KSU Biology Dept. Rejects KSBOE Science Standards

Dear State Board of Education,

We view the proposed changes in Kansas Science Standards (the minority report which is likely to be adopted by the State Board of Education) with dismay and disbelief. The proposal introduces non-scientific ideas into the curriculum to promote the concept of “intelligent design” as a “scientific” alternative to the existing curriculum. Intelligent design is based on the belief that an intelligent being created and directs the universe. Proposed revisions to the biology curriculum have a thinly veiled goal of institutionalizing unverifiable interpretations of the natural world in our schools. It is inappropriate to introduce this non-scientific view in science classrooms.

Science has well defined properties that distinguish it as a uniquely effective method for understanding our natural and physical world. Science uses empirical evidence to explain observations and to develop, test, and validate predictions. Validation is central to science; if predictions cannot be verified with empirical evidence, the hypothesis used to make the prediction is discarded. Intelligent design is not verifiable, is not science, and should not be taught in science classes.

The proposed changes attempt to define science as a religion, and to open the door to include intelligent design as a part of the curriculum. Science is not a religion, and religion is not science. Science and religion are simply different, but not exclusive, approaches to viewing and interpreting different aspects of the world. A person can be religious and be a scientist, but they cannot use religion to do science.

We offer four specific examples of statements made in the proposed changes (these are called indicators in the document) that not only draw conclusions without evidence, but also contradict overwhelming evidence to the contrary. These illustrate the non-scientific approach being taken to modifying the science education standards for the state.

One of the most problematic, confusing, and false statements is the claim that “The order of the nucleotide sequences within the gene is not dictated by any known chemical or physical law.” Scientists have documented many evolutionary adaptations and the nucleotide sequences (the organization of the DNA that directs heredity) responsible for them. Small changes in sequences governed by physical and chemical laws, under the influence of biological processes, are called microevolution. Examples of such changes include, but are not limited to antibiotic resistance, adaptations to high and low temperature environments, production of specific proteins, domestic plant and animal breeding, and changes in resistance and infectivity by viral and bacterial diseases. This proposed change to the Kansas Science Standard directly contradicts microevolution, which is readily observable and widely accepted.

Another incorrect proposed indicator states “Whether microevolution can be extrapolated to explain macroevolutionary changes (such as new complex organs or body plans and new biochemical systems which appear irreducibly complex) is not clear.” There is extensive evidence supporting a scientific view of how complex organs and body plans evolved. All complex biochemical and organ systems are simple variants of those found in related organisms. To say that something is “irreducibly complex” means nothing to scientists, since many previously intractable events (e.g., the movement of stars and planets in the sky) were eventually explained by science. Biologists are explaining ever more biological complexity.

Yet another incorrect set of indicator statements is “The view that living things in all the major kingdoms are modified descendants of a common ancestor (described in the pattern of a branching tree) has been challenged in recent years by: i. Discrepancies in the molecular evidence (e.g. differences in relatedness inferred from sequence studies of different proteins) previously thought to support that view, ii. A fossil record that shows sudden bursts of increased complexity (the Cambrian Explosion), long periods of stasis and the absence of transitional forms rather than steady gradual increases in complexity, and iii. Studies that show animals follow different rather than identical early stages of embryological development”. First, molecular evidence has solidified, not contradicted, the view of life as arising from a common ancestor. Second, stasis, bursts of complexity, and gradual change are not at odds with evolution. Steven J. Gould, a prominent evolutionary scientist, proposed the idea of variable rates of species formation but also worked tirelessly to educate the public about how evolution is sufficient to explain diversity and the fossil record. Third, developmental biology has made tremendous strides in describing embryonic development and has greatly enhanced our understanding of evolutionary relationships among species. For example, the 1995 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded for work on a common set of genes (including HOX genes) that influence development and body plans of creatures as diverse as sea anemones, fruit flies and humans. Small changes in these genes can result in vastly different body plans. Developmental biologists are rapidly increasing their understanding of animal development, and nothing they have found contradicts evolution.

More non-science is included in the proposed indicator that states “Chemical evolutionary theory has encountered a number of difficulties, including: i. A lack of empirical evidence for a “primordial soup” or a chemically hospitable pre-biotic atmosphere; ii. The lack of adequate natural explanations for the genetic code, the sequences of genetic information necessary to specify life, the biochemical machinery needed to translate genetic information into functional biosystems, and the formation of proto-cells”. Increasing evidence on formation of organic compounds that are the building blocks of life under conditions found on early earth is accumulating in the most rigorous international scientific journals. Scientific (testable) explanations are available for the genetic code, the sequences of information (see discussion above) and the biochemical machinery needed to translate genetic information. These explanations help us to combat serious human diseases and increase agricultural productivity. The explosion of new molecular information on entire genomes of widely divergent organisms (particularly the human genome project) in no way contradicts evolution, nor does it support an alternative explanation for the origin of diversity such as intelligent design.

