At the close of last week's Kansas USA hearings before education officials on the teaching of evolution in its public schools, headlines around the world described the final day (May 12) as one that ended with more name-calling than a discussion of science.
The hearings on how origins should be taught in Kansas science classrooms, and which have been referred to as the Scopes trial turned on its head,1 ended with Pedro Irigonegaray, the lawyer representing evolutionist scientists (who boycotted the hearings), hurling insults at the State Board of Education during his 90-minute presentation. As reported by The Wichita Eagle,2 Irigonegaray said "the hearings were an abuse of the board's authority" and that "the proposed changes, if approved, might violate the US Constitution."
During that final day of hearings, in which he reportedly refused to take questions, Irigonegaray defended the way evolution is currently taught and argued that intelligent design is a thinly veiled form of creationism, even calling it a "narrow sectarian theological view" that is opposed by most people, including mainstream Christians.3
Because Irigonegaray refused to take questions, John Calvert, the retired attorney representing those who believe evolution should be taught less dogmatically, was allowed to deliver a second closing argument.
"What you heard today was simply oratory from a lawyer," Calvert said in the Wichita Eagle article (May 13). "What was missing was the data."
So, what's next for Kansas schools? The State Board of Education expects to decide by August how to update standards that determine how fourth-, seventh- and tenth-graders in public schools are tested on science.4 According to the Kansas City Star (May 13), the proposal will most likely go to a vote before the full 10-member board this summer.
On the div are two competing proposals for the science standards: one from a 26-member committee that updates the standards but makes no significant changes and a second one, called a minority report, which comes from eight members of the 26-member committee. It calls for changing the definition of science and for students to study evolution from a more critical point of view. (There is no proposal that "intelligent design" or biblical creation be taught.)
As defined in the majority report, science is "a human activity of systematically seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us."
The minority report, backed by intelligent design advocates, defines science as "a systematic method of continuing investigation that uses observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building, to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena."
According to a CNN article (May 15), the proposed definition has outraged many scientists who are frustrated that students could be discussing supernatural explanations for natural phenomena in their science classes.
But according to Discovery Institute, an Intelligent Design "think tank," Kansas is the only state that does not have a traditional definition of science. The minority report proposes a traditional definition of science which is nearly identical to the definition of science adhered to in 40 states across the country. This change would get Kansas back into step with the way science is defined nationwide.5
Although it's not always reported by the secular media, there are numerous scientists who welcome and encourage the changes that the minority report would bring about. Consider the following open letter submitted to Dr. Steve Abrams, Chair of Kansas State Board of Education, by Professor Philip S. Skell, member of the National Academy of Sciences and Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, at Penn State University.6
For those scientists who take it seriously, Darwinian evolution has functioned more as a philosophical belief system than as a testable scientific hypothesis. This quasi-religious function of the theory is, I think, what lies behind many of the extreme statements that you have doubtless encountered from some scientists opposing any criticism of neo-Darwinism in the classroom. It is also why many scientists make public statements about the theory that they would not defend privately to other scientists like me.
In my judgment, this state of affairs has persisted mainly because too many scientists were afraid to challenge what had become a philosophical orthodoxy among their colleagues. Fortunately, that is changing as many scientists are now beginning to examine the evidence for neo-Darwinism more openly and critically in scientific journals.
Intellectual freedom is fundamental to the scientific method. Learning to think creatively, logically and critically is the most important training that young scientists can receive. Encouraging students to carefully examine the evidence for and against neo-Darwinism, therefore, will help prepare students not only to understand current scientific arguments, but also to do good scientific research.
I commend you for your efforts to ensure that students are more fully informed about current debates over neo-Darwinism in the scientific community.
For further reading on the history of the Kansas controversy, please see our Education Q&A page or for more information about defining science, read the following web articles located at http://www.answersingenesis.org/get-answers/topic/science.