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Why Bother With Kansas

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“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” -Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon

“Is it 1925 already?” – Mango


By now everyone has probably heard about the ongoing “trial” in Kansas. Presumably this circus of pseudo-science and religious assertions is suppose to decide on a new science curriculum for the state of Kansas–particularly biological science.

The hearings by the Kansas State Board of Education- one part science lesson, one part political theater – were set off by proposed changes to Kansas’s science standards intended to bring a more critical approach to the teaching of Darwinism. The sessions provided perhaps the highest-profile stage yet for the emerging movement known as intelligent design, which asserts that life is so intricately complex that an architect must be behind it. Critics argue that intelligent design has no basis in science and is another iteration of creationism (New York Times).

Pro-evolution scientists are rightly boycotting the spectacle and refusing to humor the either the religious ideologues that would dilute science with assertions about God in order to achieve a political agenda, or the inane hubris of elected officials unable or unwilling to even read the proposal they’re supposed to be considering.

Board member Kathy Martin, of Clay Center, elicited groans of disbelief from a few audience members when she acknowledged she had only scanned the proposal, which is more than 100 pages. Later, board member Connie Morris, of St. Francis, also said she had only scanned it.

Martin said during a break: ”I’m not a word-for-word reader in this kind of technical information.” (Salon)

If they don’t even read the material, how in the world can they even attempt to understand what the debate is about? Unlike assertions about God, creation and Intelligent Design, science is not based solely on intuition. At some point you must provide evidence for your assertions. With their failure to even read the evolutionary information, these board members have demonstrated that they fundamentally do not understand how contrasting scientific arguments are weighed or what is at stake. (The fact that they’re even engaging in this lawyerly spectacle reinforces the interpretation of ignorance.) Presumably, they assume that a casual scanning or osmosis will allow them to intuit the merits of the various arguments.

“They are offering an answer that may be in conflict with religious views,” [William Harris, a medical researcher and co-founder of a Kansas group called the Intelligent Design Network] Harris said in opening the debate. “Part of our overall goal is to remove the bias against religion that is currently in schools. This is a scientific controversy that has powerful religious implications.” (CNN)

The religious goals of this entire fiasco are plain for even the simplest of Young Earth Creationists to apprehend. Here’s another example.

Nancy Bryson, a biology instructor at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, said having life appear from chemical molecules is ”utterly impossible.” Bryson came under fire for giving a public lecture in 2003 criticizing evolution and eventually lost her position as division science director at Mississippi University for Women.

“In my personal opinion, I believe there is an intelligent designer,” she said. (Salon)

…and…

Asked to explain the appearance of humans on Earth, witness John Sanford, an associate professor of horticultural sciences at Cornell University, said: ”My explanation, humbly offered, is that we were specially created.” (Salon)

The real issue for these people is their belief that evolutionary theory undercuts religious faith. Does it? For some it probably does though knowledge of evolution isn’t required for either atheism or agnosticism. In fact, evolution alone isn’t even a good argument for disbelief since the question of God is entirely a metaphysical question. Evolutionary sciences are concerned with understanding and explaining the world in terms of natural processes. Whether you believe those natural processes, which are observable today, were put into motion by a creator or not is your problem.

This question of a designer is the heart of the debate that the religious are trying to foist onto science, the education system and the public at large. They are seeking a way to introduce religious instruction back into the education system. This is patently wrong and simple facts demonstrate this to be their true goal.

The existence or non-existence of an Intelligent Designer is not a testable hypothesis. The assertion, not matter how emphatically made, that observed complexity requires a designer is neither a scientific explanation nor a testable statement. Anyone asserting otherwise is either a liar or seriously confused about science. The continued failure of ID-ers to operationalize and test their theory demonstrates exactly how scientifically useless it really it. Thus, ID is not a scientific theory. As non-science it does not belong in the classroom. It really is just that simple.

