Kansas: public hearings vs. "expert panel"

The Kansas Department of Education (KSDE) recently posted a complete transcript of the public hearing on the science standards held on February 1 at Schwagle High School in Kansas City, Kansas. If you are interesting in seeing for yourself the kinds of concerns and arguments the public has about evolution and Intelligent Design creationism, you might want to read some of the transcript (here).

Also, as I reported in the post Creationist Power Play in Kansas, this week the state Board of Education created a special Science Hearings committee, comprised of three creationist Board members, to hear testimony from “scientific experts” concerned the two “opposing views” (evolution and Intelligent Design creationism-based anti-evolution) - essentially giving the Intelligent Design creationists the “equal-time” platform they desire to try to give Intelligent Design creationism credibility as science and to deflect criticism that it is really disguised religion.

These two events, the public hearings that are an established part of the standards development process and the creation of this kangaroo-court Science Hearings committee, are related in an interesting way, I think. Let me explain.

The Kansas City public hearings

It was obvious that much of the support at the hearing for the Intelligent Design creationists’ proposal was really anti-evolutionism fueled by religious concerns. For example, one man got a large round of applause (even though the audience had been asked to not applaud), when he ended his speech by stating,

It [Darwin’s theory] is not scientific. Why do you waste time teaching something in the science class that is not scientific? We must, by no means, get rid of science. I don’t think the argument is between maintaining scientific approach and inquiry and study and not doing so, but I think truth needs to get a hearing, along with scientific theory. In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. Thank you.

On the other hand, there were no scientists supporting the Intelligent Design creationist proposal, nor were there people trying to defend Intelligent Design creationism with even nominally “scientific” arguments.

And last, there were a number of people who spoke about their religious faith and its lack of conflict with evolution. For instance, one biology teacher at a Catholic high school said,

The Catholic schools teach evolution. They always have. There is no conflict in our religion. Evolution is not a belief system. We believe God created us, but how is open to the discovery through scientific processes and inquiry.

John Calvert’s response

John Calvert, leader of the Intelligent Design creationist group, wrote an article for the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, Media Complaints Department, here. Calvert made it clear that he was not happy with certain parts of the overall impression left by the hearings. Here’s some of what Calvert wrote:

One thing is obvious. This is not the proper process for deciding this issue. Focused hearings from experts are desperately needed to cut through the misinformation, ridicule and half truths.

It would have helped to have more scientists on our side. If that had been the case we would have won the debate hands down. As it was, the objective observer would leave scratching his head.

We also need theologians who can rebut the argument of the Christian biology teacher that there is no conflict between evolution or naturalism and Christianity. We need someone to explain the two logical conflicts that allow Dawkins to claim to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist and that precludes a Christian from making the same claim.

We see here the seed of the ideas that blossomed just one week later - “focused hearings from experts . . . to cut through the misinformation, ridicule, and half-truths,” which are needed because the public hearings are “not the proper process for deciding this issue.”

And why aren’t the public hearings the right process? Well, because the vast bulk of the supporters for Intelligent Design creationism are there for religious reasons, and they are not shy about making that clear. They know very little about what Intelligent Design creationism claims scientifically, but they know it’s their best bet against evolution.

And why do we need an “expert panel”? Because there are very few scientists who will and can speak for Intelligent Design creationism in a way that can superficially pass for science, and most of them work for the Discovery Institute. Without a protected forum for the “scientific experts” in Intelligent Design creationism (with expenses paid for by the state, by the way), there is no way for them to get an opportunity to have the floor.

And so now we have this Science Hearing Committee, which is what Calvert said we needed; and this is no coincidence. The state Board will do what they have to to try to give an air of legitimacy to their eventual decision (which is almost certain) to insert Intelligent Design creationism into the standards. Having hearings which supposedly focus on the “science” of Intelligent Design creationism is meant to blunt, or even negate, the effect of the public hearings and the work of the writing committee, which is, we might remember, the body with the official responsibility to consider all input in revising the standards.

But the Intelligent Design creationists didn’t like what the committee has done (voting down their proposals) and they didn’t like what the public hearings did (showcasing the religious issues), so they manufactured a third option - their own personal showcase, playing by their rules and with them in control.

As KCFS wrote in a commentary last week (KCFS Update 2-10-05,

For a movement that often talks of “fairness,” the Intelligent Design and Young-Earth creationists on the Board and the Writing Committee don’t seem willing to be fair when trying to advance their ideas. Failing to have their ideas compete successfully in the marketplace of ideas in the world’s science community, they want to inject these ideas directly into the public school science curriculum. That amounts to asking for a government subsidy to teach non-scientific ideas in public schools, and in this case, the government (the creationist majority on the State Board of Education) is apparently willing to let them.


And what about these theologians who are needed to “rebut the argument of the Christian biology teacher that there is no conflict between evolution or naturalism and Christianity?”

Well, first note the conflation of evolution and naturalism - it is exactly the point of the Catholic science teacher that these are not the same. However, this insistence that the Catholic position is wrong (as is that of all theistic evolutionists - a position that runs strongly throughout the Intelligent Design creationist movement), highlights the fact that the Intelligent Design creationism movement is primarily a theological movement; and even more importantly, one that sets itself against much of mainstream Christianity. That is what Calvert didn’t like seeing come out in the public hearings.

Mainstream Christians, as well of those of other religious and a-religious perspectives, should be concerned about Intelligent Design creationism, for its efforts to insert its concepts into public education aim to advance those religious perspectives that do not accept evolution, and to inhibit those that do. The religious stakes here are as significant as the scientific and educational stakes.