An insider's view of the Kansas hearings

In an article on AlterNet, plant breeder Stan Cox gives an eyewitness account of the Kansas Board of Education hearings on the proposed statewide science standards (hat tip: Panda's Thumb).

His questions and answers from the board members are the most informative part:

But it will be teachers and administrators, not university professors, who determine what actually happens in Kansas public schools under the new standards -- and the pro-ID members of the state Board of Education do not appear to be so circumspect when it comes to religion. During an intermission, I asked board member Kathy Martin whether, as Menuge suggested, a teacher should cut off discussion of the designer's identity.
"Oh, no," she said. "If a student wants to have that conversation, there's nothing wrong with the teacher discussing that. It's all about the students' needs, and as you know, they have a lot of needs these days. I was a teacher myself. If, say, a student's puppy has been run over by a car, the student and I might pray about it together, privately. It's not about religion -- it's about helping the student."
Connie Morris, another pro-ID school board member, told me, "No, we can't mandate intelligent design or creationism in the school standards. But as the fellow from Ohio said, we have to let students go where the evidence leads. I'll give you an example. Did you know there is evidence now that prayer is beneficial in treating cancer?" I asked if teachers should be able to teach about that. Morris, her eyes brightening, said, "Absolutely!"

Can evolution exist in the classroom in a way that is not antagonistic to faith? Certainly it can, as evidenced by letter signed by thousands of clergy members. But not every kind of faith is compatible with Earth's history as uncovered by science:

Irigonegaray's second and third questions went to the core of what ID proponents call "the controversy." He asked each witness if she or he agreed that life as we see it today is the result of "common descent" (that is, that species evolve from other species through purely natural causes) and that humans are descended from pre-hominid ancestors. Eleven of 13 witnesses rejected both statements, with varying degrees of force.

It is really a small subset of religious beliefs that conflict with scientific knowledge of the Earth. If you believe that our planet originated within the past 10,000 years, then there is no adequate presentation of evolution that will be consistent with that belief. If you believe that humans were ther result of a special creation, and bear no relationship to other animals, then evolution cannot satisfy your belief. As long as our schools educate children who have been raised under these beliefs, there will be a conflict in the classroom.

The strategy of ID proponents and other supporters of creationism is to maximize the contradiction; to show that evolution is atheistic and therefore necessarily antagonistic to religion. The best strategy for evolutionists is clearly to continue to emphasize the lack of contradiction with most religions, while maximizing the value of understanding the scientific principles underlying the study of the Earth's history.

The last post on the Niobrara formation has me thinking: wouldn't it be great if a lesson plan for Kansas high schools covered the geological history of several of the state's regions? The Niobrara itself covers a lot of oil, which has a great economic importance for the state, especially with today's rising oil prices. That oil got there because of the deposit of a lot of ancient organisms; ditto for the coal fields of southeastern Kansas. Most of Kansas bears the marks of ancient seas, from the salt deposits outside Hutchinson to the Cambrian limestones under the Flint Hills. Much later, people came and lived on the land, first using the flint from those limestones and trading them around the Midwest; later finding the other resources. So human history and paleontological history meet and intersect in the lives of today's Kansans. But what proportion of Kansas high school students can tell you about this history?

Recent posts on the hearings:

Has anybody read the proposed Kansas science standards?

Intelligent design "a sterile philosophy"

Back to the drawing board?

"The Pseudoscience of Intelligent Design