The canard that ID-ers want to introduce debate into biological (evolutionary) science is tiresome. It is clear that there isn’t a scientific debate as the ID-ers characterize it because they aren’t bringing science to the argument. In addition, they mischaracterize the nature of biology and evolutionary education in high schools. How much evolution do students really get? The real nuts and bolts of evolutionary theory are graduate level topics. High school students aren’t even taught enough to adequately explain evolution theory much less analyze its claims and adequacy. Therefore, it is questionable what ID-ers think these students are going debate in either direction. In reality, they want an assertion of faith to cancel out the science.

The place of rigorous scientific debate, the place to disprove evolutionary theory, is ultimately within and among those trained to discern good science from bad science: scientists. The fact that they have failed to even operationalize ID and test hypotheses demonstrates why they need school boards and half-wit politicians to weigh their case and defend their cause. They can’t make a scientific case so they must rely on assertions like ‘special creation of humans.’

Scientists are right, I think, to refuse to participate in the ID circus.

Something must be done to more actively engage the public and students. Unfortunately, the very elected officials that are acting as ringleaders for this circus are the very ones spoiling basic science education.

So, I guess it is 1925 already…again.

The sad thing that Marx forgot to add in his correction of Hegel is that once world history descends into farce, it often wallows there ad infinitum.

[Originally posted 5/8/2005 @ anti-[everything]

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About a-[e]

  • http://www.iamcorrect.com lono

    Why bother with Kansas? A great question. Normally, one might think: who gives a shit about some backwards ass Christian Taliban types? Fuck em, and let them weird out like Utah.

    Sadly, and puzzlingly, Kansas is a microcosm of everything wrong with America right now, and the ignorant right wing trends. We have to watch Kansas because of what we laugh about now may soon be in our state too.

  • http://www.publichealthpage.com MDE

    Hey anti – Nice post. I think that I can discern intelligent design behind your creation……..are you a god?

    Just asking

    Your reference to the ‘Brumaire’ is choice. For those who haven’t taken a look, it’s Marx’s attempt to explain why people act against their self-interest.

    Mark

  • Antfreeze

    Since these “educators” want to include completely unverifiable theories into the teaching curriculem why don’t we also include my theory that all the rest of you people are just figments of my imagination. Or maybe the one about the Earth riding around on Atlas’ back while standing on a turtle. (or something like that). The only problem I see with evolutionary theory is that people can not get their heads around the concept of millions of years. The same idiots who profess that they see evolution in action then tell you it’s snowing in May so global warming must be false.

  • http://www.bhwblog.com bhw

    Many Christians believe *some* of evolutionary theory. In particular, they agree that cells mutate, such as when bacteria mutate and become resistant to drugs.

    What they tend not to believe is that all living beings originated from the same micro-organisms. The Bible says that man was created in God’s image, that man was “specially created” as someone in the post was quoted as saying.

    The problem is that there is no science to back up this claim. It’s just a claim, a belief. It has no place in science class unless other similar beliefs will be given equal treatment.

    As for the board members not reading the proposal, I’m not surprised. They’re not interested in even learning about the debate, just reinforcing their own beliefs.

  • Thomas

    I wish some well known scientists would attend these meeting since it is so important to the state and the kids that will be subjected to them. I know one of the board members personally and I know it is his goal to change the public schools into Christian schools. However his daughter teachers in Public schools and his granddaughter, my daughter, goes to a church school. It is so sad to know that she is under the influence of those closed minded people. So as you can see it is important to me that Kansas has the right view, I went to high school there and it was not taught as it shouldn’t have been. If the kids want to learn it then they can learn it at home or at church. Why would that be any less of a way to learn it and then not violation the separation of church and state. Again it would help to have some well known scientist there.

  • http://www.anti-everything.us a-[e]

    Sorry for the slow reply everyone. Thanks for the comments.

    I don’t think that we should ignore Kansas or the ID-ers. The problem is, engaging in direct debate in this format with these people legitimizes them for the public. I think if they’re going make scientific claims–they’re not really–then they should debate them where scientists debate: peer-reviewed journals.

    Unfortunately, for many people the court of public opinion is enough to settle the debate. It gets back to the generally poor state of science education. Scientists need to find alternative ways of reaching the public. I don’t think playing Lincoln-Douglas with preachers and pseudo-scientists is the way to go.

    MDE: Thanks. And, yes. I am.