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‘Intelligent Design’ in Kansas: The Right’s Attack on Families

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When Thomas Frank wrote his latest book, his subject was the 2004 elections rather than the debate over “intelligent design,” but his question still applies: What’s the matter with Kansas?

Back in 1999, Kansas’ school board, stacked with religious conservatives, voted to downplay the teaching of evolution in schools. Realizing their mistake, Kansans voted these fanatics out at the next opportunity. Now Kansas is embroiled in a debate over whether to teach “intelligent design” as an alternative to evolution in state schools.

This theory holds that the universe is too complex to have arisen out of chance and therefore must be the work of an intelligent designer. The people trying to push this theory on Kansas school children are unusually tight-lipped about just who this “designer” might be, but I’ll give you three guesses. Here’s a hint: in testimony on Friday, William S. Harris, co-founder of the Intelligent Design Network, implied that current Kansas school standards embrace “atheism and naturalism.”

But intelligent design is not creationism. It couldn’t be, since “design” and “create” are clearly two different words, right? Look at the IDN website. It doesn’t say “creationism” in big block letters, and there’s a picture of a double helix on the homepage, so this must be solid, disinterested science. In actuality, the IDers merely seize upon the fact that evolution is not perfectly understood by scientists and attempt to replace it with a theory that is unverifiable and thus irrefutable.

But what about the children and their fragile minds? How can religious parents teach good Judeo-Christian values to their kids if they don’t learn them in public school? If only there was some sort of school run by the church that parents could send their kids to, maybe on the weekend—a “Sunday school” of sorts.

There is a deep irony in the attempt to excise evolution from the science curriculum, just as there is in the move to allow prayer in schools or to have the Ten Commandments posted in classrooms. The very groups that advocate so-called “proper” parenting seem to want to cede parental responsibility to the state, turning Uncle Sam into a surrogate father. All these groups with wholesome names—groups like Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the Culture and Family Institute—are actively involved in the effort to make the government take the place of the family in matters of morality and values.

There’s nothing wrong with teaching your kids whatever you want at home; that’s as it should be. Parents have always augmented or even refuted the lessons kids learn at school with their own teaching. People who have a major problem with what kids learn in the state-run schools have options: private school or home schooling. And if they can’t afford that, then they’re going to have to take responsibility for teaching their kids what they think they’re missing out on at public school.

I can’t help but think that those who don’t want their kids exposed to secular ideas are afraid that they cannot defend their own faith to their children. Be that as it may, it’s not the state’s responsibility to shelter kids from ideas that may contradict their parents’ religious ideology.

In fact, the effort to force kids to live in a bubble of ignorance actually does them a great disservice. When they grow up, they will be exposed to all kinds of secular ideas and scientific challenges to their beliefs. Do these parents really want them to be unprepared for that reality?

The religious right in this country is in full frontal assault against the innate responsibility that parents have for their own children. The aforementioned groups, along with media nags like the PTC and the Kids First Coalition, want to create a nanny state where no offensive or irreligious idea will ever pollute their children’s minds. In doing so they will ultimately strip these kids of the ability to think for themselves. Unfortunately, I think that’s the point.

Originally published as “Be My Daddy, Uncle Sam

(parenthetical remarks)

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  • Bennett Dawson

    I’ve heard it said that the Democrats cannot afford to cede the moral high ground to the Republicans, that Family Values are basic to the core beliefs of Democrats. Until now there seemed to be no clear way to recover what was lost.

    Thank you Pete for providing the path, the ammunition, and a vision for retaking the moral high ground.

    Me? I’m going to forward this to my Senators and Congressman.

    Thanks again.


  • excellent piece of writing, and I agree with it 100%.

  • The schools are already saturated in faith: the faith of no gods named Materialism or Atheism.

    What these guys are asking for is an end to that monopoly.

    If any of you can satisfactorily explain Mary Schwietzer’s fresh organics within a fossilised Montanan T Rex bone, you’ve taken the first step towards convincing me that a faith monopoly is justified.

    Call me a skeptic, if you will.

  • Bennett Dawson

    Science and Religion are not necessarily exclusive in one’s life. Many scientists and mathematicians go to church and have faith as part of their lives. This debate is over allowing religious dogma to pollute the field of science, to try and cloud the accumulation and examination of physical evidence by teaching unverifiable superstitions alongside working scientific theories.

    The report you mention is interesting, but I see nothing that indicates “divine intervention” here. It comes down to the Law of Averages – if you have a million dead dinosaurs, with hundreds of bones each, laying in different swamps and bogs, and covered by various dirt and dusts with varying chemical composition, exposed to a wide variety of temperature and humidity, over MILLIONS of years….. ONE of these dinosaur bones is going to have it’s original material replace by something other than the standard minerals one finds in the majority of fossils.

