Archive for Sunday, February 11, 2007

Education board to revisit debate over evolution

February 11, 2007


— A day after Charles Darwin's birthday, scientists, educators and other Kansans expect to mark the occasion again by watching the state school board dump science standards questioning his theory of evolution.

The State Board of Education plans to vote Tuesday on its fifth set of standards in eight years, with critics of evolution and supporters of mainstream science having traded power twice. Democrats and moderate Republicans have a 6-4 majority, dooming guidelines that brought Kansas ridicule when they were adopted 14 months ago.

The board's vote next week also appears likely to bring Kansas another round of international attention. Opposing groups like the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Washington, and the Discovery Institute, which promotes intelligent design research from Seattle, are watching.

Little doubt on vote

Events leading up to the 2005 standards spawned rival documentaries, both of which were to be shown publicly Monday, the 198th anniversary of Darwin's birth. The pro-evolution camp planned an entire week of events, including a Darwin costume contest to complement their "Flock of Dodos" viewing on the Kansas University campus.

"I love it. What can I say?" AAAS chief executive officer Alan Leshner said of the vote's timing. "I think it's great."

There's little doubt how a vote will come out, given how elections overturned a conservative Republican majority. Language echoing intelligent design advocates' criticisms of evolution - questioning whether all life had a common origin or whether changes over time in one species can create a new one - should disappear.

Board Chairman Bill Wagnon, a Topeka Democrat who wants to rewrite the standards, expects a short discussion because, "Everybody knows where they stand."

Even two centuries after Darwin's birth on Feb. 12, 1809 - the same day as Abraham Lincoln's - the British naturalist's work fuels social and political disputes.

In December, a Louisiana school board adopted a policy permitting teachers to discuss the weaknesses of scientific theories, which critics saw as a subtle but clear attack on evolution. There were also political, legislative and school board debates in California, Kentucky, Nevada and South Carolina over how evolution should be taught.

State's role

But Kansas has earned its own niche in the national debate. In revising science standards in 1999, a conservative-controlled board struck most references to evolution. Two years later, a new board returned to evolution-friendly standards. Elections in 2002 and 2004 altered the board's composition again.

The Kansas board's approval of the standards in 2005 came the same day voters in Dover, Pa., ousted school board members who'd imposed a requirement that biology students hear a statement about intelligent design - a policy later struck down by a federal judge as promoting a particular religious view.

Next week's vote in Kansas could be a precedent for officials in other states, said Michael Shermer, founder of the international Skeptics Society and author of the 2006 book, "Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design."

"Kansas flip-flopping back and forth, that will send a signal," he said.

The existing Kansas standards include a disclaimer saying they don't include intelligent design, which says an intelligent cause is the best way to explain some complex and well-ordered features of the universe. But much of the language to which many scientists object came from intelligent design supporters.

Current stance

The existing standards define science so that it isn't specifically limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena. That would change under the standards the board is expected to adopt, which were drafted by a committee of scientists and educators.

The current standards say evolutionary theory that all life had a common origin has been challenged by fossils and molecular biology. And, they say, there's controversy over whether changes over time in one species can lead to a new species. Those provisions, contradicting mainstream science, would be dropped.

Wagnon said the 2005 standards "failed public education." Leshner said new standards will help give students an understanding of science that they'll need in a world growing more dependent on technology.

"The purpose of science is to tell us about the nature of the world, whether we like the answer or not," Leshner said. "Evolution is a fundamental concept."

But John West, a Discovery Institute senior fellow, said the proposed changes are in line with the views of "Darwin fundamentalists" who want to quash dissent and elevate evolution to a dogma that can't be challenged.

"It's really a dumbed-down version and really a Darwin-cheerleading version of the standards," West said.

Evolution in classroom

Kansas uses its standards to develop tests that measure how well students are learning science. Decisions about exactly what's taught about evolution in classrooms are left to 296 local school boards.

But educators believe the state standards influence decisions because teachers and administrators want their students to do well on the tests. Adopting standards reflecting mainstream science encourages schools to resist political pressure against evolution, said Leonard Krishtalka, director of the Museum of Natural History at the University of Kansas.

"The teachers can look to these standards and say we have a mandate to teach the best science our educational system can provide," he said.

