Kansas Debates Evolution
This month the Kansas State Board of Education decided to revisit the issue of teaching evolution in public schools. In 1999, Kansas removed references to evolution from the state curriculum. Following the 2000 election, a new board returned evolution to the state education standards in 2001.
Evolution opponents weren’t discouraged in 2004, and Kansas elected another socially conservative school board.
The new majority on the board hopes to change the science standards to revise the definition of science to include nonnatural explanations for natural phenomena, emphasize that evolution is merely a ‘theory’ and teach the criticisms of evolutionary theory.
While teaching students the shortcomings of current evolutionary theory is good, some of the other proposed changes are suspiciously political.
The proponents of this alternative proposal supported by the school board are the ‘Intelligent Design’ theory lobby. Since teaching creationism in public schools is unconstitutional, creationists have largely adopted this ‘scientific’ alternative to evolution.
According to ID theory proponents, some biological components have irreducible complexity and therefore require an ‘intelligent designer.’ Supporters of the ID theory charge that there is political bias in attempting to censor their logical ‘scientific’ alternative, but the reasons why one shouldn’t teach ID theory as science should be as much scientific as they are constitutional.
ID theory defaults to the supernatural when naturalistic theories are imperfect. ID theorists like Michael Behe often write hundreds of pages criticizing evolution, but never show positive evidence for ID. This type of argument for ID theory fails because it is a fallacy of the excluded middle. Assuming current evolutionary theories are wrong doesn’t make ID theory correct.
Their proposal to redefine science to include nonnatural explanations as being scientific would open the door to teaching pseudoscience in classrooms with the blessing of the Kansas State Board of Education. Furthermore, supernatural explanations can’t be falsified and therefore fail Karl Popper’s falsifiable criterion that is widely considered necessary for something to be a science.
While supporters of ID theory deny that the intelligent designer must be a god, it seems more than coincidental that they want supernatural explanations to be deemed science. Hence, it is not surprising that critics of ID theory in the scientific community regard it as creationism by another name.
The lead critic against evolution in the hearings was attorney John Calvert, who argued that evolution ‘promotes atheism,’ which he considers an unconstitutional teaching of the religion of ‘naturalism.’ This is despite the fact that neither evolution nor naturalism meet the definition of a religion.
Calvert fails to realize that a religion requires a belief in ‘a supernatural power.’ Naturalistic evolution does not require the supernatural; therefore, it fails the test of being a religion. Calvert’s motivation to declare evolution as unconstitutionally promoting atheism is political.
Evolution, ironically, isn’t anti-religious in that one can believe in any religion if it lacks a story of creation or at least one that does not conflict with evolutionary theory. Many Buddhists, for example, can accept evolutionary theory, and even former Pope John Paul II recognized evolution as being ‘more than a hypothesis.’ Therefore, evolution doesn’t demand the death of non-theistic religion as Calvert claims. Every major science group boycotted the hearings as rigged against evolution and their suspicions proved correct. Even the two moderate members of the board subcommittee boycotted the hearings!
On the first day of the hearings, board member Kathy Martin admitted to having not read all of the evolution-friendly standards. How can one be fair if one refuses to even read all the evolution material? Furthermore, the board didn’t give Pedro Irigonegaray, an attorney who was the lone defender for evolutionary theory, the time he requested to seek witnesses.
On the other hand, the board gave Calvert additional time to rebut Irigonegaray during time that had been designated for the evolution defender!
In addition, Calvert and his 23 witnesses are being reimbursed $5,000 for the their costs, which increases the cost of the hearing to an estimated $17,350. Irigonegaray, in response, refused any reimbursement saying, ‘I believe that would be stealing from the children of Kansas.’ If Calvert cares so much about the issue, he should pay his own costs like Irigonegaray.
As the Wichita Eagle noted on April 12, ‘What Kansans should see is a waste of time and money and, once again, a train wreck for the state’s image.’ Their prediction proved accurate.
Shawn Augsburger is a fifth-year history major. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org