Transcript: Evolution and Creationism in Focus
Why Evolution Must Not Be Ignored
Steve Case is a member of the Kansas Science Education Standards Writing Committee and helped draft the proposed educational guidelines on evolution which the board rejected. Case was online August 27, 1999, to take questions on the school board's controversial decision.
Case currently directs the Kansas Collaborative Research Network (KanCRN). He has been a biology and student naturalist teacher for 20 years at various high schools in the Olathe school district. In addition to his educational duties, Case also worked at Genentech - Protein Engineering during 1995-1996.
Good morning, and thanks for joining us today. This is the third and final chat we'll be having on the Kansas evolution decision. (Transcripts of the other two are hyperlinked in the left-hand column.)
With us today is biologist Steve Case who helped write the evolution education standards which were rejected by the Kansas state school boards. Thank you for joining us today, Steve. Let's get started with our first question.
Chevy Chase, MD: Why are you promoting the teaching of an unproven theory.
Steve Case: Evolutionary theory is significant in biology, among other reasons, for its unifying properties and predictive features, the clear empirical testability of its integral models and the richness of new scientific research it fosters. Science teaching should accurately reflect discipline it is teaching. In Science Education, the role of unifying theory is to connect otherwise disconnected “facts”. Evolutionary theory allows learns to have a broad picture so that as the learner discovers new information they can understand how it fits in and is connected to what they already know. This is an important process to really learning as opposed to memorizing. Learning in this way is very empowering to students.
Baltimore, MD: The last few days have been difficult because it seems to me that the creationists invited for discussion here refuse to contemplate, or even accept, diverse points of view. How will this intellectual one-sidedness effect high school students? Also, how do you believe an immenent absence of discourse on the science behind evolution will impact high school students, especially those who plan to attend university.
Steve Case: The most damaging thing is that students will develop a warped view of scientific reasoning. Not a theories in science have equal weight and presenting these has "equal" alternatives would be wrong.
Washington, DC: Isn' the existence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria a good example of how evolution works on a daily basis?
Steve Case: In biotechnology we often use directed evolution to get our work done. This requires a clear view of how evolution works. The quick life span of bacteria make them a good example of evolution in process. Most of the creationists we are dealing with do not really dispute what they call micro-evolution. They do not like the idea of new species emerging. They would not argue with the bacteria example since they classify it as micro-evolution.
Ft. Washington, MD: Why is the theory of creationism such a threat to the theory of evolution?
Steve Case: It is not! Creationism is a religious explaination. Evolution is science. Creationism becomes pseudoscience when people of faith need to "prove" their faith with the process of science. The danger comes when pseudoscience is passed off on the general public as science.
Alexandria, VA: Are you satisfied with the response of the science community to the Kansas decision, or do you feel more needs to be done?
Steve Case: The reaction has been overwhelming. I do not think that the State Board of Education anticipated this level of responce. However, they do not respect any scientific authority and tend to reject the expert information that has been given to them.
Centreville, VA: Can you tell us exactly what the Kansas State School Board voted upon recently? There seems to be confusion as to what they require to be taught, don't allow to be taught, or what they give the teachers the option to teach. Also, just to be clear, this is not a law passed by the Kansas legislature, right? How does state law mesh with what the school board has done?
Steve Case: After Version 4 of the our writing process, Steve Abrams, a State School Board member, went off on his own wrote his own set of standards with the help of several young earth creationists. These standards represent the view of a fringe group that has expressed their dislike for science, scientists and a good liberal arts education. This version was not a legitimate set of standards but they were clearly a political strategy. This version of standards by Dr. Abrams and company was clearly illegal to teach in a public school. It represented nothing more then the views of this fringe group. This document was introduced so that a defacto subcommittee of three board members could create their own document and claim it was some kind of middle ground. This document is clearly not any kind of middle ground and they are again, lying to the public. Let me be specific. The members of the subcommittee were self-appointed and not authorized by the entire board. The members of the defacto subcommittee are not qualified to write science standards. The science standards they drafted seem to include copyright infringements that they have not addressed. The standards they drafted include an appendix that is the work of the same fringe group that wrote Dr. Abrams first set of standards. The three board members on the subcommittee assure us that “the documents are 95% the same”. I am holding nine pages that summarize the changes and differences between the two documents. Let me emphasize that these documents are fundamentally different. In an attempt to mislead the public, some have tried to turn this into a debate about origins, evolution and creationism, but this is only a part of an assault on science and any knowledge gained by science. The subcommittee’s document reflects an utter misunderstanding of the nature of science, with significant deletions from the earth sciences, significant changes in scientific understandings of physics and chemistry, and of course the deletion of evolution. Evolution is good example of what they have done in that it is a unifying concept of the life sciences and yet it asks students to understand the life sciences without it. Evolution is only one example of these changes and you are welcome to a copy of all these changes. Many of the other deletions have the same impact on other disciplines and should not be ignored in the emotional debate on origins. These standards will be followed by a State Science Assessment. This assessment can have an impact on school ranking and funding. The idea that their is local control is another lie.
