Speaker: Evolution not open to debate among scientists

Intelligent design is religiously motivated, nonprofit official says

The head of the National Center for Science Education said Tuesday there is no debate over evolution – at least not in the realm of science.

“There aren’t any alternative scientific theories to evolution,” said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the national nonprofit. “If there were any, obviously we’d be teaching them.”

Scott spoke Tuesday at Kansas University’s Natural History Museum to a crowd of less than 100 teachers, museum staff, and others. The lecture was titled “Teaching Evolution and Avoiding the Minefields.”

A conservative majority of the Kansas Board of Education late last year adopted public school science standards, proposed by intelligent design supporters, that enable criticism of evolution.

Intelligent design proponents maintain the theory is based in science. William Dembski, a leading ID proponent, has defined intelligent design as “the study of patterns in nature that are best explained as a result of intelligence.”

Scott said Tuesday that intelligent design is a religiously motivated, weak argument that simply is not science.

She outlined what she said were the main arguments and points of the opposition so that the audience could better fight the issue.

“Intelligent design is merely a subset of creation science,” Scott said. “I think it’s safe to say that intelligent design descended from its biological ancestor as a result of environmental pressures.”

Intelligent design proponent William Harris, who did not attend Tuesday’s event, said creationism often is connected to intelligent design, although it shouldn’t be.

“By lumping them together, it’s the easiest way to defeat it,” he said.

Scott said evolution is often painted as a theory in crisis, but it is not in crisis in mainstream science. For one thing, she said, the number of scientists who accept evolution far outweighs the number who reject it.

“For every Ph.D., there is not an equal and opposite Ph.D.,” she said.

Harris said Scott’s statement that evolution isn’t a theory in crisis is her opinion.

“It all depends on what you mean by evolution,” he said. “The term evolution is extremely slippery and means many, many things. : Certainly parts of the theory are not in question at all, and some points are.”

Scott said intelligent design proponents often emphasize concepts that science has yet to explain.

“There’s always going to be something we haven’t explained,” she said.

While it may be easy to shy away from teaching evolution in schools and museums, Scott said, that is the wrong thing to do.

“If you don’t understand evolution, you don’t understand biology,” she said.

Kathy McVey, a KU student studying to be a biology teacher, said she plans to teach evolution and not shy from the controversial subject.

“Evolution is a huge underlying theme of biology, and you can’t leave it out,” she said.

Heather Keeler, who teaches biology to sophomores at Olathe South High School, said changes to the science curriculum wouldn’t alter the way she teaches.

“I don’t feel comfortable with changing the definition of science,” she said.