But intelligent design advocates worry the changes will encourage schools to stifle debate and rein in teachers.

"You'll continue to have fear in the classroom," said John Calvert, a retired Lake Quivira attorney who helped found the Intelligent Design Network. "You will continue to have kids brainwashed and feeling uncomfortable."


roger_o_thornhill 11 years, 3 months ago

I question the "theory" of "gravity". Seriously, what evidence does anyone have that there is such a thing as "gravity" anyways? I don't remember there being any mention of "gravity" in the Bible. If it ain't in the Bible, it don't exist, right? Seriously, I'm getting real sick of this. If it is such a problem, I guess we should stop teaching ANYTHING that doesn't come with absolute proof.

PeteJayhawk 11 years, 3 months ago

If it wasn't so frightening and sad, I'd find it quite amusing that the same dolts who believe in creationism and intelligent design are the same dolts who don't understand what the scientific definition of theory is.

ronwell_dobbs 11 years, 3 months ago

Thank the gods that just because the KSBOE says something is or isn't true doesn't in any way affect the actual levels of phlostigen in the air. We are all still OK.

yankeelady 11 years, 3 months ago

I just hope everybody gets out to vote next time, or we will flip back. The neocons don't give up easily, and they always vote.

Grundoon Luna 11 years, 3 months ago

Someone's faith must be incredibly weak if it is so easily threatened by evolution.

If the god they worship is so vast and all powerful as is understood by them, how could that entity's 6 days possibly be confined to a time of 24 human existance hours each.

They truly don't understand how minicsule they are in comparison to such a diety. Infinitesimal.

Grundoon Luna 11 years, 3 months ago

"You'll continue to have fear in the classroom," said John Calvert, a retired Lake Quivira attorney who helped found the Intelligent Design Network. "You will continue to have kids brainwashed and feeling uncomfortable."

One man's creationism is another man's brainwshing. Don't think the show can't be on the other foot Mr. Calvert.

BrianR 11 years, 3 months ago

"It is, essentially, something unknowable to explain the unexplainable."

Yes, just like the time, not too long ago, when we couldn't explain the sunrise and sunset and created sun gods. The smarter we get as a species the more inscrutable our gods must become to keep us mystified and under their spell. So we've finally invented a god that defies "explanation" so the "argument" will never end.

white_mountain 11 years, 3 months ago

If we gave up on finding answers to things we'd still be in the Dark Ages quoting from scripture as if it were a science textbook... I wouldn't wish that kind of ignorance on anyone's kids.

Kodiac 11 years, 3 months ago


I suggest you reread the article you are citing there. It turns out that the theory of gravity is still applicable to the physical universe and the cosmological model that the astronomers have been favoring was actually proposed by Albert Einstein in 1917.

And also the verses of the bible you are citing Parkay have nothing to do with the universe or science. In fact, it is embarassing to sit there and watch you try to mold a 2000 year old human myth that you consider to be sacred to the secular scientific concepts of today's world.

As Azure says Parkay, ye must be of little faith...

LarryFarma 11 years, 3 months ago

Hardline Darwinists are anti-intellectuals who are trying to suppress legitimate criticism of Darwinism.

Grundoon Luna 11 years, 3 months ago

Larry, that's the biggest load of crap I've heard for a long, long time.

Porter 11 years, 3 months ago

Larry and 75- Are you two suggesting that the best way to challenge an accepted scientific theory is by putting it into K-12 textbooks??

Challenge all you want for all I care, but do it like grown-up scientists or don't do it at all.

Grundoon Luna 11 years, 3 months ago

How on earth do you extrapolate that? There's no irony because there is no suppression. What act did I perform to suppress Larry? Did I go to his house and beat him up? I merely expressed a dissenting opinion. Oh, but people like you can't handle dissent.

And don't you really mean oppression. I've got news for you: resistance is not oppression.

warthog 11 years, 3 months ago

Centuries ago, there were many things that man did not understand. They could not explain stars, or planets, or the moon, or the sun, or light, or heat, or a plethora of other things that we now have scientific knowledge for. So man created a god who, because there was no other explanation, must have created it all. One explanation size fits all. Now, when new scientific phenomena are observed that scientists have no ready explanation of, the creationists insist that this is proof of their god. Absence of an explanation does not mean it was created by an unseen diety. If it were accepted as such, it would be much easier for men to explain why they are coming home at 2 AM. "God did it."

white_mountain 11 years, 3 months ago

Creationists are in love with their persecution complex.