Mt. Rainier MD: It seems that Kansas has caved in to a very small religious minority. Most Christian sects have no problem with the theory of evolution - or with the earth orbiting the sun either! It's frightening to see how a small but vocal group can dictate public policy for the rest of us, and consign a whole group of kids to ignorance regarding a common scientific thought.
Steve Case: The takeover occured in Kansas because of low voter turnout. My representive to the State Board was elected with a 12 vote margin of victory! Kansas has always worked very hard to keep politics out of education, that is why we have an independent School Board. However we now have people who have forgotten education in the promotion of a political agenda.
Georgetown, Washington DC: I am a United Methodist and a geology major. I believe in creation as a religious metaphore and evolution as science. Given that most major religous groups do not see evolution and creation in conflict, and support evolution education, how is possible that the KS board reached this decision? Were these religious groups caught off guard or were their opinions not considered?
Steve Case: I do not believe that most people have a hard time integrating their religious and scientific views. This small group reqires proof of their faith. They come from many religious points of view, sometimes in conflict the the stated view of thier group.
Reston, VA: Can you please compare the level of direct evidence that is currently available for macro-evolution to other major scientific theories, such as relativity and quantum physics, which are both accepted as fact despite their incompatibility. Is there a different level of proof required for evolution?
Steve Case: The evidence is overwhelming for speciation. In the last 20 years in particular many evidence "holes have been filled. The talk-origins web site has a very long list of researc articles on human evolution and the National Center for Science Education also has a long list of articles. Even Time magazine did a nice job of presenting evidence last week. The lists are long enough and common enough that I cannot produce them here ( most because of time) which goes to your second question. All science is based and driven on theoritical understandings. Evoltion has 140 years of developing evidence ranging from molecular biology to fossils but it is not enough. I frequently hear that there is no evidence of transitional species but I have a pretty good example of a transitional species fossil sitting here on my desk.
Gainesville, Va.: Why is theory developed with an evolution bias considered science and a theory based on a Genesis account of origins -Creation Science- not. Just because Creation is used as the bias does not mean the theories are not scientific
Steve Case: Science is not teleological and creationism is. The accepted processes of science do not start with a conclusion, then refuse to change it, or acknowledge as valid only those data that support an unyielding conclusion. Science does not base theories on an untestable collection of dogmatic proposals. Theory is not a guess or an approximation but an extensive explanation developed from well-documented, reproducible sets of experimentally-derived data from repeated observations of natural processes. Theory built on this large body of existing evidence is then tested through the processes of science by asking questions, proposing hypotheses, and designing empirical models and conceptual frameworks for research. The models and the subsequent outcomes of a scientific theory are not decided in advance, but are modified and improved as new evidence is uncovered. Science is a constantly self-correcting endeavor to understand nature and natural phenomena.
Springfield, VA: After all these events have taken place in Kansas, what do you think the future holds in teaching the theory of evolution, not only in Kansas, but nationwide?
Steve Case: Evolution is a fairly accurate picture of how this part of the natural world works. Reality has a way of winning out in the long run.
Just a note to say that we're roughly halfway through our discussion with Steve Case. Please continue to submit your questions.
Hi Steve, I'm a former editor at the National Science Teachers Association, and i've seen first-hand how teachers are affected by the creationist movement.
Steve Case: It is an interesting question as to how we should deal with the belief systems of many groups within the school system. For instance, should Christian Scientists be forced to take health classes? I think that the best we can do is reflect the best science in our classes and do the best possible science education. The beliefs of religious groups should not influence the science classroom. If students are struggling to integrate their world views then they will need an accurate picture of what science is if they are to do it.
