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Probe Ministries > Related Articles > Related Articles on ID


Darwinism Takes a Step Back in Kansas

Dr. Ray Bohlin

Written by Dr. Ray Bohlin

Has Oz Returned to Kansas?

Suddenly, the mere mention of the Kansas State Board of Education in most educational and academic circles brings derisive giggles and sneers. In August the Kansas State Board of Education voted to remove references to macroevolution from state science testing standards. A wave of revulsion gripped the nation's media. In Time magazine, Harvard University paleontologist Stephen J. Gould trumpeted, "The board transported its jurisdiction to a never-never land where a Dorothy of the new millennium might exclaim, 'they still call it Kansas, but I don't think we're in the real world anymore.'"{1} Gould further belittles honest concerns about the teaching of evolution by proclaiming: (1) no other nation has endured any similar movement (this makes us look bad overseas); (2) evolution is as well documented as any phenomenon in science (it is perverse to call evolution anything but a fact); and (3) no discovery of science can lead us to ethical conclusions (believe what religion you want, science doesn't threaten you).

That's a pretty scathing reaction. Let's see what else we can find.

Here's one from nationally syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman of the Boston Globe.{2} Ms. Goodman declared that "removing evolution from the science curriculum is a bit like removing verbs from the English curriculum. Evolution can still be taught, but it's no longer required, it won't be tested, and it will be discouraged." (However, natural selection, variation, and microevolution will still be recommended and tested.) Later she decries the fact that "In 1925, creationists dragged a young biology teacher, John Scopes, to the courtroom for the infamous 'Monkey Trial.'" Actually it was the ACLU that dragged Scopes into the courtroom. He couldn't even remember if he had actually taught evolution. They needed a "volunteer" to defend to test the new Tennessee law. (See Phillip Johnson's Defeating Darwinism By Opening Minds, 1997, IVP, Chapter 2 for the real story of the Scopes trial and its shameful portrayal in the play and film, Inherit the Wind.) Goodman also pontificates that "there is no serious scientific dispute about the fact of evolution." Notice that Ms. Goodman indicates that evolution is a fact, therefore beyond question. She also cleverly indicates that if you dispute evolution, you must not be a serious scientist.

In the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Sean Gonsalves laments, "Educated people everywhere are still in shock over the appalling ignorance displayed by the Kansas state board of education that voted two weeks ago to effectively remove evolution and the 'Big Bang' theory from the state's science curriculum. Is there still a science curriculum in Kansas?"{3}

Well, those unruly, ignorant anti-evolutionists really seem to have overstepped their bounds this time! You would think that we would be cowering in the corner somewhere after all the abuse from such heavy hitters, but no, actually, we're quite ecstatic. I have given you only a small example of the media and science firestorm, but it is just more of the same. While nobody enjoys being the butt of jokes and verbal abuse, what is significant are two things. First, the Kansas board has dealt Darwinists a severe blow by not mandating creation, thereby eliminating Darwinist's usual rallying cry of science versus religion. They have simply searched for a more objective means of presenting evolution. That's tough to argue against. Second, Darwinists have been flushed out into the open. Flimsy, ad hominem attacks, appeals to authority, and question begging have been brought out in the open for all to see. The Kansas State Board of Education has unintentionally raised the stakes in the decades old creation/evolution discussion.

What Really Happened in Kansas?

Given the reaction to the decision by the Kansas State Board of Education you would have thought the six board members who voted for the new standards in a close 6-4 vote were part of some dastardly plan to underhandedly bring God into the classroom. Also seemingly at stake was the reputation of the whole state of Kansas if its citizenry did not rise up in revolt against such an irrational decision. Apparently, Kansas had been set back decades in science literacy.

