KCFS Position Press Release 3-3-05

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Kansas Citizens For Science wishes to release the following summary of its position on the unfolding science standards debacle. This summary is followed by a more in-depth explanation of these points. KCFS encourages you to use these two documents to inform the public of the position of science on the standards issue. We realize space is a limitation, but we encourage you to consider a longer feature article which would allow your readers to more fully understand why science is taking the position it is on this matter. As is sometimes done with important speeches or letters, feel free to release our longer statement verbatim.

Summary of KCFS positions

• People of faith do not have to choose between science and religion. Science is neither anti-Christian nor anti-God. Science denies neither God nor creation. Science merely looks for natural evidence of how the universe got to its current state. If viewed theistically, science is not commenting on whether there was a creation, but could be viewed as trying to find out how it happened.

• ID is admittedly a religious concept. Even if ID itself is not mandated in the standards by the minority proposal, it is introduced through the back door. Science is redefined so that supernatural explanations can be called science. Then teachers are required to accept any science idea students want to discuss. ID and all other forms of creationism thus get into the classroom through their proponents unscrupulous use of our children. Proponents and the board (if the minority proposals are accepted) are not courageous enough to take responsibility and the accompanying ridicule for directly inserting ID creationism. Instead they will hide behind the innocence of our children counting on them to execute the unconstitutional.

• KCFS asserts that the proposed hearings by the board committee not be held. First, the minority report (reason for the hearings) has received peer-review and found to be lacking. Despite opportunities to do so, Dr. Bill Harris, primary author of the minority report has refused to answer these challenges to his scientific credibility. We don’t need additional comment when current comment has not been answered. Second, Dr. John Marburger, White House science advisor has made it clear that the White House, the administrative branch of our government, considers evolution to be the cornerstone of modern biology and rejects ID as a science theory. Obviously he has failed to grasp the proposed definition in the Kansas minority report. Third, the hearings are a sham as we all know that Connie Morris and Kathy Martin ran for office on anti-evolution platforms. Steve Abrams introduced the creationist substandards which were approved in 1999. These are the three individuals who will act as the board committee judge and jury of the scientific credibility of evolution. Fourth, it is unclear whether these proposed hearings are to inform the board on matters of science, or inform the public at large. Either way, the hearings are a sham.

Dr. Abrams mentioned in the first hearing committee meeting that the purpose of the hearings was not to inform the board. He acknowledged agreement on the technical matters of science and indicated the hearings were more for testimony than debate. He elaborated that his main motivation was to provide an opportunity for the public (he mentioned specifically the people from his district) to gain a better understanding of the issues. When challenged by Harry McDonald, KCFS president, as to how these hearings would provide such a vehicle, Mr. Abrams made no comment. It appears then that these hearings may serve only to provide political support to board members by seeming to justify their vote. If, contrary to Mr. Abrams statement, the hearings are to inform the boards decision, then let it be noted that the hearing committee does not have the background necessary to sit in judgment. It would not be fair for science to be found wanting simply because an opponent could speak or write better. If a self-admitted scientifically-challenged, three-person jury with an anti-evolution bias is to serve as the jury deciding scientific merit, the jury is rigged.

• KCFS would like to point out that, should the state board adopt the minority report or any other creation inspired changes to the standards, such a change will have a profound effect on our institutions of higher learning. Colleges and universities that train future science teachers are required to train them so that they are able to teach using the state K-12 science standards. Our universities would be required to teach that science allows supernatural explanations. Failure to do so would result in the loss of accreditation. Our state would be left with no science teacher preparation programs.

• As a result of all of this, KCFS calls on the entire science and science education community of Kansas to refuse to participate in this fiasco. Science has its own validity and has made its position on these matters perfectly clear and unambiguous. ID and other forms of creationism aren’t science. The specific proposals in the minority report have been rejected by the writing committee and by the science community at large. The science community should not put itself in the position of participating in a rigged hearing where three avowed creationists will appear to sit in judgment and find science lacking. Don’t give the board of education the veneer of respectability when they do their dirty deed. Let them take responsibility for their actions without dignifying them with the appearance of academic rigor. These hearings are rigged, a sham, a fiasco. Let us be clear. Science is not afraid to be judged. Science ideas are judged every day by competent experts in the appropriate field. Scientists are well schooled in statistical inference and we would not be true to our training if we bet on a stacked deck.


Addition background and rationale

Kansas Citizens For Science (KCFS) would like to clarify the confusing events surrounding the science standards debate in Kansas.

First, people of faith do not have to choose between God and science. The scientific theory of evolution is neither anti-Christian, nor anti-God. Religious ideas like Intelligent Design and creation tell us who is responsible for the world we live in. But these ideas don’t tell us how God performed his creation. For those who accept the existence of God, science tells us how creation occurred. Evolution is viewed by many as the tool God used to get his creation to where it is today. It is only the radical religious right who try to convince people of faith that they can’t accept both. Science doesn’t deny either creation or God. It merely looks at the physical evidence we find in the universe and enlightens us on our natural history. Whatever role God played or did not play in this natural history is not commented on by science.

