KCPress Club forum – various articles

Letters to the editor and newspaper articles concerning David Awbrey and the KCPress Club forum of May 4, 2006

Letters

Cheryl Shepard-Adams letter to the Topeka Capital-Journal, May 11, 2006

Seeing isn’t believing

According to David Awbry, spokesman for the Kansas State Department of Education, dinosaurs never existed.

At a forum sponsored by the Kansas City Press Club, “Intelligent Design, Intelligent Media: Is Coverage Accurate?” Awbry stated: “Religion is faith in what is unseen. Anyone see the origin? Anyone see the Big Bang? Anyone see the dinosaurs? These are metaphysical speculations.”

Mr. Awbry is correct that nobody “saw” these events, just as many crimes aren’t witnessed. Physical evidence is crucial to establishing the occurrence and details of these events, and evidence does abound for the existence of dinosaurs as well as the Big Bang.

Mr. Awbry’s starting salary at the KSDE is $76,000 per year. He knows less about science than a beginning science teacher who will have to work for about 10 years to earn just half of Mr. Awbry’s paycheck. Why is he telling that same teacher how science should be taught?

CHERYL SHEPHERD-ADAMS, Hays

David Awbrey’s letter to the Topeka Capital-Journal, May 17, 2006

We think we know

I thank Cheryl Shepherd-Adams for her May 11 letter, “Seeing isn’t believing.” She gives me a chance to clear up misperceptions of my comments about evolution made at a journalists’ forum in Johnson County on May 3.

Though admittedly not with the greatest clarity, the point I was trying to make about no person being present to see the Big Bang or observe the dinosaurs is that scientific knowledge is a human construct that relies on human intellectual and sensory capacities. We know only what we think we know. Interpretation is an integral part of the process; therein lays much of the controversy over evolution.

My main argument was that many participants in the evolution debate are engaged in metaphysical speculation, which is a kissing cousin to religion.

The late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, for example, calls human origins a “glorious accident.” He saw no order or logic in the universe and certainly no supernatural forces at work in the unfolding of the Earth’s natural history.

I respect Gould’s idea. I see how he came to his conclusion. To me, events like Hurricane Katrina or the Asian tsunami are powerful arguments supporting Gould’s position. How could a god who calls himself just and merciful create a world in which these catastrophes happen?

I would argue, however, that Gould and those who agree with him are engaging in metaphysics, not science, in claiming lack of purpose or direction in the universe. I just don’t know how you prove scientifically whether there is underlying order or meaning in the cosmos.

I’ve always appreciated philosopher William James’ remark that, “When it comes to the universe, we may well be like dogs in our libraries.” Like James, I think we should be humble and avoid claiming absolute knowledge of things that could well be beyond our intellectual or moral abilities to comprehend.

In interests of full disclosure, I am a cradle, C.S. Lewis variety Episcopalian and would define myself as a “theistic evolutionist.” When I saw the sonogram of my now 6-year-old daughter, I knew creation was a divine act. I would not, however, claim that transforming personal experience as objective fact as regards the structure of the universe.

DAVID S. AWBREY, communications director, Kansas State Department of Education

Letter # 2 from Cheryl Shepard-Adams in the Topeka Capital-Journal, June 8, 2006

In the interpretation

In his May 17 letter “We think we know,” KSDE communications director David Awbrey is correct in stating that interpretation is integral to science.

Thus, science has a centuries-old ground rule that it’s limited to natural, testable, falsifiable explanations, so that scientists all over the world can engage in those interpretations to determine which explanation is the most valid. That’s the process of peer review, something that proponents of intelligent design have avoided.

Most humans do engage in metaphysical speculation. Mr. Awbrey seems to agree that the science classroom is not the correct setting for these metaphysical speculations. Regrettably, the Kansas State Board of Education’s new definition of science was designed to open up science class to such speculations.

Although Mr. Awbrey uses a quote from Steven Jay Gould to back his assertion that science is inherently atheistic, Gould’s statements and philosophy were not endorsed in the standards that were rejected by the state board.

Mr. Awbrey acknowledged, “I just don’t know how you prove scientifically whether there is underlying order or meaning in the cosmos.” Exactly.

That’s what the board-rejected standards adhered to, and that’s what the vast majority of scientists around the world endorse. It’s the ID movement and the current board majority that is trying to prove scientifically that there is meaning in the cosmos.

The scientists and science teachers who wrote the board-rejected standards recognized that science can neither prove nor disprove God’s existence. Just because humans can’t measure his glory in a lab doesn’t mean we don’t honor him in our hearts and souls.

CHERYL SHEPHERD-ADAMS, Hays

Krebs letter published in Hutch News, May 26

In the article “Ed spokesman’s comments draw criticism” (May 24,2006), David Awbrey, Communications Director for the state Department of Education, continues to dissemble about his performance at a recent forum held by the Kansas City Press Club.

