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Science Standards Hearings

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years ago

Hearings on Kansas Science Education Standards

                              May, 2005

 

 

 


 

Introduction

Remember all the press last spring about the hearings taking place in Topeka and how the evolution scientists were boycotting a 'rigged' affair. I thought I'd never learn what actually happened. So was I supprised to find the transcripts on the KSDE website. Navigating to the PDF files is somewhat tricky so I am giving you direct links to the Science Standards Expert Testimony files. They are designated by the dates and are as follows:

 

 

May 5, 2005          http://www.ksde.org/outcomes/schearing05052005.pdf

May 6, 2005 AM     http://www.ksde.org/outcomes/schearing05062005am.pdf

May 6, 2005 PM     http://www.ksde.org/outcomes/schearing05062005.pdf

May 7, 2005 AM     http://www.ksde.org/outcomes/schearing05072005am.pdf

May 7, 2005 PM     http://www.ksde.org/outcomes/schearing05072005pm.pdf

May 7, 2005 PM     http://www.ksde.org/outcomes/schearing05122005.pdf

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Witnesses

    WILLIAM H. HARRIS, PhD

    CHARLES THAXTON, PhD

    JONATHAN WELLS, PhD

    BRUCE SIMAT, PhD

Direct Examination by Mr. Calvert

Cross Examination by Mr. Irigonegaray

Examination by Ms. Morris

Examination by Chairman Abrams

 

 

Commentary on the May 5th Transcript

Introduction and Background by Steve Abrams,Chair

 

On behalf of the State Board of Education, I welcome you to these hearings. My name is Steve Abrams, I am chair of the State Board of Education and also chair of the science subcommittee. My fellow board members with me here on the subcommittee are Mrs. Connie Morris, Mrs. Kathy Martin.

    The purpose of the hearings that will be held over the next several days is to assist us as board members in understanding the complex and oftentimes confusing issues regarding science education.

    A brief history of how we arrived at these hearings may be helpful. In June of last year a state-wide committee appointed by the Commissioner of Education and comprised of 26 public and private educators spanning 8 elementary, primary, secondary and post secondary levels, retired educators, curriculum coordinators, and private practice physicians began the process of reviewing and revising the state science standards.

    The writing committee met several times between June and November and presented a draft of the standards to the State Board in December 1 of 2004. At the same time eight members of the writing committee submitted what is now referred to as the Minority Report asking the State Board to consider some changes to the draft. Through much discussion at the state board subcommittee, the three of us, were formed to further examine the issues contained in the Minority Report. Also, after much discussion it was decided that the best forum to address the issues was via hearings, such as these we'll have over the next several days.

    In order to conduct the hearings in a reasonable time frame and in a civil matter there are a few house rules and procedures that you, the audience, and indeed all of us need to be aware of. First, we're on a very tight, tight schedule. We have more than 20 experts appearing before the subcommittee within the next three days, it is critical that we stay on schedule. In order to do this I request that no comments come from the audience. The expert witnesses have come from quite a distance to present their information, we should allow them every courtesy.

    We ask that you do not display signs of support or opposition by yelling, applause, and so forth. We would also ask that each of you turn off your cell phones, please. Each experts' testimony has been given an allotted amount of time as determined by the presenters. Following the expert's presentation the legal counsel for the opposing viewpoint will be given half that amount of time to ask questions. Following that we, the subcommittee members, will be given half of that time to ask questions. For example, if an expert testifies for 20 minutes, the opposing counsel will be given ten minutes for questioning and the subcommittee members will be given five minutes for questioning. The time for questions will be adhered to, therefore the questions should be succinct and not sound like a speech. We will take one ten-minute break this morning at 10:40, break for lunch at 12, resume at 12:55, with another ten-minute break at 3:30, and adjourn for the day at about 5:30.

    We'll follow the same schedule for the next two days and also on Thursday, May 12th. If you leave for the day we'd ask that you please give your name tag to the KSBE staff at tables outside the auditorium. Additionally, please note that Memorial Hall does not allow food or drink in the auditorium. We would ask that you kindly abide by this policy.

    Before we begin I'd like to make some introductions. Right here to my immediate right is Mr. Pedro Irigonegaray and Mr. Evan Kreider, they're legal counsel for the mainstream viewpoint. On the other side just facing me is Mr. John Calvert, legal counselfor the members who wrote the Minority Report, and assisting him is Doctor Bill Harris, and also Mr. Edward Sisson. Additionally, a court reporter is recording all of the proceedings and a transcript will be made available to the public at a later date. Thus, to those that are speaking, speak clearly. Also if she has problems, and she's going to notify us, we're going to ask you to slow down or to repeat and try not to talk on top of each other. I thank you for your interest in Kansas education.