Richard Heckler 11 years, 3 months ago

That certain segment of the population that disagrees with the Darwin theory should contact CHECK and put their children in one of their home school programs and stop hasseling our narrow minded legislators and costing taxpayers money.

CHECK is probaly the driving force behind harassing the virtual school program for they probaly lose students. Also beware of the HSLDF Home School Legal Defense Fund for it is nothing but a fundamentalist christian PAC.

Let's get this science thing turned around so as to quit making headlines about teaching theories without substance. Honest to god sex education classes would be a huge step forward as well. God wants our children to have ALL of the facts and stop beating around the bush.

Porter 11 years, 3 months ago

Dambudzo - The Illiad and Odyssey come to mind.

budwhysir 11 years, 3 months ago

This debate, has evolved from a learning of two sides of an issue. However, this review will find two sides unable to agree on an issue that has been around for years. What did we teach prior to the disagreement???

Anyhow, disagree, or agree, I agree that no matter what, someone will disagree if I agree to agree or disagree.

Politicaly speaking

Tom McCune 11 years, 3 months ago

Dambudzo: Euclid's Geometry has been around for about 600 years longer than the Bible and it is still the basis for most modern physics and engineering.

  1. A point is that which cannot be subdivided.
  2. A line has length without breadth. ....

We sent men to the Moon based on Euclid.

gr8dane 11 years, 3 months ago

Sent men to the moon? Bahaha... I saw a show on Fox once about how that was all a hoax!

Sorry. Couldn't resist. :)

Probably a large overlap between people who think the moon landings were hoaxed and people who reject evolution for their religious dogma instead, now that I think about it.

Grundoon Luna 11 years, 3 months ago

What gets me is why creationist can't fathom that you can believe in evolution and be a Christian or person of faith. Most people can and millions and millions have been able to reconcille faith and science. They don't have to be entirely mutually exclusive.

Was the Creation 6,000; 12,000 according to this rabid Bishop that says the 6 days spent creating were 1000 years each; or 14,000,000,000 years ago? What's 13,999,994,000 years between friends.

And, if you accept the bishops interpretation then you must, unless you wanted to be guilty of hypocracy, accept that the Universe being 14 Billion years old is just a possible.

gr8dane 11 years, 3 months ago

Azure, exactly. Outside of the USA, most educated Christians accept evolution fine. Most denominations have official statements accepting it as good science and stating it doesn't conflict with church doctrine. Even in the States, there are plenty of us who don't have a problem with evolution or other science typically rejected by fundamentalists.

It's a creationist fallacy (shared by some atheists) that there is a dichotomy between Christianity (or faith in God in general) and evolution (or science in general). There isn't. Unless you try to make one do the job of the other.

budwhysir 11 years, 3 months ago

See what I mean, how do you get people to agree to disagree on things we will teach others to agree or disagree on. Agreeing that all disagreements are not always agreeable, we could agree to create a class on disagreeing. As a follow up to this class we could offer a disagreement of agreeing and a masters degree in the agreement that disagrements will allow for agreeing to disagree therefor disagreeing with the fact of agreeing.

Any way you look at it, we can assume that we can agree to disagree about topics we disagree on agreeing with. Both sides

Grundoon Luna 11 years, 3 months ago

I would argue that you are not looking hard enough then, Budzo.

tecumseh9 11 years, 3 months ago

Let's say we want to find a way to: 1) Sail around the world and I take a boat, charts, maps, and sailors, GPS systems and you take a minister and few deacons and the Bible who is going to make it?

2) We are going to build a computer and I have a computer engineers and manuals and you have your minister and board of elders and the Bible ...who are you betting on?

3) Find a way to live a meaningful and productive life and you have a Bible and your minister and I a have my computer geek friends and manuals who will be better served?

Why don't these hard line evangelicals get it? Religion is for answeriing different questions than science that does not cheapen it in fact it gives it greater standing. Do you use a Bible to learn how to bake a cake?

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