    The report is very clear that what they have IS NOT the original material, flesh and blood, but a unique polymer or chemical structure instead of the minerals that typically replace the original bone matter that leads to fossilization.

    And I see no image of the Virgin Mary in the pictures of the fossilized bones. Do you?

  • Eric Olsen

    science and religion come from different impulses and satisfy different needs: there is nothing wrong with trying to reconcile them on an individual basis, but it is harmful to both to try to do so via governmental institutions

  • I hesitate to chime in on a post of this nature as people can get pretty venemous in their comments, but what the heck. I just want to comment on a few points.

    First, I’m no expert on evolution or intelligent design, but from my perspective one does not necessarily negate the other.

    Second, I don’t think the “family-friendly” organizations mentioned above want the government to act as a “nanny” or to take over parenting duties. I believe they don’t want what’s taught at home unravelled during the course of a school day by people kids also consider authority figures. Some examples that come to mind that bug me are:

    – Self-esteem comes *before* accomplishment.

    – You can’t feel bad even if you fail (no red marker on those papers!)

    – You can’t feel *too* good about being succesful (can’t have the valedictorian making all those other kids feel bad).

    – A defeatist attitude about teen sex (better hand out condoms because they’re going to do it anyway).

    In my opinion it seems that parents who are not in line with these organizations are more likely to want the “big nanny” scenario: Teach my kids about sex because I can’t deal with it. Babysit them until 6PM because I can’t be home to take care of them. Teach them how to be good citizens because I don’t set a good example at home.

    Now before you throw bombs my way, I’m not saying that ALL parents on EITHER side share the above beliefs and traits. I’m speaking generally here.

    BTW, I think it’s really naive of the intelligent design proponents to try to get around the fact that the designer is God. That’s just disingenuous.


  • Well written. Glad to see this debate has sparked more than one article.

  • Vic,

    Intelligent Design may not negate evolution, but it is not a scientifically verifiable theory and therefore has no place in a science class.

    I agree that the family groups think they’re doing what you say they are. I just think the effect is objectively the opposite.

    Thanks for your comments.

  • Created by Designer software – Intelligently!!! (DNA)

  • Don Blosser

    Right, it’s very obvious that what we have here is a bigoted minority once again pushing their dogma down the throats of those who disagree with them.
    Ahem…The polls show that only around 20% of Americans believe that the Darwinian theory of evolution accurately describes reality. Mr. Blackwell’s post totally ignores that fact and equally ignores the reality of what is being argued in Kansas. The proponents of intelligent design are merely asking that their scientific theory be presented side by side with the one which currently has a monopolistic stranglehold on the public schools.

  • gonzo marx

    well put Don..

    but as has been stated repeatedly..let them show their SCIENTIFIC evidence and empirical data to lend proof to their Hypothesis

    submit the Postulate and supporting empirical data to peer review and scrutiny..

    you know..enter the world of Science and lend credence to the hypothesis and elevate it to a working Theory..

    then we can discuss adding such to the curriculum of a SCIENCE class in biology

    until then, we can stick with the Theory that has had such proofs and data based on verifiable evidence as the best working theorem so far..

    keep “Intelligent Design” in the Metaphysics class where it currently belongs..

    and i’d like to see where you get that “20%” bit from, i find that bit of flotsam difficult to believe without further elucidation

    nuff said?


  • Here is a good breakdown about the polls on evolution/creationism.

    The report shows how the majority of Americans believe that God had a hand in evolution, and that they identify that with the label ‘creationism’. Those that believe it all happened in one day are a minority.

    The report shows how 68% of people can believe in God, but 86% say they pray.

    Read the report to see how Creationists can come up with the statistics to show they are in the majority.

    The proponents of intelligent design are merely asking that their scientific theory

    The word ‘scientific’ doesn’t fit in that sentence unfortunately.

  • Don,

    As I say in my post and others have said here: ID cannot be verified by any scientific means and is therefore not appropriate for science class.

    As for the (dubious) 20% figure, unless the other 80% of Americans are biologists, your point is irrelevant. Most American’s can’t find France on a map. Does that mean we shouldn’t teach geography?

  • Duane


    A “monopolistic stranglehold”? Nice turn of phrase. So, what, is science now justifiably discussed in business terms? Then I suppose proponents of quantum mechanics have a monopolistic stranglehold on the theory of matter. How many of your 80% of non-believers in evolution also disbelieve quantum mechanics? It’s a silly question, right? Because they don’t know a thing about quantum mechanics. So who cares if they don’t believe in Pauli’s Exclusion Principle? What do they know? Same goes for evolution. What do they know? Sound elitist? Well, that’s tough. Non-scientists are not fit to judge scientific theories. They’re free to judge, but it doesn’t amount to anything, because their judgement is founded upon ignorance. This is exemplified by your claim that ID is a scientific theory. You’re not one of those flat-Earthers, are you? The question of the validity of a scientific theory is not subject to democratic principles. You may as well join the crowd that would have pi changed to 3.0.