 

Links to the precise text is above. The text below consists of excerpts that I hope provide a summary context of each witness dialogue. I have indicated in italics who is speaking. I will add comments in blue font as the spirit moves me. Please note that this is necessarily opinion!

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First Witness: Willaim H. Harris, PhD

 

Mr. Calvert... Also, Doctor Harris, who is our 08:37AM first witness, Doctor William Harris, will provide a brief overview as to what our witnesses will be expected to show to the public and to the committee. Doctor Harris.

 

Dr. Harris... Thank you all for having us here and for this hopefully very interesting three-day-- three, four days we're going to be sharing together. I want to begin by discussing what I think we would like to accomplish with these hearings, at least from our prospective. First of all, we hope to show that there is a scientific controversy over two major aspects of evolutionary theory. Chemical evolution that is the arrival of life from nonlife and macroevolution, which is the development of complex life forms from simple life forms. Those two issues, I think, are what's on the table.

    What's not on the table is what we call and many call microevolution, also part of Darwin's theory that species adapt to changes of environments by natural processes only in this occurrence within certain limits. The question is what are those limits. We anticipate demonstrating that there is really a scientific controversy.

    Secondly, we want to make the point that this controversy has profound implications for religion and philosophy. If this didn't have implications to religion this room would be far emptier today. Because it impacts religion and the reason that this issue does impact religion is because we're dealing with what we call origin science. Origins, the beginnings, where did things come from, where did we come from, where did life come from. These are issues which ever major religion in the world has a story to tell. They all have a perspective that's part of that faith.

    When the State, via public education, asserts an answer to that question from a scientific, or whatever, point of view they have entered a religious arena. They are offering an answer that may be in harmony, that may be conflict with religious issues,religious perspectives. And because of that we now have a religious issue being in the public education system. Now, I think part of our overall goal is to remove the bias of religion that is currently in schools.

    We have an obligation we think to teach origin science in the most neutral way possible without religious bias, without naturalistic, or philosophical bias and that way we can do the best science and end up neutral with respect to the constitution. In order to accomplish that we require that all the data that's relevant to-- the scientific data that's relevant to the issues of chemical evolution and macroevolution be put on the table. That the presentation of one side of that controversy data supporting one side of that controversy without presentation of data that's contradictory to that hypothesis is not scientifically acceptable and also bias for discussion. So in a word our hope is that at the end of these hearings we will be allowed to teach the controversy that does exist over origins.

    We will also remove tension that's present in classrooms across the state to varying degrees. Parents have perspectives, teachers have perspectives, children have perspectives, administrations have issues. And there is tension regarding this particular area like perhaps no other that needs to be resolved. And we think that our suggestion in the Minority Report will go a long way toward addressing that tension and allowing an open, evenhanded perspective on these issues.

    This is already-- the Kansas action actually is not the first to do this. Ohio a couple of years ago, the State of Ohio accepted standards for their public education that allowed critical evolution-- excuse me, critical analysis of the evolutionary theory. I would note that there still is bio-science alive and well in Ohio, despite that event. There are still graduate students in Ohio despite that.

    The Minority Report does not introduce religion into this discussion. This is not to introduce creationism. Creationism, of course, is a view of the fact the way it is traditionally held, a literal understanding of the first nine chapters of Genesis. That is not what we're interested in. I'm not interested in having a religious perspective applied to science education. I just want the data to speak as it speaks. To my view the data are not clearly in support of the naturalistic world view.

    The Minority Report does not mandate the teaching of Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design is not a code word for creationism. Teaching the arguments against evolution is not a code word for creationism. It is simply good science education. At this point, however, we do not think it's appropriate to mandate the teaching of Intelligent Design. It's a fairly new science, it's a modern science of Intelligent Design, it's a maturing science and perhaps in time it would be there, but at this point we think mandating it is inappropriate.

    We do not, on the other hand, think that it should be forbidden that every student teacher feels interested or wants to bring up the issue didactically in a science setting, that should be up to them and they should be allowed to do that, if they want to do that.

    The strategy of our opponents has been to mischaracterize our position and actually to malign some of us who were presenting that position. They have consistently and remarkably, in my mind, refused to engage in a discussion of the scientific substance of the issue. They continually avoid actually addressing the questions of the data regarding the origins of life experiments, the data regarding the difficulties, the actual-- in fact, it has never been shown that a single cell procreate can convert to a single cell ucreate. There is no mechanism known, but yet that is the theory, that is the way it is taught, in fact, in school. The evidence does not support it and it disturbs me that we do not discuss the science, all we discuss is people's opinions. And sometimes those of us who present in this position are characterized and labeled unfortunately.

