A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

And Kansas swings back again...

Kansas just took one step back from the Middle Ages yesterday (now, if they'd just laugh Fred Phelps out of the state, we'd be getting somewhere), as moderates grabbed control of the state school board that devised science standards favoring intelligent design:
Teachers and scientists joined with moderate and liberal political action groups to campaign for the ouster of the conservatives and return to teaching what they consider conventional science.

The Kansas standards, meant to be guidelines for teachers across the state, were seen as a victory for the "intelligent design" movement, which holds that the world is so complex that a higher authority -- God -- must have created it.

With more than 90 percent of the votes counted early on Wednesday, moderates had gained two seats and secured a third on the 10-member board, pushing conservatives -- two held their seats -- into the minority.

"We're going to have a new majority on the school board," said Boo Tyson, executive director of the MAINstream Coalition, which helped fund the campaign against the conservatives. "The people of Kansas have said they want their school board focused on something else than this hot-button issue."

The moderate challengers in the Republican primary gained the advantage by unseating one conservative on the board and giving a fourth open seat to a grandmother and teacher who has been highly critical of the board's anti-evolution actions.

Democrat Janet Waugh also held her seat against a challenger who had been dubbed anti-evolution.

The Kansas vote is the latest development in a renewed U.S. debate over evolution, which has simmered before and since the famed Scopes "monkey trial" in Tennessee 80 years ago.

The Kansas standards say there is a lack of evidence or natural explanation for the genetic code, charge that fossil records are inconsistent with evolutionary theory, and say certain evolutionary explanations "often reflect ... inferences from indirect or circumstantial evidence."

Inferential? Oh, you mean like inferring that the lack of proof proves something scientifically? Um… sorry. Carry on:
Kansas' school board has shifted repeatedly on the issue. It pushed through anti-evolution standards in 1999, prompting moderates to oust conservatives in 2000. But the conservatives regained power and pushed through the latest anti-evolution standards last year.

In February, the Ohio Board of Education reversed a 2002 mandate requiring critical analysis of evolution in science classes. That followed a federal judge's ruling that teaching intelligent design to Dover, Pennsylvania, students was unconstitutional.

Belief that the complexity of the universe proves the hand of a Creator is just that—a religious belief. In science, one does not infer from a vacuum. Hypotheses are often born in this manner, but not theories. If scientific theory worked in this way, we could say that the fact that an airplane leaves the ground proves that the laws of gravity don’t apply to big aluminum tubes; or perhaps (and maybe this will sound familiar to you) if someone is ill, it’s because they are possessed by demons.

Every time I look at one of my children peacefully sleeping, I look upon it as proof that this universe is a wondrous place, and I pray my thanks to God for all the good things in my life. But that is a religious response—not a scientific one. Purely religious beliefs like intelligent design are being perverted for a political agenda. They are being cheapened by people who claim that they are scientific. Kansas sought to promote the teaching of religion in their schools (ignoring the problem that, if you do that, the next question is whose religion gets the nod?), and worse, they tried to claim that those religious beliefs were science.

As hard as scientists try, there will always be concepts that cannot be proven. The existence of God is one of them. As hard as theologians try, there will always be beliefs that cannot be proven. The existence of God is one of them.

That’s why humans have a capacity for faith. As well as a capacity for reason.

The proponents of intelligent design believe these two gifts are at war within humankind. I personally don’t believe God works that way.

(For previous posts on this topic, look here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here. Whew!)


At 8/2/06, 6:42 PM, Blogger Andrew Pass Educational Services, LLC said...

I too recognize the importance of teaching evolution in schools. However, I do not think that teachers should teach evolution as fact. It is simply a theory. In his text The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn argues that all theories can change as new information is added. We can't know now what will be known about evolution 100 or 1000 years from now. However, I believe taht it is the responsibility of all teachers to help students understand that knowledge continuously develops.

Andrew Pass

At 8/3/06, 4:30 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Absolutely true. The problem is that the ID and Creationism crowd want to use the scientific term "theory" to equate their ideas with scientific theories. Oliver Stone has lots of theories, for instance. In science, a theory is not just something pulled out of thin air.

And I thought about adding this point to the post, but it was already getting a bit long: just since I've gone to school, all kinds of new scientific theories have either been proposed or expanded, and I am not that old! Really, I'm not. String theory. Planets outside the solar system. Sequencing the human genome.

We have to make sure, however, that students understand what "theory" means from a scientific standpoint.


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