Archive for Thursday, May 5, 2005

Evolution critics take the stage today at hearing

Differences in two sides run deep

May 5, 2005


— In the fight over Kansas science standards, the devil -- or in this context, perhaps God -- is in the details.

Both sides claim to have truth on their side, both say they want what is best for Kansas students trying to learn about the world around them, and both accuse the other of trying to put religion in science class.

But past the talking points, the fight is over arcane language in lengthy science standards that are used as a foundation for science teachers in Kansas public schools.

A 25-member Science Education Standards Committee has provided a recommendation to the State Board of Education on how science should be taught.

But a minority group of eight members within that committee has major problems with that recommendation and has issued its own report.

The two sides are fighting over how evolution is presented and they have put each other's reports under the microscope. Conservative members of the State Board of Education have scheduled hearings, which start today, to hear the critics of evolution.

The differences

The majority report on science standards would require that students learn that biological evolution is a "scientific explanation for the history of the diversification of organisms from common ancestors."

The minority report, however, wants students to learn that "biological evolution postulates an unpredictable and unguided natural process that has no discernible direction or goal. It also assumes that life arose from an unguided natural process."

The evolution hearings will be from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday in the auditorium at Memorial Hall, 120 S.W. 10th Ave., Topeka. The auditorium seats 140 people. Forty seats have been reserved for the media, and the rest are available to the public on a first-come, first-served basis.

Additionally, the minority group accuses the majority group of wanting to teach evolution as an infallible theory that gives rise to a Godless philosophy called naturalism. In one explanatory passage, the minority group states "the core of the theory of biological evolution is that its mechanism is unguided and purposeless."

That philosophy is like a religion and should be constitutionally barred from the classroom, the minority group says.

"It causes the state of Kansas to take sides in a debate that unavoidably impacts both theistic and non-theistic religious beliefs," the minority group said.

Defenders of evolution on the standards committee say God has nothing to do with any scientific explanation -- but that doesn't mean there is no God, nor that evolution teaches that. The majority scientists argue that God, the lack of God or something in-between should be taught in a philosophy or religion class.


In another section of the standards, the two groups disagree on the definition of the nature of scientific knowledge.

The majority report states students should learn that "scientific knowledge describes and explains the physical world in terms of matter, energy and forces."

But the minority report states students should learn "scientific knowledge describes and explains the natural world."

In its explanation, the minority group says "to limit science to seeking explanations reducible only to the physical renders it close-minded to the non-physical aspects of the natural world." The majority group says this language opens the door to discussions about the supernatural.

Behind the minority report are backers of a theory called intelligent design, which proposes that studying life shows there was a supernatural origin or planner.

For Steve Case, a research scientist at Kansas University and the co-chairman of the science standards committee, intelligent design has no place in the science class because it is more akin to religion or philosophy.

"It views complexity and says we will never understand it. This view is a science stopper. Why bother, if we are never going to get it?" Case said.

The minority group states that it doesn't want intelligent design taught at this point in time. But opponents say the minority report's conclusions about science and criticisms of evolution point the way to alternative ideas, such as intelligent design.

Jonathan Wells, a senior fellow at a Seattle-based think tank called the Discovery Institute, said the minority group wants criticism of certain aspects of evolution in the standards, so that students can consider alternatives.

"How did a worm turn into an elephant?" said Wells, who will testify at the hearings. "The answer is that we don't know and I think students should know that."

A specific schedule of which witnesses will testify has not been finalized, according to the Kansas Department of Education.John Calvert, however, lists the witnesses and their anticipated dates of testimony as the following:¢ William Harris, professor of medicine at University of Missouri at Kansas City. Harris led a group of eight members of the science standards committee to issue a minority report that criticizes evolution.¢ Ralph Seelke, biology professor at University of Wisconsin.¢ Bruce Simat, associate professor at North Western College, St. Paul, Minn.¢ Giuseppe Sermonti, retired professor of genetics at University of Perugia, Italy.¢ Charles Thaxton, co-author of "The Mysteries of Life's Origin."¢ Jonathan Wells, molecular and cell biologist, senior fellow at Discovery Institute, which promotes intelligent design, and author of "Icons of Evolution."

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