  • gonzo marx

    anybody seen Schrodenger’s cat?


  • Antfreeze

    The cat is right there, and there, and there, and there….

  • JR

    That’s one degenerate cat.

  • gonzo marx


    well..that’s one Probability..



  • Phil Bondo

    “Non-scientists are not fit to judge scientific theories. They’re free to judge, but it doesn’t amount to anything, because their judgement is founded upon ignorance.”

    Wow, that’s great stuff Duane! So if I buy you a ticket to Kansas….

  • “Intelligent Design” is little more than old Willie Paley’s Natural Theology, which predated Darwin’s Origin of Species, with the pastors’ circular reasoning and bad science slightly updated and seasoned with some unproven metascientific (and metaphysical) mussing and at best fringe speculations and questionable math. Whereas modern evolution doctrine is composed of tens of thousands of tested and actually proven findings. Evolution has shown itself capable of logically explaining how single-celled life became the billions of complex creatures on Earth today. Now maybe God set up the universe so as to favor order and life, but this is not testible by any known mechanism. Therefore not science.

    Why not stick to real and accepted and factual science in science classes and leave the dreamy supposing and hair-brained notions for graduate students and chat-rooms?

    When ID proves itself — THEN AND ONLY THEN can it claim room on the shelf with the real deal. Let alone a real replacement for many many decades of real scientific investigation and effort.

    But since Creationism has been an utter failure at proving itself as anything but ideological dogma and hooey for the past century and a half, despite many hundreds of millions of bucks spent, nor have its advocates shown any credible alternative to evolution, or any legitimate reason to doubt Darwin’s basic ideas; then I would not hold my breath waiting for the latest rehash of Rev. Paley’s silly and wrongheaded exercise in bad reasoning to get much real traction among 99.999% of the scientific community (many believers in God BTW)– except via political & funding blackmail.

    Evolution had to prove itself (and it did, with more proof behind it than pretty much *anything* in science), so why on earth should “intelligent design” get a free ride into the classrooms?

  • Now maybe God set up the universe so as to favor order and life, but this is not testible by any known mechanism.

    That is what I meant when I stated that I thought that ID and Darwinian theory could co-exist.

    I’m still waiting for some lab to create a living single-celled organism from organic non-living material by subjecting it to various gases and electricity.

    But I don’t really believe it’ll happen.


  • Vic,

    I think they can co-exist to a point. Most people who are serious about their faith recognize that rationality and faith are two different things, and an essential element of belief is taking that Kierkegaardian leap into a realm beyond rationality. Jesus chided Thomas for requiring proof before he believed, saying “Blessed are ye who believe, yet have not seen.” Clearly the experience of faith is transcendental and metaphysical and I had no intention of deriding that. However, there is absolutely no place for ID in a science classroom, and that is what certain people are trying to foist upon the children of Kansas.

  • If there was an Intelligent Designer, where’s the copyright data for the design? I’ve looked everywhere and can’t find it?

    © Alienboy 2005

  • Nancy

    It’s been said before, I’ll say it again: religion is personal – it belongs at HOME and in church. We have too many, too different religions these days to adhere to the founder’s standards from 2+ centuries ago. Times change over that long a period; what was appropriate for then is not now, and will not be 2 centuries hence. Like it or not, religion cannot continue to be treated as a quasi-legal imperative of this country, as so many politicians and religious groups try to do.

    Most scientists I have met (being one myself & having quite a few in the family) have no problem personally reconciling the concept of God & science. Our attitude is, Gee how tricksy & brilliant of God to have done this…Can’t wait to see what else S/He did…. BUT we DO keep our religious impulses to ourselves, where spiritual speculation belongs, and not aired or promulgated in public, and still less do we try to shove it down anyone else’ throat.

    As far as scientific theory and evidence itself is concerned, if an individual wants to belive the earth is flat, that it was created in 4664 bc at 9.20 a.m., that DNA is a liberal lie, etc., well fine (I will here note that I have noticed damn few religious nay-sayers who don’t believe in science are in a hurry to reject medical or pharmaceutical treatments brought about by the very scientific theories they themselves deny). But belief is one thing, scientific proof another, and the former should not be taught in school w/the latter…although parents might want to consider that when their kids get out into the big, bad world, they’re in for a rude shock, since 99.999999% of the people they will be meeting, working, and interacting with will not give a rat’s ass what they believe, and they may even lose out on job or advancement opportunities due to the gaps in their standard education, which render them unfit for employment anywhere but among those who believe the same as they.

    As for kids being ‘confused’, that’s what parents are for. Sending kids to school in no way abrogates the parents’ responsibility to educate their own spawn themselves, especially if they don’t like what the public program offers. In that case, they can either school the kids at home, or send them to a private school that offers the viewpoints they themselves hold. But public schools, paid for by all, are neither obligated nor should they be presenting every alternate theory of every group that comes along, no matter how loud said group becomes.

