Science in Christian Perspective


Letter to the Editor

 

On Lessons from the Kansas Decision--Revisited

Keith B. Miller, ASA Fellow

1740 Fairview Ave., Manhattan, KS 66502

kbmill@ksu.edu

From: PSCF  52 (September 2000): 217-218.

This is a response to the News and Views article, "Lessons from the Kansas Decision" by Robert Newman (PSCF 52, no. 2 [June 2000]: 83-4). Despite the claim of Newman's article, the situation in Kansas is not the result of a conflict between naturalistic and theistic world views. Rather it is the consequence of the effort of a few to conform public education to their particular narrow religious and political views.

The 27-member committee appointed by the Kansas Board of Education to write the standards document was not some scientific elite of philosophical naturalists. Of the 27 members, all but one were current or past K-12 teachers, and many have made important contributions to advancing science education in Kansas. Most had well over ten years of teaching service in Kansas public schools, and the committee as a whole had over 400 years of combined in-class K-12 teaching experience! This dedicated group devoted over thirteen months to the writing of the standards. Their document went through several drafts and several rounds of public comment. Despite this work, the final document (fifth working draft) was rejected by the board and not even brought up for a vote. The portrayal of the work of these teachers, many of whom are committed Christians, as some effort by an atheistic elite to impose its will on Kansas children is an insult to these individuals.

Nowhere in the committee's document was evolution presented as a fact or as an ideological position. There were also several explicit statements with regard to teaching with tolerance and respect. The following is from the introduction: "Science studies natural phenomena by formulating explanations that can be tested against the natural world. Some scientific concepts and theories (e.g., blood transfusion, human sexuality, nervous system role in consciousness, cosmological and biological evolution, etc.) may conflict with a student's religious or cultural beliefs. The goal is to enhance understanding, and a science teacher has a responsibility to enhance student's understanding of scientific concepts and theories. Compelling student belief is inconsistent with the goal of education. Nothing in science or in any other field of knowledge shall be taught dogmatically."

Contrary to the implication of Newman's article, evolution was defined several times within the document. The twelfth-grade Benchmark: "Students will understand major concepts of biological evolution" included the following definitions:

Macroevolution has been defined as evolution above the species level; the evolution of higher taxa and the product of evolutionary novelties such as new structures (Mayr, 1991). Macroevolution continues the genetic mechanisms of microevolution and adds new considerations of extinction, rate and manner of evolution, competition between evolving units, and other topics relevant to understanding larger-scale evolution.

Further,

Microevolution has been defined as the process (mostly genetic) that operates at the population level: Natural selection, genetic drift, gene flow, and others. These processes may produce speciation, the splitting off of new reproductively isolated species.

Nowhere in the standards was evolution described as being an "unplanned, unsupervised, purposeless process." To imply otherwise is irresponsible.

The changes and deletions made in the document by the Kansas Board of Education majority went far beyond just removing references to macroevolution. For example, the entire twelfth grade benchmark on evolution mentioned above was removed, including its discussion of microevolution. The standards approved by the Board not only eliminated the theory of evolution as a model for understanding the history and diversity of life, it also eliminated cosmology (Big Bang), references to an ancient Earth, as well as discussion of resource depletion and global environmental issues such as global warming. These changes were made with the assistance and direct input of the Creation Science Association of Mid-America (CSAMA). They were all in accord with the young-Earth and anti-environmental positions held by CSAMA, and many were in fact taken verbatim from a document written by CSAMA members. A line-by-line comparison of the committee's draft 5 and the approved standards can be obtained at <http://www.kcfs.org/compare.html>. Those who would choose to take a public stand on this issue should at least take the time to actually read the two documents.

The Fordham Foundation, a respected conservative educational research institution, gave the standards passed by the Board the worst rating of any state in the country--a grade of "F" with a score of only 9 points out of 100. The Fordham report explained that the original standards document written by the 27-member committee "would have attained one of the highest ratings among the state standards reviewed." It then stated that "The State Board of Education gutted the document, removing almost every reference to the theoretical backbones of the sciences having historical content--astronomy, geology, and biology--and replacing some of the material with nonsense of a pseudoscientific bent."

In conclusion, I would warn evangelicals from grasping a conspiratorial view of the scientific and educational communities. Where individual scientists are promoting a naturalistic world view in the guise of science then challenge it, but support the vast majority of committed scientists and educators, many of whom are themselves committed believers, who have dedicated themselves to the scientific enterprise.

2000