    The fact that this hearing is not going to be six days again is remarkable to me because the-- our opponents have three days in which to spend to educate the citizenry of Kansas, to educate the Board on what the overwhelming evidence is for their position. They've chosen not to take that opportunity because in my view, this is just my opinion, they are concerned that when held to the light of public scrutiny it will be clear that the emperor is not very well dressed.

    Our opposition has chosen to fight this battle with name calling, ad hominem attacks instead of discussing science. Mr. Calvert, do you have a display I'd asked you to put up?

Reference to a copy of posting on the Internet.

    This is a posting on the Kansas Citizens for Science web site dated February 10th, 2005. It was written by Liz Craig, who is a member of that organization, and involves some of the public relation. It is a discussion with someone named Pat, who I don't know who that is. In this discussion she points out what the strategy-- she says, "My strategy at this point--" of course, Kansas Citizens for Science is the organization principally that's opposing our Minority Report. "My strategy at this point is the same as it was in that 1999. Notify the national and local media about what's going on and portray them," not the media, the opponents, "in the harshest light possible as political opportunists, as evangelical activists, as ignoramuses, as breakers of rules, as unprincipled bullies, et cetera," and I'm glad she stopped. "There may be no way to head off another science standards debacle, but we can sure make them look like asses as they do what they do. Our target is the moderates who are not that well educated about the issues." Not that well educated, we're talking about education here. "Most of whom probably are theistic evolutionists. There's no way to convert the creationists."

    Our witnesses will be in front of you the next few days and you will be able to see and hear for yourself and you will be able to judge. Are our witnesses political opportunists? I think not. They are advocating a point of view that about 80 percent of the public in the United States believes in. When polls have been taken about 80 percent of those responding favor a balanced view, teach both sides, present all the data. Now, this country is not 80 percent one political party or another, so that's got to include republicans and democrats. Is that me? Okay. So I don't think this is political opportunism. Are they evangelical activists? Well, some like myself do have a religious belief. All of us are descenters from Darwinism, some of us don't have religious beliefs. All of us are professional scientists who have really committed, as I think as most scientists are, to follow the evidence wherever it leads regardless of its religious implications. That is the crux of science. Are we ignoramuses? Well, you'll have to decide. Are we rule breakers? Well, yes, we are. In a sense we are rule breakers. We are willing to break the unwritten rule of science that says only natural explanations are allowed. The natural explanations are proven by scientific experiment to be inadequate and we are happy to break the rule and to follow the evidence where it goes. Are we nprincipled bullies? The dictionary definition of a bully is a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller and weaker people. Now, you may see some bullying these next few days, you'll have to decide who is doing the bullying.

Mr. Calvert Okay. What is it that caused you to develop a critical thinking about evolution, tell us.

Dr. Harris When I was in my graduate work I did my Ph.D. work at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, at that time, pretty much through college and through my graduate work I was agnostic. I grew up Presbyterian, but that didn't last past high school very well. And so when I got to college and undergraduate school I-- my faith lapsed rather quickly.

    Later on in graduate school I met a girl who I was interested in. She was interested in taking classes in the bible. I thought, well, I haven't really looked at the bible since I was a teenager, maybe I ought to look at it and maybe get a little better look at her as well and ended up marrying her 27 years ago. But through that experience I had, I think, a new look at Christianity and I became a Christian so my world view changed at that point. And although I was not in my particular-- in my research I was not doing anything that had to do with evolution, I was studying really what almost all scientists study, which is what I call operational science, how does the world operate today, how does it work. Not where did it come from, but how does it work. In that work I had no need for evolutionary theory or paradigm, so it never really occurred to me to think about it. But when my world view changed I started getting interested in looking.

    So I think my change caused me to get interested in the topic of origins and I started reading about it and began to see that the-- what I thought was good evidence because everybody believed it was tremendous leaps of faith that were being taken in the absence of scientific data. And it began to strike me as this is not the way you do science. When you don't know, you say you don't know. You don't make up a story and say that's the way it was. And so, you know, you start to get mad a little bit when you see people messing with science.

    In my own field in omega-3 I have that same issue. People that I think misrepresent the data to have it say what it does not say. So that's how I became interested mid '70s, late '70s and didn't really do anything with

23 it, read some books became more engaged in the early '90s when I read Phillip Johnson's book "Darwin on Trial", then I read Mike Behe's book, "The Biochemical Challenge to Darwinian Evolution", I found that compelling and it made less sense. And here we are.