Well, what actually happened in Kansas? What did the board actually do and why? It is important to realize that the Kansas board authorized a 27-member panel of scientists and science educators from the state to revise the current state science testing standards. These standards do not mandate what can and cannot be taught, only what likely will be included on state science tests. What the board received was a highly prejudicial document making evolution the single unifying concept to the state's biology standards. When board chairwoman Linda Holloway asked the committee representatives for evidence of macroevolution they essentially replied, "We're the experts, and that will have to do."{4} What that means is that she received no evidence, just an admonition that, with their position as scientists, she should just trust them.

Rather than turn the Kansas high school classrooms into a propaganda machine for materialist philosophy, the board decided to amend the standards to maintain microevolution--natural selection acting on genetic variation--but not macroevolution¾the claim that microevolution leads to new complex adaptations and new genetic information. They also left it up to the individual school districts to determine how much or how little evolution to teach. Evolution was not removed from the curriculum, as so many news stories reported. Creation was not mandated, Darwin was not banned, and evolution was not censored.

What this does do is leave open to school districts the opportunity to teach the surging controversy surrounding evolution. Actually, what many in the intelligent design movement would have preferred, if possible, is to teach more evolution, not less. Meaning, let's teach not only the evidence for evolution, but also the mounting evidence calling the naturalistic creation story into question. Students should be familiar with evolution. It is the major story of origins within the scientific community. But in the interest of a true liberal education, the serious questions regarding evolution should also be included. Students should be allowed the privilege of weighing the evidence for themselves, not just accepting it because their teacher tells them to.

This is really where the threat to the scientific community lies. The more doubt about evolution that's allowed, the trickier the educational landscape becomes for a fully naturalistic, materialistic approach to education.

In the past, the media barrage over such an anti-evolutionary decision has been decidedly one-sided. What is significant this time is that the Kansas board has received some rather hefty and significant support from invited articles, guest columnists, and op-ed pieces in prestigious news outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Times. The debate is indeed changing.

Some Surprising Support for Kansas Board of Education

Amidst the unusual rancor and indignation from the media and scientific community following the decision of the Kansas State Board of Education, many have missed the small, yet significant, support the board has received for the spirit of their decision: namely, to try to find a way to disrupt the universal agenda to present scientific naturalism as the only possible explanation of where we all came from.

On August 16, 1999, the Wall Street Journal published an article by UC Berkeley law professor and Darwinian critic, Phillip Johnson.{5} Johnson quotes a Chinese paleontologist who openly criticizes Darwinism as wryly commenting that "In China we can criticize Darwin but not the government. In America you can criticize the government but not Darwin." After summarizing the frantic response of scientists and educators, Johnson commented, "Obviously, the cognitive elites are worried about something a lot more important to themselves than the career prospects of Kansas high school graduates."

Johnson pointed out that evolution is the main scientific prop for scientific naturalism, a philosophical system that leaves God totally out of its picture of reality. Quoting well-known scientists such as Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Stephen J. Gould, and Richard Lewontin, Johnson makes clear that this is the real battle. Allowing evolution's flaws to be detailed in classrooms would allow a broader discussion of fundamental assumptions. Johnson concluded optimistically, "Take evolution away from the worldview promoters and return it to real scientific investigators, and a chronic social conflict will become a chronic intellectual adventure."

A few days later, the Washington Times{6} chided the rest of its media cohorts for a vast overreaction and actually cited evidence that calls Darwinism into question. The friendly editorial concluded with "No one, and certainly not the Kansas Board of Education, is saying that evolution should not be taught; it remains the prevailing scientific theory of creation. Rather, some healthy agnosticism and scientific open-mindedness on the matter would seem to be in the best interest of everyone curious about the greatest mystery of all." Hear, hear!

The Chicago Tribune, while openly critical of the action of the Kansas Board of Education, also criticized previous actions of the National Association of Biology Teachers concerning evolution.{7} The association initially used the words unsupervised and impersonal to describe the evolutionary process. These clearly non-scientific terms were eventually and reluctantly removed by the association, who explained they didn't think the terms would be construed negatively, which the Tribune called either a lie or clear demonstration of scientific fundamentalism.

