Odds and Ends from Kansas

Four little mini-posts:

1. Good standards have returned - what now?

2. The threat of suit?

3. The Intelligent Design network’s rejoinder to Dodos: “Kansas Science Hearings: Exposing the Evolution Controversy”

4. The Discovery Institute hits bottom

Good standards have returned - what now?

Well, as you all probably know, Kansas once again returned to having good science standards which properly describe the nature of science and the basics of evolution. On Tuesday, February 13 the state Board of Education voted 6-4 to adopt the standards written by the duly-appointed writing committee, thus throwing out the standards containing all the material inserted by the Intelligent Design advocates back in 2005.

However, we are not breathing too big a sigh of relief.

As virtually every news story has pointed out, this is the fifth set of standards in the past eight years. Two pro-science incumbents on the Board have already announced that they are not running in 2008. The prospect of anti-evolutionists regaining control of the Board in two years is real, and given the contentiousness of the evolution issue, they certainly could revive the issue even though the standards are not due for revision until at least 2010 (or 2014, depending on who you talk to.)

Reasonable voices in the state are already pointing out how disruptive this would be. The Lawrence Journal World, in a recent editorial entitled Kansas voters must maintain their focus on stabilizing the Kansas State Board of Education, said,

What’s important is that Kansas voters not let their attention to the affairs of the state school board lapse in the next two years. Only the voters can ensure a stable long-term direction for the board that plays such a vital role in the education of Kansas youngsters.

However, being dependent on the voters for stability is obviously an iffy proposition. As Steve Case, chair of the writing committee, has said to me, “The Board runs the risk of becoming irrelevant.”

So, in my opinion, we have two tasks before us in Kansas:

First, we need to educate the public about the nature of science, and about evolution in particular. We need to focus on the voters in the middle of the socio-political spectrum, and we need to directly address, in a positive, accessible way, the misconceptions and concerns people have, including their concerns about the relationship between science and their religious beliefs.

We also need to find a better way to produce science standards: the current method is too vulnerable to political whims. The Kansas state BOE has more autonomy than any other BOE in the country, I think, so when we get a Board with the votes and the political will, any policy can be overturned. Somehow we need to get a firm process that respects the scientific and educational communities.

The threat of suit?

On the day of the vote, right before the science standards were to be discussed, Board member Ken Willard called for an executive session for a matter of attorney/client privilege. As was later reported in the news, the subject of the executive session was the possibility of the Board being sued if they passed the new standards, on the grounds that science, by “seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us,” is inherently materialist (philosophically) and atheistic. Lawyer John Calvert, head of the Kansas ID group, has long argued that therefore teaching “evolution only” is unconstitutional: he says that the Kansas science standards constitute “state endorsement of materialism.”

In fact, it turns out that Calvert, in response to questions Willard had asked the previous month, had submitted a fourteen page brief addressing the question of whether it was permissible for the state to endorse materialism, and to suppress evidence that is critical of evolutionary theory. (See here for a scanned pdf of Calvert’s letter.)

So even though it seems extremely unlikely to me that anyone would be misguided enough to sue on these grounds, Calvert and Willard are certainly making some noise about the possibility. (See Red State Rabble’s post here for more.)

The Intelligent Design network’s rejoinder to Dodos: “Kansas Science Hearings: Exposing the Evolution Controversy”

On Darwin’s Day we had a nice event at KU: various activities at the Natural History Museum, and then a showing of Flock of Dodos. Presumably in a countermove, IDnet premiered their documentary “Kansas Science Hearings: Exposing the Evolution Controversy” at the Glenwood Arts Theater in Kansas City.

The IDnet press release had this to say:

Exposing the Evolution Controversy

Now showing at local theaters in Kansas!

Is there a genuine scientific controversy over evolution? A new documentary movie about Kansas Science Hearings held two years ago answer that question with a resounding “Yes.” The film also shows why the controversy needs to be addressed in public schools. …

Where did humans come from? What is the origin of life and its diversity? Any answer to these questions have a major impact on what we believe about religion, ethics, morals and even government. The US was founded on the idea that we derive unalienable rights from a Creator. However, materialistic cultures claim that because life is not a creation it has no inherent purpose or rights. Human rights exist only to the extent provided by government. …

The documentary is fast-paced and filled with drama as witnesses testify about systematic suppression of the controversy, fear in the class room and loss of jobs for teaching Darwin objectively. All of the witnesses were cross examined by an ACLU attorney. The hearings end with fireworks - a shocking refusal of the Materialists to submit to questions from the other side.

I was intrigued: I wondered how many people would show up at the Glenwood Arts Theater (which we found out had been rented for the occasion), and what the ID folks had done to make a “fast-paced” show, “filled with drama.”

As it turns out, Calvert gave all the state Board members DVD’s of the film, in two versions: the 2.5 hour public version and the special 5+ hour version! Since the Board can’t actually accept gifts like this, I got copies of both DVD’s from the Board clerk.

So how is this fast-paced, drama-filled film? Well, actually, it is nothing more than excerpts from each of the 23 ID witnesses. The only commentary is a voice-over at the start of each presentation reciting the speakers credentials - these guys love Ph.D.’s. It was boring then, and it is boring now; there is nothing there that you can’t get by reading the transcripts. And, of course, there are none of the juicy moments, such as the steady confusion over how old the earth is, the consistent denial of common descent, or the clueless questions and gushing cheerleading from the Board members on the hearing committee.

The Discovery Institute hits bottom

The day before the vote, in a desperate attempt to drum up outrage, the Discovery Institute wrote in a press release,

A national group [the DI)] is urging the Kansas State Board of Education to reject on Tuesday a plan to delete coverage of the historical misuses of science from state curriculum standards, including a reference to the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment targeting African-Americans.

“The board’s plan to whitewash the history of science is shameful,” said Dr. John West, Vice President for Public Policy and Legal Affairs at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. West sent a letter to the board on Monday opposing the change.


This was silly. The ID folks, in an effort to put part of their standard complaint that evolution is responsible for all sorts of evils, including eugenics, Nazism, abortion and everything else bad under the sun, had inserted a phrase in the old standards that said,

Science has led to significant improvements in physical health and economic growth; however, modern science can sometimes be abused by scientists and policymakers, leading to significant negative consequences for society and violations of human dignity (e.g., the eugenics movement in America and Germany; the Tuskegee syphilis experiments; and scientific justifications of eugenics and racism).

The Board was not “deleting” this statement. The Board was replacing the entire set of standards written by the IDists with the standards written by the duly-appointed committee, and we on the committee never even considered a sentence like the one inserted by the IDists. We didn’t edit or revise the old ID standards, deleting this and adding that - we just ignored the ID standards and went back to the standards we were writing before the ID folks were allowed to take over.

There are two things about this that upset me. The first is the implication that we on the committee and on the state Board, because we are “evolutionists,” are somehow supportive of the above “violations of human dignity” but don’t want students to know about them. This is insulting, and shows how low the DI will go to stir up divisive and hateful emotions.

Secondly, this illustrates again that the ID movement has no shame in abusing the educational system for their own purposes. It should be clear that if the topics mentioned belong in standards of any kind, they belong in social studies standards, not science standards. Throughout this whole affair, and repeatedly in other states, the anti-evolutionists are using the educational system as a convenient vehicle for their cultural agenda, and our children don’t deserve this.