Mr. Calvert What was it about Phil Johnson's book that pricked your interest?

Dr. Harris He-- I think he-- for me he made it very clear that the science has become a naturalistic philosophy. What I thought science was was simply the unbridled search for the truth using objective means, experiments, hypotheses, the things we all know is science. But it became clear when it came to this area of Darwinian evolution, particularly chemical evolution, macroevolution, those two big pieces of evolutionary theory, that there was a tremendous lack of data and the stories were driven by a philosophy that said everything had to have a natural explanation, you can't let anything non natural get in. And I said we don't know that, we don't know that's the truth and so it makes sense to me that you'd say we don't know as Johnson points out in the academy at higher levels of the universities, et cetera, that this is taken as dogma and dogmas have no place in science in my mind.

Mr. Calvert Is there a name for that bias?

Dr. Harris The fancy name is methodological naturalism. And I have never counted the syllables, but I don't want to say it again. I'll just call it naturalism. Basically it's the use of-- the way it's typically presented is that scientists use the methods of natural investigation. They don't invoke spiritual forces to account for what they observe in the world, they look for natural causes. And that's fine to look for natural causes, but when you don't find any natural causes it's time to fess up and say we don't know instead of saying there was a natural cause, we don't know what it was, we have faith that's what happened.

    So methodological naturalism really puts blinders, I think, on the search for truth, particularly-- particularly in the area of origin science.

Mr. Calvert Why in the area of origin science?

Dr. Harris Because that's a historical science. It doesn't get much more historical than billions of years ago. Nobody was there to know what happened. Nobody watched it. We cannot say with any certainty how anything came to be.

    They have every experiment particularly in the origin of life field where they attempted to use, quote, natural environments to produce even some of the simplest chemicals of life. They consistently failed. Since the 1950s they have failed and failed and failed and failed and yet they are still in the textbooks presented as the plausible explanation for how life arose. But those experiments have failed. Dishonest in my view to portray failures in the laboratory as successes in the textbook. So methodological naturalism forces that view, in my understanding.

Mr. Calvert Does it effectively-- how does it affect the testimony of the evolutionary claim?

Dr. Harris You can't test the evolutionary claim because there's only one answer. In historical science you have to have at least two possible explanations for what you're trying to explain. How did that happen in the past? You have looked for clues that are left over in the present, recognizing-- and you should recognize that you may not have all the relevant clues in the present to make your decision about what happened in the past. The clues you may have are going to be incomplete; therefore, your conclusion about what happened has got to be tentative. And, again, you generally have two competing hypotheses to explain what happened. Again, we're talking about origins, where things came from. And if you have-- then you look to see which the data supports better. That's the way it typically goes. Of course, there could be a third hypothesis you didn't even think of that is the truth, then you would have missed it.

    So if you have a naturalistic point of view in applying to historical sciences, you immediately eliminate the other option that some-- what we would now call nonnatural process was involved. And we don't know that's the case. But if you assume that from the beginning you know where you're going to end up before you even start. And, again, that's a philosophical restrictor around science-- historical science. I don't think this is appropriate.

Mr. Calvert How does that-- you explained how the rule which affects the scientific conclusions, how does it affect the religious issue?

Dr. Harris If you only have one solution allowed to the question of where did we come from and the answer to that question is, in broad strokes, we came by some naturalistic undirected, unguided process that essentially is an accident. This has been clarified by Jacquest Monud, the Noble Prize winner, says man has to understand he is merely an accident.

    Now, I understand that many of us in this room may be accidents, but not in the sense he was talking about. That view is a naturalistic world view that presumes that undirected,unplanned causes were at work from the very beginning and what we have here today on earth is simply luck acted upon by law. It's just-- we're just lucky to be here. It's just a chance thing.

    Now, that, of course, is an explanation for origins, where we came from, that I said religious-- you know, every religion has a statement about, has a view about. They're not all the same of course, but they all weigh in on that issue. And if science weighs in with a-- one perspective only, based on a philosophy that says it had to be by natural processes, otherwise it's not science, then they're presenting data that's, I think, philosophically driven, not scientific and data driven. And so that's a problem and you run into an immediate religious conflict.

 

Dr. Harris provides a background of how he has become involved with the Science Standards.

 

Dr. Harris .... And we began hammering through science standards and found that we really had quite a congenial time of it most of the time until we hit some rocky areas and this particular area here. I'd say probably 95 percent of the standards we were in absolute harmony. It's this particular issue of origins and how it's to be presented has been a sticky point...

