivate relationships with Board members who support their cause, to write letters and op-ed columns for state newspapers and to look for support among legislators (many of whom are also up for re-election this year.) We can also expect the Discovery Institute to be involved, both by sending people to Kansas and by editorializing in print.

And how should we respond?

This will be the topic of my next post. I invite comments here on this question: what are effective arguments and activities that will reach the interested layperson in this matter? The action of citizens is important here. Writing letters, speaking to friends, voting - all these things will make a difference in whether the ID movement succeeds in getting another foot in the door or not.