An overwhelming majority of biologists agree that evolution is the best explanation of the diversity of life on earth. The predictions of evolution have withstood extensive scientific tests over the last 150 years. Since no scientific observations have contradicted the fundamental tenants of evolution, it has been elevated to the status of a “Scientific Theory” with the same measure of validation as the Theory of Gravity.

The minority who dispute the validity and utility of evolution as a tool for understanding the natural world must document in a scientifically valid manner that an alternative view can better explain the world. As it stands “intelligent design” makes no predictions, has no testable hypotheses, and thus does not qualify as a scientific principle that merits inclusion in the science curriculum of any public school. It should not be included as an adhesive sticker, or a loose-leaf addition to existing science texts. Many of the proposed changes fail as legitimate science, requiring that these also be rejected in favor of recommendations proposed by the original science task force.

The flawed view of science that is being promoted will haunt our children as they prepare to attend college or seek jobs in medicine, agriculture, and bioscience and make decisions about their own children’s health. Our state is prepared to invest millions of dollars to promote Kansas as a new epicenter of bioscience and biomedical research. How can we invite and attract bioscience corporations to our state and top scientists to our universities when we advocate an uneducated and unscientific approach to teaching the foundations of science and biotechnology? The proposed standards that are sympathetic to intelligent design are misguided, unscientific, will harm our children and our economy, and should not be adopted.

Note: The following signatories are all faculty members in the Division of Biology at Kansas State University

Walter Dodds, Ph.D, Professor
531 Ratone Ln, Manhattan KS 66502 785 537 4102 wkdodds@ksu.edu

Abigail Conrad, Ph.D, Associate Professor
610 Fairchild, Manhattan KS 66502 785 537 0176 aconrad@ksu.edu

Gary W. Conrad, Ph.D, Professor
610 Fairchild, Manhattan KS 66502 785 537 0176 gwconrad@ksu.edu

Carolyn Ferguson, Ph.D, Assistant Professor
741 Elling Dr, Manhattan KS 66502 785 776 6495 ferg@ksu.edu

Keith Gido, Ph.D, Assistant Professor
3416 Gary Ave, Manhattan KS 66502 785 539 2320 kgido@ksu.edu

Loretta Johnson, Ph.D, Associate Professor
2347 Grandview Terr, Manhattan KS 66502 785 537 6231 johnson@ksu.edu

Donald W. Kaufman, Ph.D, Professor
2306 Timber Creek, Manhattan KS 66502 785 539 7226 dkaufman@ksu.edu

Glennis Kaufman, Ph.D, Research Assistant Professor
2306 Timber Creek, Manhattan KS 66502 785 539 7226 dkaufman@ksu.edu

Judith Roe, Ph.D, Assistant Professor
2750 Brittany Terr #7, Manhattan KS 66502 785 539 5519 jroe@ksu.edu

Ruth Welti, Ph.D, Associate Professor
1725 Ranser Rd, Manhattan KS 66502 785 537 4968 welti@ksu.edu

Samantha Wisely, Ph.D, Assistant Professor
12330 Main Rd, Randolph KS 66506 785 293 5745 wisely@ksu.edu

Anthony Joern, Ph.D, Professor
13205 Booth Creek Road, Olsburg KS 785-468-3299 ajoern@ksu.edu

Timothy H. Parker, Ph.D, Research Assistant Professor
1219 Pierre St, Manhattan KS 66502 785 565 9536 tparker@ksu.edu

A. Lorena Passarelli, Ph.D, Assistant Professor
3445 Gary Ave, Manhattan KS 66502 785-539-2095 lpassar@ksu.edu

Rollie Clem, Ph.D, Associate Professor
3445 Gary Ave, Manhattan KS 66502 785-539-2095 rclem@ksu.edu

Michael Herman, Ph.D, Associate Professor
446 Edgerton, Manhattan KS 66502 785 565 9645 mherman@ksu.edu

Susan Brown, Ph.D, Associate Professor
3321 W 12th Ave, Manhattan KS 66502 785 539 0968 sjbrown@ksu.edu

John Blair, Ph.D, Professor
2204 Elco Cir, Manhattan KS 66502 785-539-2486 jblair@ksu.edu

Sylvia Mora, Ph.D, Assistant Professor
718 Whitetail Pass, Manhattan KS 66502 785 537 0409 mora@ksu.edu

Christopher Smith, Professor
1328 Fremont St, Manhattan, KS 66502 785-539-6918