    ... Over several meetings we found that we agreed on how the origins ought to be presented and saw that we were a minority so we just began having discussions about how we can-- what proposals we can bring to the table that would correct what we think were the deficiencies in the science standards as they were being proposed by the majority. So that's really how we came to be and we continued through that...

    ... So the-- what we now call the Minority Report, at the time it was originally submitted we didn't know if it was a minority or not, but now we know it is. That report is simply a collation of the specific pages out of the draft science standards that we would like to see changes in-- specific wording that we would like to see changes in and we just put that all together in one document and called it the Minority Report and submitted it to the Board for their consideration...

    ... my colleagues put into motion on the floor a motion to discuss formally at the committee level all the proposals that we've been circulating. For procedural reasons the chair ruled that out of order and did not-- we did not get a vote on the Minority Report. The report-- at that point we had hoped to be able to find out if there were others that shared our views, but without a vote we really couldn't know.

    ... So eventually at the next meeting we went through it step by step and-- at the urging of, I think, this committee and discovered that, yes, indeed in several of the cases we were a minority; some of the things we recommended were accepted...

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Mr. Calvert Doctor Harris, would you-- we heard about Intelligent Design and it's discussed in this debate and although the Minority Report does not propose that that concept be taught or tested, it is relevant because the Minority

Report suggests that it is an idea that should not be prohibited? Would you explain why you believe-- what it is that you believe should not be prohibited?

Dr. Harris Well, what is basically Intelligent Design? Well, I guess at it's core, the way that Iwould describe it, is sort of by contrast. In my view, and I think this is true, evolution really is a claim-- evolutionary theory or Darwinian evolutionary theory is a claim that all the apparent design in life, and most everybody recognizes that things look like they're designed, but that it is only apparent, that it is only an illusion, that really law and luck, chance and chemical interactions are really responsible for all this what looks like design, but it really isn't design. A design has intent and purpose and it's put together in forethought. That's a long definition.

    Intelligent Design is simply a scientific disagreement with that respect.

Mr. Calvert And what's the disagreement based on?

Dr. Harris There's a tremendous amount of data in scientific literature, particularly in biochemistry, but also in cosmology and many other places, that points-- that has identified I think certainly since 1953 when DNA-- the code was cracked by Watson and Crick, what they-- Watson and Crick discovered was a code. They discovered a code. Every other code in the world that we know of came from a mind. To conclude that DNA at some level somewhere originally came from a mind is not an irresponsible deduction from the data.

    When we look at some of the biochemical machines that are in cells and some of our witnesses will attest to this and maybe even show some pictures and how we understand that some of these fantastically complex machines that work inside the simplest cell, we can see them now, we understand them now. The advanced and modern molecular biology has shown us a world that can only be explained, in my view, by depositing some kind of plan in a direction. I don't know who did it. I don't know how it was done. I don't know why it was done. I don't have to know any of that stuff to detect design.

     If I walked into my garage today and I found a six-foot bacterial flagellin laying there and spinning at 100,000 RPM I would have no idea what it was, but maybe my weed whacker going nuts, but I would have no question in my mind it was a designed object. I would just have no idea what it was. You can infer design just by examining something without knowing anything about where it came from.

Mr. Calvert Does an inference of design entail a belief in a supernatural?

Dr. Harris Of course not. Of course not. Everything you see in this room was designed by an intelligence for a purpose, that's not supernatural. We're talking about-- where supernatural comes into it is when we're talking about prehistory, origins, where did we come from. As far as we know there wasn't any intelligence there. So in that situation you don't know if there was intelligence involved by direct observation. All you can do is look at the effects of what were left behind. In the same way that an archaeologist finds a stone and says is this a tool or is it a rock.

     They're looking for an inference to design based on the data without knowing anything about the originator of that artifact. The same way in biology, bringing that same thinking mentality into biology when we find what looked like designed objects. To me the onus is on those who would say it is not designed, let me show you how that can happen by data, by scientific experiment let me show you how that can happen without any plan.

     That's great. When I see the data I'll believe it. Until that happens the onus is on them to show us, otherwise all natural inferences should be made.

Mr. Calvert Will science ever be able-- from a scientific standpoint ever be able to prove that life was designed or not designed?

Dr. Harris No. You can't prove anything that happened in history. You can only find the inference to your-- the best explanation you got and hold it tentatively. If all the data in the world went that direction, it still would not prove that's what happened.

Mr. Calvert So ID is simply a scientific inference that competes against another one?

Dr. Harris Right.

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I stop here. Page 0047. The transcript is much longer! I've just run out of time for now!

 

 

 

 

To be continued

  • July 26, 2006
  • Sorrells

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