A Schoolteacher Speaks Out

Kansas State Board of Education member Connie Morris was one of the anti-science gang of six who railroaded changes to the state standards past the normal processes of curriculum development. In “Reasoning Behind Evolution Vote” (full copy available on the flip side), she attempts to justify that decision. Her article was published in the Hays, KS newspaper, and we here at the Thumb were just cracking our knuckles to respond to it.

Alas, one of the stalwart science defenders in Kansas has beaten us to the punch, but we didn’t mope too long because the response was brilliant. Cheryl Shephard-Adams’s “ID Promoters’ Perpetual Folly” is highly recommended and you can find it at the Garden City Telegram Online.

Of note, Ms. Morris is up for re-election this year. She will be opposed by both a Republican, Sally Cauble of Liberal, and a Democrat, Tim Cruz of Garden City.

If you click through to the flip side, you’ll see the Google Cache version of Morris’ original screed and, in case the same fate befalls Shepard-Adams’ brilliant reply, a full copy of it as well.


Reasoning behind evolution vote Published Jul. 16, 2006

Most people avoid talk about evolution like the plague.

Why is it so sensitive? I think Cardinal Christopher Schonborn put his finger on it last year when he observed that “the question of the origin (Whence do we come?) is inseparable from that of life’s goal (Where do we go?).”

So, what we believe about where we come from likely will affect our beliefs about religion, ethics, morals and, yes, even politics.

If this subject is so explosive, why teach it to children? Shouldn’t we leave that to parents?

The problem is, all the biology textbooks open up the discussion, and the inherent curiosity of science seems to make it inevitable.

So if we must teach it, how do we do that? We were presented with two competing models.

The majority proposal is a vague model that describes evolution so ambiguously that it is hard to see how one could ever prove it wrong. This “standard model” suggests no weakness in the theory and offers no hint that it might be subject to any criticism. Whether it’s true or not is important, because chemical and biological evolution describe a materialistic account of origins — life just results from matter, energy, the forces and chance. Materialism supports many non-theistic religions and belief systems. Should the state use the standard model to indoctrinate young children in materialism?

The “minority” proposal, which I call the comprehensive model, was crafted by eight of the 25-member writing committee. The eight included three having doctoral degrees in the life sciences. They believe the standard model is insufficient because it omits relevant information. Students should be informed of the particulars of the theory so they can see if it’s wrong or not. They also believe we should describe significant scientific controversies over the origin of life and the origin of significant new body plans and bio-chemical systems. Random mutation and natural selection can explain finch beaks and peppered moths, but can they adequately explain the origin of the eye or the 40 different body plans that suddenly appear during the Cambrian explosion?

I’m not a scientist, so how did I decide between the two models?À Intuition and my own analysis tell me the comprehensive model wins. Most of its additions to the standard model simply reflect common sense. However, we heard that any criticism of evolution is almost sacrilegious — tantamount to scientific heresy.À Accepting common sense would be going against the grain.

We decided to resolve the problem by having extensive public hearings so scientists for and against the comprehensive model could explain in detail their competing views.

For three solid days, we listened to 23 experts: four PhD biochemists, five PhD microbiologists, three PhD chemists, two PhD philosophers of science, a PhD geneticist and inventor of the Gene Gun, a PhD quantum physicist, a PhD professor of education and religion, three biology teachers, a Muslim journalist and an attorney. An ACLU attorney cross-examined all their testimony. They made a strong case for the comprehensive model. It became apparent it was not only needed, but was actually necessary to achieve a scientifically objective discussion of origins that would be religiously neutral.

Those advocating the standard model didn’t show. They stood on the sidelines and waved banners and shouted slogans. Who were the scientists in the building? The real scientists were the ones who stood tall before the public, who testified and didn’t hide from a stiff cross-examination. They demonstrated not only courage, but they left no doubt that modern evolutionary theory is not the slam dunk that it’s made out to be.

After the hearings, I had no choice. Evolution is scientifically controversial and students need to be fully informed about it. Teaching only one side of the origins controversy is not really scientific or religiously neutral.

Connie Morris is a member of the Kansas State Board of Education.

