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Four Opinions on the Hearing in the Sunday KC Star
Posted on Sun, May. 08, 2005

Design doesn’t equal theology
By William S. Harris Special to The Star

Beginning on Thursday a subcommittee of the Kansas Board of Education opened hearings on whether criticisms of Darwinian theory will be allowed in Kansas public schools.

The hearings, which continue Thursday, focused on the proposals embodied in a “Minority Report” offered by eight scientists/educators serving on the Science Writing Committee.

The opponents of the proposals (i.e., the Mainstream Coalition and friends) issued a “position paper” critical of the Minority Report, the hearings and the board. The outrageous factual misrepresentations contained therein demand a response:

• “Science education is under attack!”

This is absurd. Questioning aspects of Darwin’s theory of evolution is not an “attack on science.” It is precisely what science is all about — dispassionate consideration of the evidence without religious or philosophical biases.

Unfortunately, Darwin’s theory has become an unquestionable dogma. The theory that all life forms on earth arose accidentally via undirected, natural processes is not a fact — it is an unproven and unprovable theory.

• “They (the BOE) are now planning on spending tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to stage a series of hearings intended to showcase a theology known as intelligent design creationism as a substitute for science.”

This is the worst kind of propaganda. In addition to vastly inflating the cost, the evolution lobby deceives its audience as to the nature of its adversary. Worse, its partisans do so purposely. They know there is no such animal as “intelligent design creationism.” This is a hybrid pejorative invented to link the intelligent design movement with “creationism,” a term much-maligned by years of harsh cultural stereotyping.

Creationism depends on a literal interpretation of Genesis. Intelligent design has nothing to do with anybody’s scriptures. Intelligent design is a logical inference drawn from the scientific data. Advocates of creationism and of intelligent design agree, however, that the uncritical presentation of Darwinian theory hurts science education.

Interestingly, Ronald Numbers, author of The Creationists, was quoted in The Washington Post in March as saying that intelligent design is actually not creationism, but linking it with creationism is “the easiest way to discredit ID.” At least he was honest.

In the movie “Contact,” scientists searching for “extraterrestrial intelligence” found it by discovering a complex, coded message arriving from outer space. “Contact” was fiction, however, the discovery of vastly more complex code in DNA is fact. It is scientifically illogical to conclude “design” for the aliens and “accident” for DNA. The Minority Report seeks this kind of objectivity.

Were the scientists who were “contacted” by an alien intelligence basing their conclusions on religious doctrines? Neither are the scientists who draw a design inference based on the discovery of complex, information-rich, nanomachines working at the heart of the simplest cells.

Why are they so afraid? The emperor is not well-clad.

William S. Harris is a professor of medicine at The University of Missouri-Kansas City. He lives in Prairie Village.

Study strengths, weaknesses of evolution
By Jonathan Witt

Special to The Star

Biology textbooks diligently paper over the fact that biologists have never observed or even described in credible, theoretical terms a continually functional, macroevolutionary pathway leading to fundamentally new anatomical forms.

It seems the Darwinists in Kansas are living in the past.

Not the past of, say, the fossil record. The history written there tells of the abrupt appearance of major animal forms, nothing like the gradually branching tree of life that Darwin envisioned. The past that some evolutionists are living in, rather, is the Kansas science curriculum battle of 1999.

It’s sturdy creation vs. evolution boilerplate and media outlets around the country have run with it. But the boilerplate in this case was showing rust. That is, it was false. The Associated Press was the first to issue the correction, reporting that the scientists that testified at the Kansas science hearings were “expected to advocate exposing students to more criticism of evolution, not teaching alternatives to it.”

In fact, alternatives aren’t even on the table in the proposed science standards. And some of the scientists who testified, like Italian geneticist Giuseppe Sermonti, aren’t even design theorists. They’re simply calling for students to learn the strengths and weaknesses in Darwin’s theory of evolution, rather than the air-brushed presentation they receive now.

If every design theorist dropped off the planet tomorrow, current textbook presentations of evolutionary theory would still be riddled with error and spin — Ernst Haeckel’s 19th century embryo drawings, four-winged fruit flies, peppered moths hidden on tree trunks, the incredible expanding beak of the Galapagos finch.

These common textbook icons of Darwinian evolution in action have all been discredited. Haeckel faked his embryo drawings. Mutant fruit flies are dysfunctional. And peppered moths don’t rest on tree trunks; the photographs were staged.

