Thoughts on KC Star Editorial

In the thread “Update on Kansas - KU Speech” (9/18/04), Jay Manifold pointed out that the Kansas City Star had an editorial here about the Kansas science standards issue today. (Thanks for the heads-up, Jay.)

The editorial makes some very good points, which I would like to highlight, although it also says some things that I would like to take a bit of exception to. Let’s look at the highlights first:

Kansans should follow the debate, view the proposals, and weigh in with their elected state board members.

Heads up, Kansans! It’s time to start thinking about science standards for the public schools again. …

Kansas is on the verge of breaking into the bioscience research field in a big way. With efforts on both sides of the state line, the Kansas City area could become a hub for bioscience development, attracting top-rate students, scientists and companies.

A repeat of the embarrassing episode in 1999 could put a damper on those plans and hopes. Krebs will outline that fear in an address titled “Kansas Science Standards – 2004: Will It Be 1999 All Over Again?” on Tuesday at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

He says Kansas would be “making a statement to the rest of the country that you can’t count on Kansas”. . .”We are just going to go back and forth depending on political whim as to what we think kids ought to learn in science class. That is not a strong statement to a bioscience industry trying to locate in Lawrence or Kansas City.” …

Kansans should follow the debate, view the proposals, and weigh in with their elected state board members. Much damage will be done if the state board gets sidetracked on this issue again.

In addition to the quote concerning Kansas going back and forth on this issue, I offered to the reporter some other reasons why this should be of concern. Obviously, it’s not the vacillation itself that is the main problem; rather, it is that anti-evolution standards incorporate bad science and therefore are educationally unsound. The leaders and employees of bioscience companies thinking about locating in Kansas are not going to be enthusiastic about having their children in schools that have science standards which eliminate or distort a topic central to their business.

Sometimes in newspaper articles reporters juxtapose quotes from people with the reporter’s comments so that it is not easy to tell if the quoted person also discussed or endorsed the reporter’s statements. In this case, they are a couple of comments I want to make about some of the other things the reporter wrote.

First of all, I didn’t use the word humiliation in describing the potential effect on Kansas of adopting anti-evolution standards. I did say that this would most likely damage Kansas’ reputation badly. I’m sure many people, including in this case the headline writer for this editorial, might consider this humiliating, but I want to make clear that is not a word I used.

The editorial also says this:

A Kansas Board of Education committee is busy drafting new state science standards, which are due for revision. Educators like Jack Krebs, who teaches high school in Oskaloosa, Kan., are worried that the end result may not be good if the teaching of evolution takes a hit, as it did in 1999. They fear religious ideas may be introduced instead. …

Kansas got a black eye in 1999 when some religious conservatives on the state board rejected components of the recommendations of the science standards committee and made changes that discouraged the teaching of evolution.

Following another election, a new board restored evolution teaching to its traditional place in the standards.

But since 2002, the board has been in a 5-5 split over teaching religious concepts in science classes.

In the August primary, Bruce Wyatt of Salina, an incumbent board member, was defeated by Kathy Martin of Clay Center, who says she supports teaching both evolution and other theories of origin, including “intelligent design,” in science classes. Martin’s victory appears to have put religious conservatives in the majority.

First, some people here in Kansas have expressed the concern that it is not appropriate for me to be speaking publicly as I am doing since I am on the science standards committee. My response is that I am not talking about the specific details of what the science standards committee is doing, but rather about the general situation and especially the eventual decisions the Board of Education will make irrespective of what the science committee does.

On the other hand, I am sensitive to these people’s concerns, so I’m a bit worried about a misleading implication in the editorial. The last sentence of the first paragraph above says, “They fear religious ideas may be introduced instead.”

I want to make it clear that the “they” in this sentence does not refer back to the committee, mentioned in the first sentence. I know I have said nothing to any reporter about the positions, activities, or proposals of anyone on the committee.

I also don’t think that I emphasized the fear of religious ideas as the quote above makes it sound. Let me explain.

The reporter regularly referred to the religious conservatives” on the Board, said they were split about “teaching religious concepts,” and so on. I didn’t use the phrase “religious conservatives,” and I know those anti-evolutionists Board members would deny that they were explicitly desiring to teach religious concepts. (I know there is no doubt that intelligent design and creationism are religiously motivated, and that the Designer and Creator is the Christian God as understood in a particular way - a way which is not at all shared with all Christians by any means.)

But the more salient point is that ID has been created to look like science so as to hide its religious motivation. The first thing wrong with ID is that it is bad science - it’s wrong as far as the scientific community is concerned. For me it’s not so much that they want to open the door for teaching religious concepts as it that they are hijacking science as the vehicle by which to accomplish this. The anti-evolutionist Board members are willing (at least this is our concern about their possible future actions) to dismiss and ignore the widespread consensus of the world’s scientific community and to embrace pseudo- and non-science in order to attack something which they think threatens their religious views.

In addition to my committed concern about resisting this hijacking, I also regret the anti-evolution/intelligent design movement because it is an obstacle to more genuine discussions about religious matters … but that’s a thought for another post some time….