  • This is old data–if anyone has more recent info, I’d love to see it–but let’s see how much credence we should put in the beliefs of people when assessing the scientific validity of a theory.

    A poll taken in 1991 found that 50% of Americans definitely believed in religious miracles (25% probably) and 40% definitely believed they had been in touch with someone who had died. A USA Today/CNN poll in 1994 found that 72% of Americans believed in angels and 65% believed in the devil.

    Oh, Gonzo, I’ve got your cat. Schrodenger left me the box, but I’ve been afraid to open it. Would hate to be the one responsible for killing it.

    Augustus Rex

  • What’s going on here? This conversation has been WAY too civilized and rational… 😉


  • Oh yeah, Vic, well I can fix that.

    Your mother wears combat boots!

    (Ain’t it nice to have a civilized discussion…I was almost losing hope.)

  • gonzo marx

    ya didn’t lose yer Hope , Mark..i got it stapled to Schrodenger’s cat!


  • Yo, Gonzo, I thought I had Schrodenger’s cat. So how could you pin my hopes on it?

    Ah, quantum wierdness. You want to open the lid of the box?

    So what the hell were we talking about? God bless John Jameson’s irish whiskey.

    In Jameson’s Veritas.

  • If man is but a molecular machine with DNA functioning / engineering software. Then how can there be any debate. It is the pre-programming of the DNA that is the cause of the so-called EVOLTION / or CHANGES. Intelligent changes by Intelligent software instructions. Stem cell research it a good reference.



  • Comment 13 posted by Pete Blackwell on May 11, 2005 12:49 AM:
    “As I say in my post and others have said here: ID cannot be verified by any scientific means and is therefore not appropriate for science class.”_____________________________

    Oh but it has: ever heard of…Synthetic Biology

    (Gene Hacking, Biosensors, Biological computing)
    Bio-tech can not be held back any longer. Long live to Creators of living systems.

    Death to the anti-dreamers, enemies of modern science.

  • that’s nice. Wishing death on people who don’t share your view.

    And that’s freaking scary, implying that scientists who use gene hacking and stuff to create life are Intelligent Designers.

    If a scientist created life, s/he would be a human who made a monumental achievement beyond scope. Never before achieved except for when people have sex.

    The scientist would be a human, not the Intelligent Designer of the life created. That is scary because you are equating man’s ability to equal God.

  • you know what I mean, you are saying man has the ability to be an Intelligent Designer, the same as a God.

  • Shark

    re: comment #3 by Leon Brooks

    Leon, babe, show me ONE FRIGGIN’ DINOSAUR in the Bible and I’ll join yer little ID cult!


    re: “Researcher Tony” — and “Don Blosser”

    Dudes, yer not potential terrorists, are ya?

    PS: How do you rowdy, pissed-off boyz feel about paying taxes, the ATF, and doctors who perform abortions?

    Just curious.

    : )


    Re: Intelligent Design —

    The population of Kansas is implicit proof that Intelligent Design isn’t valid.

    (If it were, shouldn’t they be walking upright by now?)


    Oh, almost forgot Shark’s Answer to the infamous ID thought experiment:

    IMPORTANT! –>Given all the parts to a small Swiss timepiece — and an eternity in which to toss them — I actually COULD throw them in the air and have them land as a fully assembled, working pocketwatch.

    (And thanks for asking.)

    (hmmm… what would I do with that pocketwatch?)

    Hey, I could swing it in front of the half-open eyes of a somnambulent American population and say stuff like “monopolistic stranglehold” and “atheism is a secular religion” and “legislative judges” while trying to put them into a medieval American faith-based Talibanic Trance.

    yer getting sleepy…

    yer getting sleepy…

    yer getting sleepy…


    * another “faith-based” **bombing

    **see NYC, 9/11

  • says Prof. Keinan. “For example, all biological systems, and even entire living organisms, are such computers.
    Every one of us is a bio-molecular computer, that is, a machine in which all four components are molecules “talking” to one another in a logical manner.


    Man is not like a machine.
    For man is a machine, someone else’s technology.
    And God said, let us make man in our image (creators of intelligent design)

  • ResearcherTony

    If man is a machine.
    With your next laptop computer be a new species.

    Organic Semiconductors Bring Foldable Computer Screens Closer
    March 30, 2005
    An Israeli research team has manufactured new organic semiconductors using proteins designed from scratch in the lab and linking them together in precise chains to create electronic-grade material. The new semiconductors, called electronic peptides, could lead to lighter, cheaper and more flexible electronic devices within the next two years, the researchers say.

  • I’ll see your Spam, and raise you ten Boloney… [grin]


    Who spams the spammen?