As for finch beaks, high school biology textbooks neglect to mention that the beaks returned to normal after the rains returned. No net evolution occurred. Like many species, the finch has an average beak size that fluctuates within a given range.

This is microevolution, the noncontroversial and age-old observation of change within species. Biology textbooks diligently paper over the fact that biologists have never observed or even described in credible, theoretical terms a continually functional, macroevolutionary pathway leading to fundamentally new anatomical forms like the bat, the eye and the wing.

Well, icons like the finch beak and the fruit fly are just used over and over to make a point, the Darwinists reassure us. Instead, look at a really central icon, the gradually branching tree of life.

You see, neo-Darwinism works by natural selection seizing small, beneficial mutations and passing them along, bit by bit. If all living things are gradually modified descendants of a common ancestor, then the history of life should resemble a slowly branching tree. Unfortunately, while we can find the tree lovingly illustrated in our kids’ biology textbooks, we can’t ever seem to reach it out in the wide world. The fossil record stands like a flashing sword barring our way.

More than 140 years of assiduous fossil collecting has only aggravated the problem. Instead of slight differences appearing first, then greater differences emerging later, the greatest differences appear right at the start — numerous and radically disparate anatomies leaping together onto the Cambrian stage. These aren’t just distinct species but distinct phyla, categories so large that man and bat occupy not only the same phylum but the same subphylum. Later geological periods show similar patterns of sudden appearance, stasis and persistent chasms of difference between major groups.

Could it be that the millions of missing transitional forms predicted by Darwin’s theory just happen to be among the forms that weren’t fossilized and preserved? After a detailed statistical analysis to test this idea, University of Chicago paleontologist Michael Foote concluded, “We have a representative sample and therefore we can rely on patterns documented in the fossil record.”

He didn’t mean that we will find no more species. He does mean that we have enough fossil data to see the basic pattern before us.

In other words, some evolutionists see the fossil record as a real problem. Will high school students learn this in class? In the past they haven’t. The proposed science standards would merely correct this problem, directing public schools to teach students the strengths and weaknesses of modern evolutionary theory.

Meanwhile, the Darwinian scarecrow about the creationists coming to take us away has begun to show its straw.

Jonathan Witt has a doctorate in English from the University of Kansas and is a senior fellow and writer in residence with the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture.

Let fact and faith coexist outside schools
By Alan I. Leshner Special to The Star

Let’s be clear — the scientific community is not anti-religion.

Once again, Topeka is the scene for cultural upheaval, as the Kansas Board of Education reviews faith-based alternatives to evolution.

Pressures are mounting to introduce nonscientific, anti-evolution rhetoric into science classrooms, alongside well-supported facts about life’s origins.

The board’s science subcommittee has heard testimony from nearly two dozen evolution critics, including some intelligent design advocates who believe that life’s complexity can be explained only by a master plan. The goal, according to the board, is to determine whether the state’s science curriculum is preparing students “to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious and philosophical claims.”

Defenders of evolution did not line up to testify at the hearings. That’s not surprising since it’s a debate that can’t be won. After all, interpretations of Genesis are a matter of faith, not facts.

Thoughtful scientists and religious leaders alike say that fact and faith should not be pitted against each other. But extremist fringe views ring louder. In today’s America, sadly, creationism, intelligent design and evolution now form three sides of an endless triangular debate.

Anti-evolution sentiment is now so strong that it’s permeating other aspects of society. Consider the case of the weird deep-sea worms. Featured in the big-screen movie, “Volcanoes of the Deep,” the worms prompted charges of blasphemy when some previewers were offended by a reference to evolution, The New York Times reported. Understandably fearful, staff at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History rejected the film, but then courageously reversed the decision.

Incidents like these, and the Board of Education hearings, raise serious questions about scientific freedom, as well as our obligations as scientist-citizens to accurately educate students and the public.

In a survey of National Science Teachers Association members, nearly one-third of all 1,050 respondents said they feel pressured to include creationism, intelligent design or other nonscientific alternatives to evolution in their science classrooms.

The United States is not alone in these struggles. In Brazil, where the country’s Protestant evangelical population has undergone a fivefold increase since 1940, creationists have ramped up efforts to combat the teaching of evolution. And, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Australian evangelist Ken Ham said at a recent town hall meeting that “evolution is a religion, not a science,” the Irish Times reported.