ID promoters’ perpetual folly

Published 7/28/2006 By CHERYL SHEPHERD-ADAMS How on Earth did this happen? Honestly, I already have plenty to do with being married to a hard worker, raising four kids and working diligently - as I have for the past 20 years - to find innovative ways of teaching science to teenagers. Writing opinion letters was the farthest thing from my mind.

But then some members of our current state school board started accusing me and my colleagues of promoting dogma in our classrooms, of being “confused” if we accept Christ in our hearts and evolution in our minds, and of “indoctrinating young children into materialism.”

As they repeated these charges, I started reading everything I could find about science and faith, and realized that science and faith both have one important tenet: the primacy of truth.

Unfortunately, Connie Morris’ recently-published rationalization for the new science standards ignores that tenet. Her description of the May 2005 Topeka intelligent design (ID) hearings omitted several key facts.

According to the Kansas Department of Education’s established rules for adopting curriculum standards, four public hearings were held across the state in early 2005, where it became obvious that the public did not support the ID-friendly version of the proposed standards.

At that point, John Calvert of the Intelligent Design Network of Kansas Inc., declared that these public hearings were counterproductive to his cause. As a result, the state school board changed the rules to legitimize the Topeka hearings described by Mrs. Morris.

Mrs. Morris was one of the three judges who presided over those hearings in which no oaths were administered and no rules of evidence were in place. Although Mrs. Morris admits that intuition guided her decision, intuition also maintains that since the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, the earth must be stationary with the sun orbiting around it. Intuition doesn’t replace scientific evidence, and she and her fellow judges, Kathy Martin and Steve Abrams, repeatedly brushed aside the copious evidence supporting evolution.

It is true that mainstream scientists boycotted the event, knowing that science proceeds by careful evaluation of published results and not by rhetoric. Considering Mrs. Morris’ opinion of evolution as “an age-old fairy tale,” Mrs. Martin’s statement before the hearings that her decision was already made, and Mr. Abrams’ complicity in the 1999 creationism debacle, it’s not surprising that scientists refused to submit to their whims.

The real boycott continues to be perpetrated by the ID proponents, who have refused to submit their work to the scientific scrutiny of peer-review. Instead, they demand special treatment - to have their ideas taught in classrooms without going through the standard vetting process endured by the rest of the concepts in the science curriculum. Contrary to claims of evolution as “unquestioned dogma,” Nobel Prizes are routinely won by those who uncover data challenging the scientific status quo. ID has no such data.

Mrs. Morris also neglected to point out that she and Mrs. Martin admitted they hadn’t read through the previous standards they were criticizing; neither had most of the pro-ID witnesses.

Scientists and “teach the controversy” proponents sparred last year in a Pennsylvania courtroom, where those testifying swore to tell the truth and strict rules of evidence were applied. A church-going, Bush-appointed Republican judge ruled in Kitzmiller vs. Dover that “ID’s backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny, which we have now determined that it cannot withstand, by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM (ID movement) is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.”

It’s obvious that scientists have shown up where it counts, in the laboratories, the scientific literature and in court. The Topeka hearings were an exercise in public relations, an attempt to portray ID and “teach the controversy” as legitimate science rather than a political/religious movement.

Recently, Cardinal Schonborn stated, “I see no difficulty in joining belief in the Creator with the theory of evolution, but under the prerequisite that the borders of scientific theory are maintained.” Mrs. Morris supports a false definition of science, one which blurs those borders so that explanations originating outside the natural world can be taught as science. ID proponents have long maintained that this changed definition is crucial to the acceptance of ID as science. During the Dover trial testimony, ID leader Michael Behe admitted that using this definition would recognize astrological horoscopes as authentic science.

The truth remains that the current science standards have been rejected by the major science and science teaching organizations in Kansas and the U.S. Is it honest for the state board of education to presume to know more about science than those tens of thousands of experts?

Cheryl Shepherd-Adams teaches high school science in Hays. She was awarded the 2005 NSTA-Toyota Tapestry Large Grant, was named 2003 Outstanding Kansas High School Physics Teacher and is a member of Sigma Pi Sigma National Physics Honorary.