From the KC Star:
Kansas' evolution debate will play out in a 10-day, courtroom-style hearing this spring, with experts from both sides testifying before a school board panel.
On trial is the theory of evolution, and the verdict could go a long way in determining the science curriculum taught in state schools.
Evolution critics want school curriculum to include alternatives, or at least challenges, to the theory.
Hearing dates are not yet set. The public may attend the hearings but will not be allowed to speak.
A three-member Board of Education subcommittee will hold the hearings and report its findings to the full board before members vote on the science standards.
Proponents of the idea of intelligent design say the hearing will give them an opportunity to show the evolution's weaknesses, and why alternatives to the theory should be taught too.
The big problem I have with most of these discussions is that they are usually framed in shockingly arrogant and ignorant ways.
For example, what do we mean when we refer to the theory of evolution? The fact is people are often referring to very different things. To me evolution is the "change over generations in a gene pool and its population of phenotypes." It is within this change that the processes for natural selection and random mutation play out. And at the level of genotypes (the actual genetic makeup of organisms) and phenotypes (the morphological, physiological and behavioral attributes of organisms) "evolutionary theory" is staggeringly well supported by the evidence.
However, for many, evolution does not remain at the level of genotypes and phenotypes. Because the theory works so well at the genotype/phenotype level many take it that some analagous process must be working at other levels. Depending on what exactly we are talking about, this idea can be more or less compelling or plausible. It has certainly led to some downright silly speculation, such as E.O. Wilson & Charles Lumsden's postulation of a "culturgen" as a base unit of "cultural evolution." It has also led to scientists assuming (I use the word deliberately) that evolution has greater explanatory powers than it actually possesses.
Take the case of Dr. Michael Behe and his argument in Darwin's Black Box. Dr. Behe's basic point is that the evolutionary models presented to explain many biochemical processes are seriously lacking. He's right, they are. In many instances they are non-existant. "Don't worry," evolutionary purists tell us, "Even if we don't know how these biochemical processes could have evolved, we are safe in assuming they did evolve." What Dr. Behe asked is "Why is it safe to assume that?" There has been no satisfactory answer from the "evolution is everything" camp to that question. One trouble lies in the underlying complexity of the biochemical processes involved. This complexity is often used by the "evolution is everything" camp to explain why no competent account of biochemical evolution has heretofor been produced. "It's just too difficult!" they exclaim. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't (Dr. Behe has his doubts), but that still doesn't answer the question as to what scientific principle allows you to take an explanatory theory from one level of analysis and assume it works at another level.
For example, Newtonian physics works just fine at the level of ordinary human life. Alright, now let's assume that you just scale Newtonian physics up to universal size. It still works fine, right? No, it doesn't still work fine. Ultimately new theoretical frameworks had to be created to handle this fact. The same thing happens if you scaled down physics to the sub-atomic particle scale. Does the failure of Newtonian physics to scale up (or down) invalidate the law of gravity on a human scale? Of course not. And were we to find out that evolutionary processes do not play out at the biomolecular level would that then invalidate evolutionary theory at the genotype/phenotype level? Of course not. Yet the "evolution is everything" club act as if it would. That is simple fear mongering, not science.
The KC Star article also says:
Intelligent design is the idea that a higher power has directed life's development.
This statement is misleading. Proponents of ID such as Behe do not argue that evolution does not take place at the level of the genotype/phenotype. To simply lump them in with the creationist crowd is intellectually dishonest.
The controversy over evolution is “the big dog on the porch … the 800-pound gorilla,” said board Chairman Steve Abrams, of Arkansas City, who also leads the subcommittee. Abrams said the hearings could be “useful and enlightening” to everyone in the state.
Topics will include how to teach evolution, its validity as a theory and the definition of science.
But supporters of current standards say the hearings could make Kansas the laughingstock of the nation, much as in 1999, when the board voted to de-emphasize evolution in the state's curriculum, leaving the decision to teach evolution up to local districts. Supporters also worry that the hearings will favor rhetoric over hard science, especially before a panel that is critical of evolution.
“The perception among many of my colleagues is this is rigged,” said Steve Case, a University of Kansas research scientist who leads the state science curriculum committee. “I have a terrible fear for Kansas that this could be portrayed as a Scopes trial.”
Case was referring to the 1925 trial of Tennessee high school teacher John Scopes, who was charged with breaking the law by teaching evolution.
Case, asked by the committee to find scientists to defend evolution, said he wasn't sure he could find people who would submit to the hearings.
I wish the reporter had asked the begged for follow up question at this point. You can't find biologists to speak at the state's science curriculum committee meeting? Why? Isn't Kansas paying the salaries of dozens of them at state Universities? Is rubbing elbows with religiously minded people really that odious? What gives?
Thursday's hearing brought out about 150 residents, mostly from Manhattan, Topeka and Lawrence. They represented the diversity of the debate: defiant creationists and unapologetically secular professors, as well as Christian evolutionary biologists, scientists who reject the theory and professors who worry new standards would disadvantage students in an increasingly high-tech society.
I've heard such statements in the past that not teaching kids evolution in high school would somehow "disadvantage" them and it has always struck me as being a completely vacuous argument. The only "disadvantage" I can see is not knowing what evolution really is, and it seems that this "disadvantage" could be remedied by 30 minutes of reading by a college student. There are hundreds of evangelical high schools in this country that are not teaching evolution as a matter of course, but I've yet to see a single study pointing out that those kids are unable to finish college because they have been "disadvantaged" by not being taught evolution in high school.
I don't hold with creationism. It is a theory, if such it can be called, that cannot withstand serious scrutiny. Intelligent Design, at least as Dr. Behe proposes it, can stand up to scrutiny, and will until the evolutionists can produce verifiable evidence to the contrary.
What should this mean for schools? Well, I honestly do not have a problem with schools not teaching evolution in public high schools if people are morally offended by it. I seriously doubt that any meaningful knowledge of evolutionary theory is being imparted by curriculums today in any event. I also do not think that ID can be effectively taught to the average high school aged person. Creationism should never even be considered.
I guess I'm wondering if shoving evolution down the throats of evangelical christians is really a goal worthy of this much time, money and energy. I tend to doubt it.