His words echoed a Dover, Pa., school board ruling and the disclaimer stickers on science textbooks in Cobb County, Ga. Students there are taught that Darwin’s theory of evolution is “a disputed view.”

Make no mistake — within the scientific community, the updated version of Darwin’s original proposal that plants and animals evolve and adapt gradually over time is well-supported by thousands of studies and well-accepted by virtually every scientist. And the theory of evolution does not, in fact, conflict with the religious views of most Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu followers.

Conflicts arise only among those who believe that the universe and all its inhabitants, in their current form, were literally created within the past 10,000 years — not billions of years ago, as demonstrated by extensive scientific evidence. The spin-off view, intelligent design, proposes that the complexity of DNA and the diversity of life can be explained only by an intelligent agent.

As it gains momentum, the anti-evolution movement is also moving into theme parks. These new types of facilities offer an alternate, religious view, and that’s fine, so long as they avoid distorting scientific facts. But visitors to Florida’s Dinosaur Adventure Land are invited to “learn about God’s Creation through science and the Bible” as they hear that “the evolution theory is useless.”

Let’s be clear — the scientific community is not anti-religion. Many individual scientists are deeply religious. They see scientific investigation and faith as complementary components of a well-rounded life. As far back as the fifth century, Pythagoras envisioned a divine, original harmony at the crossroads of physical events and their mathematical foundations.

Yet today’s students, and now, even moviegoers are being forced to choose between science and religion, as if the two domains are somehow in competition. The censorship, suppression or distortion of scientific information is wholly unacceptable, no matter where it occurs.

The time has come to move beyond polarizing debate. The Kansas Board of Education science subcommittee should remember that fact and faith are different, but both have the power to improve people’s lives, and they can coexist — just not in science classrooms.

Alan I. Leshner is CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and executive publisher of the journal Science.

Religion’s place is not in science
By RICHARD COHEN Washington Post Writers Group

Behold the giant Galapagos tortoise!

It weighs several hundred pounds, lives God-only-knows how long and on the day a few weeks ago when I was on the Galapagos Islands, could not be beholden at all. The tortoise we wanted to see, Lonesome George, so-called because he is apparently the last of his subspecies, was in hiding.

In a sense, that’s appropriate because almost half of America cannot see any of the Galapagos for what they are: the home office of evolution. This is where Charles Darwin got his bright idea.

The archipelago, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, is where birds and reptiles have evolved in almost total isolation; species that exist there can be found nowhere else. Darwin, visiting the Galapagos in 1835, was stunned by what he saw and evolved a theory to explain it all: natural selection.

It is belittled as a mere “theory,” which is a misunderstanding of the scientific term, and even in some places where it is grudgingly accepted, it is supposed to share the curriculum with creationism, as if that — creation according to the Bible — is an alternative theory.

It is, of course, just a fancy term for the creation according to Genesis, a matter of religious belief and not scientific theory or fact. That can have its place, but not in the science curriculum.

The ongoing fight over evolution is an odd, and sad, one. There is nothing about Darwinian theory that cannot be ascribed to God — Darwin himself referred to “the Creator” in his The Origin of Species — and back when I was in college and studying evolution, my teacher began the semester by saying, behold the world of God or behold something else: It is entirely up to you.

Yet, 19 states, including Kansas, are considering proposals that would require schools to question evolution, which is nothing less than proposals to inject religion into the curriculum.

But why stop there? Why not introduce such skepticism into astronomy and have the sun revolve around the Earth or have the Earth stand still? These are questions that Clarence Darrow put to William Jennings Bryan at the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. Amazingly, they still linger.

They do so not just because, as Darwin himself conceded, there are holes in the theory of evolution, but because of an evolving political weakness in which intellectual honesty counts for less and less. Thus, you have political leaders from President Bush on down refusing to say whether they put any stock in evolution or believe, as apparently they think they should, that it is an affront and assault on religion.

Back in 1999, Bush was asked whether he was “a creationist” and he responded by not responding: “I believe children ought to be exposed to different theories about how the world started.”

In other words, it’s all the same: evolution, creationism and maybe something else from another religious tradition. This proves you can go to Yale and learn nothing — not about evolution, mind you, but about intellectual integrity.

Behold it.

To reach Richard Cohen, send e-mail

to cohenr@washpost.com.

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