Finally, the Washington Post{8} printed an article by Jay Richards, senior fellow and program director of the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. The CRSC is currently the only think tank I know of that openly supports and endorses intelligent design. Richard's final point, "Fairness and objectivity in the science classroom require that teachers teach the controversy, not deny its existence," is fair, lucid, rational, and appealing. "Teach the controversy" has become a rallying cry. You are bound to hear it more and more. The debate in Kansas has resulted in similar debates around the country, to which we now turn our attention.

Darwinism Assailed in Other States

Following the recent decision by the Kansas State Board of Education the teaching of evolution was big news around the country. In Kansas there were roundtable discussions, lectures, and debates. Some were in academic settings, such as the University of Kansas and Washburn University, some were in churches, and some were sponsored by a humanist skeptic organization. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) was prompted to publish their own statement deploring the action taken by the Kansas Board of Education.{9}

You might think that all the negative publicity would cause other states to back off any changes in their own science curriculum. But apparently, all this publicity has encouraged other school boards to chart their own course or adopt the methods of other states before them.

The Oklahoma State Textbook Committee voted to adopt a disclaimer to be placed on the inside cover of all biology textbooks. Unhappy with the propaganda-like treatment of evolution in the majority of textbooks they looked at, the committee needed the disclaimer to be able to recommend a sufficient diversity of biology texts for the state. While arguably not the best statement on the subject, the disclaimer labels evolution as controversial, a separation of microevolution and macroevolution, and encourages students to study hard, keep an open mind, and perhaps they can contribute to the origins discussion in the future. Nothing is said about creationism, intelligent design, or any other theories. Basically the statement wants students to think critically about evolution.

What has been missed in the newly swirling controversy about the disclaimer in Oklahoma is that it is nearly a direct copy of the disclaimer adopted by Alabama over two years ago which has not been challenged in court. However, instead of mentioning the obvious connection, journalists attempted to draw parallels to a Louisiana school district directive that was recently struck down because it specifically mentioned creationism. The two disclaimers are not related, but in the attempt to make it look as bad as possible, the chosen tactic is to mislead.{10} Once again, a very reasonable, but not perfect resolution was dismissed as simply another attempt to smuggle creationism into the public schools.

Meanwhile in West Virginia a similar controversy hit the news. The Kanawha County Board of Education is considering a resolution that would allow for the teaching of theories for and against the theory of evolution. It soon came to light that Illinois and Kentucky had previously passed resolutions similar to the one in Kansas. Commentary and editorials were appearing in major and local newspapers across the country taking sides in a suddenly public and heated discussion. Clearly, something has changed. The usual evolutionist hand-wringing is sounding more like whining and the previously unheard-of support for a revision of the instruction in evolution is suddenly receiving a cautious but receptive ear in important academic, educational, and media circles. While it must be kept in mind that all of these "victories" are relatively small and can be easily overturned, nonetheless their simplicity, objectivity, and legal savvy are raising eyebrows that paid little attention before.

What Does All This Mean?

The flurry of nationwide activity concerning the teaching of evolution in our public school systems, while noteworthy, is not terribly new. This battle has been going on for over three decades, but with seemingly little change. However, this time, as I have documented, there has been surprising support and very public discussion over the last few months. Phillip Johnson and others have been invited or allowed to offer their impressions and rebuttals in newspapers, journals, and magazines across the country. Public lectures, debates, and roundtable discussions have been offered before large crowds.

Something has definitely changed. I think we can isolate the change in two places. First some of the cherished, misleading evolutionary explanations are being rebutted openly and decisively in these public discussions. Second, the public is becoming better educated on the issues involved and they are less intimidated by the evolutionary rhetoric.