Interestingly, in an article in The Leaven, February 11, 2005, Catholic educators are calling for “better teaching programs about evolution ‘to correct the anti-evolution biases that Catholics pick up’ from the general society. Without a church view of human creation that is consistent with currently accepted scientific knowledge, ‘Catholicism may begin to seem less and less realistic to more and more thoughtful people.”

Second, despite protestations to the contrary, the Board and a minority group on the standards writing committee are trying to insert the religious concept of Intelligent Design into the science standards.

According to the “Resolution Regarding The Science Curriculum Standards,” adopted by the Kansas State Board of Education, a disagreement within the writing committee has necessitated the establishment of a State Board Science Hearing Committee and the delay of external review of the writing committee’s draft of the standards. The disagreement on the writing committee involves suggested revisions to the committee’s draft. These revisions are called the minority report, offered by eight members of the 26-member writing committee. These revisions were discussed and rejected by the committee as a whole.

Public comment on the minority report, both pro and con, continually refers to attempts by the minority group to insert intelligent design (ID) into the science standards. Dr. Bill Harris, minority spokesman, John Calvert, minority counsel, and Dr. Steve Abrams, state board president, all contend that the minority report doesn’t call for the teaching of ID. While literally correct, this is an example of the deceitful way that ID and other creationism proponents are trying to circumvent the clear constitutional restrictions on teaching religious dogma as science in our nations public schools.

Decades ago creationists tried to ban the teaching of evolution. Despite the verdict in the Scopes Trial, this strategy failed judicial review. Then creationists tried to require the teaching of creationism. That too failed. Then they tried to play like they were doing science and mandate what they called creation science. Same result. That morphed into a form of creationism called Intelligent Design. The strategy was to use argument similar to creation science, but never say the Designer was God. Although this strategy has yet to be tested in the courts, public comment clearly shows that this disguise is too thin to pass judicial muster.

So now, in Kansas, we see the new strategy to accomplish the unconstitutional. Redefine science by deleting science’s limitations.

Science acknowledges that it can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God. It limits itself, not by law, but by the practical agreement of science, to natural explanations of natural events. Over 100 years ago, science found that attributing the currently unexplainable to God was a sure way to stifle additional research.

Thank goodness for science developing this view. We all benefit today from a deeper understanding of disease, ecology, agriculture, space science, and much more. Our standard of living and the general improvement of the human condition, is due in large part to science limiting itself to natural explanations.

The minority report deletes the reference to natural causation. Mr. Calvert repeatedly has complained of science limiting itself to natural explanations, thus he views this as an improvement. In a seeming attempt to hide his intentions from the public, he conveniently forgets to mention that if we don’t limit science to natural explanations, then “God did it” becomes a science theory. If science isn’t limited to natural explanations of natural events, then supernatural explanations become science. The minority proponents conveniently forget to mention this.

True the minority recommendations don’t call for mandating the teaching of ID religion. That is where the deceit comes in. Their recommendations require teachers to allow discussion of student-introduced, alternative scientific theories. With an accurate definition of science, this is not a problem. Non-scientific theories can politely be identified as not appropriately discussed in the science classroom. Substituting the minority definition of science requires teachers to treat any religious idea that relates to nature as if it were a valid scientific theory.

Let the people of Kansas understand what this cowardly proposal does. It deletes the requirement for ID proponents to establish ID as good science through the rigorous process of peer review. It takes the Board of Education off the hook to require creationism be taught. It lets the juveniles of Kansas act as the agents of religious zealotry. It defines whatever religious theory they wish to call science as worthy of discussion in science class. It also requires science teachers to respect these views.

Our Board of Education and other members of the radical religious right aren’t even brave enough to promote their beliefs in a manner that will surely result in negative judicial review. They expose the religious beliefs of our youth to the potentially scathing attacks by other youths more familiar with good science.

Dr. Abrams mentioned in the Board Hearing Committee meeting on March 1, that the committee hearings should not discuss ID because it was religiously oriented and he knew of no one who wanted to include it in the standards. As we see, this cleverly hides ID from scientific review during his hearings. It also clearly identifies ID as religion not science. He might even be seen as favoring strong science standards except for the deceitful redefining of science mentioned above with the resulting consequences for the classroom.

DO THE CITIZENS OF KANSAS REALLY WANT THEIR RELIGIOUS VIEWS DISCUSSED CRITICALLY, STUDENT-TO-STUDENT IN THE SCIENCE CLASSROOM? DO WE WANT OUR FAITH SUBJECTED TO SCIENTIFIC SCRUTINY? KCFS would contend that such review is inappropriate and that a reasonable definition of science would preclude just that.

Remember that the board of education may have the statutory authority to set the science standards, but they do not have the authority to change science to suit their tastes. No matter what the board does with the definition of science, science will continue to function using natural explanations. To delete this will not change science, but it will insure that the students of Kansas get a poor education and develop a poor understanding of science.

Third, KCFS contends that the hearings proposed in the board resolution mentioned above should not be held.

One reason is that the minority report has already been reviewed by a dozen scientists and found to be lacking by every single one of them. They described various aspects of the proposal as specious, misleading, inaccurate and an out-and-out fabrication. These reviews are posted on the Kansas State Department of Education website, www.dsde.org/outcomes/sciencestdrreview.html. Dr. Harris, the primary author of the minority report, has failed to respond to these reviews.