The article says that “The panel wasn’t set up to discuss pros and cons of evolutionary theory, she [Board member Sue Gamble] added, but the manner in which the press handled the issue. Awbrey agreed but said the “pro-evolution” crowd steered the event off course by questioning statements he made…”

I was part of the “pro-evolution” crowd there, and I can tell you that it was Awbrey who steered the event off course.

Awbrey came to the forum prepared to attack the science education community for both its willingness to participate in the democratic process and its religious views. He initiated these topics early in the forum, and even came with a quote by Stephen Jay Gould to lead into his accusation that the science education community is effectively atheistic.

Questions were not allowed until late in the event, and my comment to Awbrey at that time was merely to protest the things he had said earlier. The “pro-evolution” crowd did not steer this event off course – Awbrey did.

As noted in your article, sound files and some transcripts of this event can be found on the Kansas Citizens for Science websites (www.kcfs.org). I invite you to listen for yourself.

Jack Krebs
President, Kansas Citizens for Science
Lawrence, Kansas

Newspaper Articles

Announcement in the KC Star, April 27, 2006

Forum to discuss press coverage of Kansas evolution debate
The Kansas City Star

A free forum Wednesday at Johnson County Community College will examine media coverage of the Kansas State Board of Education debate on science standards and evolution.

The forum titled “Intelligent Design, Intelligent Media: Is Coverage Accurate?” runs from 7 to 9 p.m. in Room 211 of the Carlsen Center on the college campus, 12345 College Blvd., Overland Park.

Panelists are state board Chairman Steve Abrams, Kansas Department of Education spokesman David Awbrey, WDAF-TV morning anchor Toby Cook and KCUR-FM reporter Ben Embry. Derek Donovan, readers’ representative for The Kansas City Star, will moderate the discussion.

The program is sponsored by the college and the Kansas City Press Club.

-Melodee Hall Blobaum/The Star

Report on Red State Rabble blog, May 4, 2006

Awbrey’s Awful Performance

David Awbrey, spokesman for the Kansas Department of Education, drew withering criticism from board member Sue Gamble last night at the Kansas City Press Club’s “Intelligent Design, Intelligent Media: Is Coverage Accurate?” forum at Johnson County Community College.

Gamble, who was in the audience, said she was disappointed by Awbrey’s comments, accusing him of misrepresenting the facts and “inappropriate conduct” which, she said, “we’ll review at another time.”

“Awbrey,” said Gamble during the question and answer period, “is an extremely biased director of communications,”

Awbrey touted his experience as a journalist several times while speaking last night, but he certainly proved himself out of step with the other journalists on the panel: Dave Helling, a political reporter and long time anchor at KCTV-5 who now works for the Kansas City Star, Toby Cook, the WDAF-TV morning anchor, Ben Embry, a reporter for KCUR, the public radio station, and Derek Donovan, the Kansas City Star’s reader representative.

Kansas State School Board Chair Steve Abrams was also on the panel. No representative of the pro-science board minority was invited to participate.

Starting with a talking point from Calvert’s ID Network, Awbrey charged that scientists are undemocratic because they refused to participate in the hearings cooked up between Abrams, Calvert, and the Discovery Institute last May in Topeka. “That,” said Awbrey, “is a dangerous attitude for science to have.”

Awbrey might be excused for failing to note that scientists participated prominently in all four public hearings held around the state last February because he hasn’t spent much time in Kansas lately.

As a man making much of his credentials as a former journalist, and making the case that coverage has been biased, Awbrey might have been well-advised to check his facts first, too.

Awbrey might also want to think about the long-term consequences of using his taxpayer funded position as KSDE spokesman to espouse highly partisan political positions on issues that divide the board – and the people of Kansas.

Perhaps most interesting of all, was Awbrey’s assertion that the Big Bang and the dinosaurs – just like religious faith — are nothing but metaphysical speculation. “Did anyone see them happen?” he asked.

“A reporter’s job,” said the Star’s Dave Helling, “is to report the reality we see, gather facts, and report fairly.”

But Awbrey disagreed.

“Objectivity,” he said, “is a farce. This is a post-modern era. We’re all biased.”

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Article in the Lawrence Journal-World, Friday, May 26, 2006 – an excerpt

Evolution, religion comments put heat on department spokesman

By Sophia Maines (Contact)

Normally, a government spokesman helps deliver news.

But David Awbrey, the mouthpiece for the Kansas State Department of Education, is making the news following his comments about science, evolution and religion at a recent public forum.

The controversy may drive him out of the job.

“I haven’t been house-trained in public relations,” Awbrey said Thursday, adding, “I’m going to have to spend some time during the next week or two thinking about where I’m going to go with my career.”

Awbrey is a Kansas University graduate and former newspaperman who once was editorial page editor for the Wichita Eagle.

At a Kansas City Press Club forum earlier this month, Awbrey argued that evolution proponents are practicing a religion. Supporting evolution, he said, is metaphysical speculation.

“Anyone see the origin?” he said. “Anyone see the Big Bang? Anyone see the dinosaurs? These are metaphysical speculations.”