One of the favorite lines used to dismiss critics of evolution is to label them as religious zealots and fundamentalists. Religion and science, says this argument, have nothing to say to one another so you can't bring religion into the science classroom. Stephen Gould states the case in his usual journalistic style, "Science and religion should be equal, mutually respecting partners, each the master of its own domain, and with each domain vital to human life in a different way."{11} Elsewhere it becomes plain that Gould means that science deals in facts and religion in the intangibles of morality and such. This is seen more and more as condescending nonsense. Other evolutionists like Douglas Futuyma readily admit that, "By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of life processes superfluous."{12} The negation of a theological principle is itself, a theological principle. Besides, any theory which purports to explain where we came from will contain the seeds of ethics and morality.

Robert E. Hemenway, chancellor of the University of Kansas, tried to say that the Kansas decision is a rejection of science altogether.{13} But when you actually read what the Board of Education did, they actually expanded the coverage of evolution from the previous standards and required students to know a very decent description of Darwinian evolution.{14} Skepticism is healthy in science. The new standards actually promoted questioning and critical thinking. This kind of obfuscation was not so easily foisted on the public.

The educational effort of many organizations over the past several decades has begun to yield citizens surer of themselves and not so easily intimidated. Seeing articles appearing in major news outlets like the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, and the Chicago Tribune, as well as appearances on CNN, have galvanized popular opinion and provided means to critically counterattack the bluster of the opposition.

Although the coverage has not always been accurate and completely positive, and the actual decisions by education boards have not always hit the mark, the net effect has been a major opening up of the debate. Change has been accomplished in these few months that would have ordinarily taken years. As mentioned previously, the phrase "teach the controversy" will be found more and more in the public discussion. That's exactly what needs to happen.

Notes

1. Stephen Jay Gould, "Dorothy, It's Really Oz, 1999," Time vol. 154, no.8 (August 23, 1999), 59.

2. Ellen Goodman, "Those Ever-Evolving Creationists," Boston Globe, Aug. 19, 1999, A19.

3. Sean Gonsalves, "Kansas School Board Fighting the Wrong Theory," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 24, 1999, A11.

4. Jeremy Johnson, "Media Pigeonholes Board into Stereotype," Kansan, August 19, 1999.

5. Phillip E. Johnson, "The Church of Darwin," Wall Street Journal, August 16, 1999, A14.

6. "Editorial, Kansas Conundrum," Washington Times, August 19, 1999, A16.

7. Steve Kloehn, "In a Word, Kansas Tries to Make Evolution Go Away," Chicago Tribune, August 20, 1999, 10.

8. Jay Richards, "Darwinism and Design," Washington Post, August 21, 1999, A19.

9. "AAAS Statement on the Kansas State Board of Education Decision on the Education of Students in the Science of Evolution and Cosmology," Science, vol. 286 (November 12, 1999), 1297.

10. Diane Plumberg, "Panel Plunges State into Debate about Evolution," Daily Oklahoman, November 12, 1999.

11. Gould, 59.

12. Douglas J. Futuyma, Evolutionary Biology, 3rd ed. (Sunderland MA: Sinauer Assoc., 1998), 5.

13. Robert E. Hemenway, "The Evolution of a Controversy in Kansas Shows Why Scientists Must Defend the Search for Truth," Chronicle of Higher Education, October 29, 1999, B7.

14. Jonathan Wells, "Ridiculing Kansas School Board Easy, But It's Not Good Journalism," Mitchell (South Dakota) Daily Republic, October 14, 1999.

©2000 Probe Ministries


About the Author

Dr. Ray BohlinRaymond G. Bohlin is Vice President of Vision Outreach at Probe Ministries. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois (B.S., zoology), North Texas State University (M.S., population genetics), and the University of Texas at Dallas (M.S., Ph.D., molecular biology). He is the co-author of the book The Natural Limits to Biological Change, served as general editor of Creation, Evolution and Modern Science, co-author of Basic Questions on Genetics, Stem Cell Research and Cloning (The BioBasics Series), and has published numerous journal articles. Dr. Bohlin was named a Research Fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture in 1997, 2000 and 2012.

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