10 August 2005

What's in a phrase?

"...the present diversity of living organisms, explained by the biological theory of evolution, or descent with modification of organisms from common ancestors."
"...the present diversity of living organisms, which the biological theory of evolution, or descent with modification of organisms from common ancestors, seeks to explain."

The two statements above are, at least superficially, very similar to each other. The phrasing isn't quite the same, and the second version is a bit more tentative than the first, but they say more or less the same thing. So why am I bringing this up?

The first statement is from an early version of the Kansas State Board of Education science standards; the second is from the draft that they just approved. And it's just one example of how the KSBOE is trying to cripple the teaching of evolution in their state.

Lest you think that I am reading too much into a small change in phrasing, look at this:
Patterns of Cumulative Change: Accumulated changes through time, some gradual and some sporadic, account for the present form and function of objects, organisms, and natural systems. The general idea is that the present arises from materials and forms of the past. An example of cumulative change is the formation of galaxies, explained by cosmological theories involving (among other theories) gravitation and the behavior of gasses, and the present diversity of living organisms, which the biological theory of evolution, or descent with modification of organisms from common ancestors, seeks to explain. The present position of the continents is explained by the theories of continental drift, which involves plate tectonic theory, fossilization, uplift and erosion. Patterns of cumulative change also help to describe the current structure of the universe. Although science proposes theories to explain changes, the actual causes of many changes are currently unknown (e.g. the origin of the universe, the origin of fundamental laws, the origin of life and the genetic code, and the origin of major body plans during the Cambrian explosion).

[all emphasis mine]

That's the full paragraph, which is found on page xiii of the draft standards (pdf at Kansas DoE). The boldfaced material highlights the changes in the final draft. The italics indicate how other theories are treated. Strangely, evolution is the only theory that "seeks to explain" - everything else is "explained by" a theory.

Some people, particularly those who are ideologically allied with the creationists on the Kansas BoE, might argue that all they are doing is trying to make it clear that the theory of evolution isn't perfect, and might not explain everything, and it's in the best interests of education to make this clear to students. They would never single out a theory for criticism just because some people object to it on religious grounds - they just want to teach the best and most up to date material possible.

Yet, strangely, this version of the standards still states that, "the formation of galaxies [is] explained by cosmological theories". According to NASA, the question of how galaxies formed is still under investigation. So why isn't this tagged with "seeks to explain"? Creationist whining notwithstanding, there is no doubt in the scientific community that the organisms we see in the world today are the all products of descent with modification. Evolution explains biodiversity. Astrophysicists are still seeking to explain how galaxies form.

The simple truth is that the Kansas BoE has singled out evolution for classroom criticism. The reason for this is clear. It makes those people who object to evolution on religious grounds very happy. Unfortunately, that is not why Kansas has a board of education and it is not why Kansas has educational standards. The BoE and the standards, in theory, are there to make sure that the students receive a good education. Unfortunately, in Kansas today that theory, unlike evolution, appears to be completely unsupported by the available evidence.


Anonymous Steven Poole said...

Good spot.
I noticed something else in the approved draft (Revised Draft two(c), July 12), which seems to me to be a smoking gun.

The preamble states "the Science Curriculum Standards do not include Intelligent Design" (page iv).

However, on page 79, we see this:
"Whether microevolution (change within a species) can be extrapolated to explain macroevolutionary changes (such as new complex organs or body plans and new biochemical systems which appear irreducibly complex) is controversial."

Note the appearance of the phrase "irreducibly complex", which as we know is not a scientific concept but simply code for Intelligent Design, as propagated by Behe and his fellows.

So the Science Standards document *does* in fact endorse ID, but lies about it.

Steven Poole

12:09 PM  

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