KCFS certainly believes that no additional hearings need to be held to clarify the controversy until Dr. Harris responds specifically to the peer-review his proposals have already received.

A second reason is that the Administrative branch of the United States Government accepts evolution as the cornerstone of modern biology and rejects ID as a scientific theory. Dr. John Marburger, White House science advisor, speaking to the National Association of Science Writers earlier this winter, established this position on ID in response of a question from the audience. Mr. Marburger clarified President Bush’s position on evolution during an on-line colloquy conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education on March 5, 2004, concerning the administration’s science policy.

A third reason is that the whole hearing process is a sham being perpetrated at the expense of the taxpayers of Kansas by board members and writing committee members trying to promote their personal religious and political agendas. Kathy Martin and Connie Morris (other members of the hearing committee besides Abrams) both ran for the board on political platforms suggesting that our science standards should be changed in ways suggested by the minority report. It has been predictable since the August primary that Kansas was going to be subjected to this public debacle. All pretense at objectively receiving the recommendations of the 26-member panel of experts is obviously the sham we knew it would be. Although KCFS is uncertain of the specific comments Abrams may have made on this issue during the campaign, his position was clearly established in 1999 as he led the charge that adopted the infamous “substandards.”

A fourth reason is that the board and the committee have never made it clear what use the hearings would serve to the board.

A reading of the original resolution would lead one to assume that the board of education needed these hearings to inform itself on the science it would need to understand and properly review the writing committee’s proposals. That assumption was dashed at the hearing committee meeting on February 23. Dr. Abrams made it clear that he didn’t expect to uncover any new science during the hearings. He acknowledged agreement on the technical matters of science. He agreed that oral debate was inappropriate and that the hearings would not constitute scientific hearings.

What Abrams did indicate as the purpose for the hearings was to allow the people of Kansas, especially his constituents, to better understand the controversy. During the meeting, Harry McDonald, KCFS president challenged Mr. Abrams to explain how these limited hearings would be able to inform the public, Abrams made no comment. So it appears that these hearings, the resulting expense to the taxpayers, and the delays in the normal processing of standards are nothing more than a campaign tactic by which Abrams can justify his vote to his constituents.

While KCFS is totally supportive of Kansas citizens increasing their knowledge of science, the board of education deliberations on science standards is not the place. The continuing education of adult Kansans is not the mission of our state board. No budget is in place to support such a mission. Our KSDE budget and staff are already strained enough without having to serve in the personal campaigns of board members.

Contrary to Mr. Abrams statements, if the board is expecting to sit in judgment of what constitutes good science as a result of these hearings, the process is still rigged. Science has already decided this issue. Evolution is science and ID/creation is not. The hearing committee does not have the background necessary to serve in judgment.

In the hearing committee meeting in February, Steve Case, writing committee co-chair, expressed reservation about the proposed oral hearings because science was not judged by who was the better speaker. Although he didn’t say it, implicit in this is that the jury of the arguments was a lay board with limited ability to follow technical science arguments. It wouldn’t be fair for science to be found wanting simply because the opposing speaker could better convince a lay jury.

In the hearing committee meeting on March 1, Connie Morris made it clear that even the proposed move to exchange papers would not change this situation. She acknowledged her own inability to understand technical arguments. She admitted that the paper which used “jargon” she could understand she would consider best written and would convince her. So even the proposed change to written argument does not dispel the inappropriateness of these hearings. If a self-admitted scientifically-challenged, three-person jury of with an anti-evolution bias is to serve as the jury deciding scientific merit, the jury is rigged.

A more appropriate hearing would involve mainstream scientists serving in judgment of the minority report. We don’t need a three-person hearing here because, as already mentioned, a dozen scientists have already done this and found the minority view lacking.

Fourth, KCFS would like to point out that, should the state board adopt the minority report or any other creation inspired changes to the standards, such a change will have a profound effect on our institutions of higher learning. Colleges and universities that train future science teachers are required to train them so that they are able to teach using the state K-12 science standards. Our universities would be required to teach that science allows supernatural explanations. Failure to do so would result in the loss of accreditation. Our state would be left with no science teacher preparation programs.

As a result of all of this, KCFS calls on the entire science and science education community of Kansas to refuse to participate in this fiasco. Science has its own validity and has made its position on these matters perfectly clear and unambiguous. ID and other forms of creationism aren’t science. The specific proposals in the minority report have been rejected by the writing committee and by the science community at large. The science community should not put itself in the position of participating in a rigged hearing where three avowed creationists will appear to sit in judgment and find science lacking. Don’t give the board of education the veneer of respectability when they do their dirty deed. Let them take responsibility for their actions without dignifying them with the appearance of academic rigor. These hearings are rigged, a sham, a fiasco.

Let us be clear. Science is not afraid to be judged. Science ideas are judged every day by competent experts in the appropriate field. Scientists are well schooled in statistical inference and we would not be true to our training if we bet on a stacked deck.

Last updated March 8, 2005