Baltimore,Maryland: Do you believe in a personal creator? Do you believe in an afterlife?
Steve Case: My beliefs are irrelevant to my work in science or my science teaching.
Silver Spring, Maryland: How do you get past the emotional appeal of "Creation Science" and foster an objective discussion when trying to explain the scientific shortcomings of that position?
Steve Case: I do not want to be in the position in a science class of debunking a students belief system. Also this kind of discussion of "bad" science would not be productive and I suspect, illegal. In Epperson v. Arkansas (1968), the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1928 Arkansas law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in state schools. In McLean v. Arkansas (1982), the federal district court invalidated a state statute requiring equal classroom time for evolution and creationism. Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) led to another Supreme Court ruling against so-called "balanced treatment" of creation science and evolution in public schools. In this landmark case, the Court called the Louisiana equal-time statute "facially invalid as violative of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, because it lacks a clear secular purpose." This decision-"the Edwards restriction"-is now the controlling legal position on attempts to mandate the teaching of creationism: the nation's highest court has said that such mandates are unconstitutional.
I see it as dangerous to think that any attack on evolution is pseudoscience.
Steve Case: I do not think that any attack on evolution is pseudoscience. THIS attack on evolution is. I am very aware of the motivation and intent of the people involved.
Steve Case: The fossil record, which includes abundant transitional forms in diverse taxonomic groups, establishes extensive and comprehensive evidence for organic evolution. Radiometric and other dating techniques, when used properly, are highly accurate means of establishing dates in the history of the planet and in the history of life. And yes the tend to ignore evidence.
Oh my goodness. You say that your beliefs are "irrelevant" to your work as a scientist. Fair enough. Standing alone, that -should- be true. But we don't live in a perfect world. Surely you would not claim to be free from bias. Are you saying that your most dearly held convictions do not affect your work? I find that rather hard to believe.
Steve Case: - My beliefs are very motivating to my behavior. My teaching and work are based on my belief system. My behavior is different then my research work. I need to be aware of biases when I analyze data and to the best of my ability make sure that my interruptions are not based on my biases but on the data. If I fail that that my colleagues will correct my mistakes in the peer-review process of scientific review.
Washington DC: Are you aware of other states where the same groups that pushed for this decision may be at work?
Steve Case: This agenda is occuring across the country and since it is political and not scientific or educational, I think every state is at risk for this anti-science movement.
Sterling, VAf: Is public opinion of science marred by a publicly perceived atheism in the scientific community? If so, what can be done to negate this effect?
Steve Case: If I had any idea how to change public opinion I probibly would not be in this mess :)
Alexandria, VA: Since Kansas won't be teaching evolution, then what will the students be learning? And based on whose teaching?
Steve Case: The Science Teachers in Kansas are very well organized and have been working for a long time to improve science education. I think they will be very active in fighting off this effort however I cannot predict how successful they will be. Curriculum decision are made at the local level so I do not reall know how local districts will respond.
waldorf, md: if evolution is true, then why have we never seen an ape have a human baby? why are there no cromagnon men walking this earth? has evolution stopped working? where's the evidence of modern day fish growing legs and walking onto dry land? if prehistoric fish did it, shouldn't some modern day fish somewhere be observed evolving?
Steve Case: Your understandings of biology, reproduction, and evolution are so misconstruted that it would take an entire biology course to straighten out the misperceptions in your questions.
Cushing, OK: What would you say is the single most potent flaw in the case for macroevolution and what is the single most potent flaw in the case for design-creation?
Steve Case: The case for macroevolution has been made, over and over again. Most researc is now looking into the details. As we learn more about specific gene expression we continue to work out increasingly specific details. Theory in science is not a belief systems with a case to be made. Theory is not a guess or an approximation but an extensive explanation developed from well-documented, reproducible sets of experimentally-derived data from repeated observations of natural processes. Theory built on this large body of existing evidence is then tested through the processes of science by asking questions, proposing hypotheses, and designing empirical models and conceptual frameworks for research. The models and the subsequent outcomes of a scientific theory are not decided in advance, but are modified and improved as new evidence is uncovered. Science is a constantly self-correcting endeavor to understand nature and natural phenomena. Finding a single case flaw in this process is not what we do with theory. Theory drive research, the more productive theory drives lots of research and influences everything from general understanding of nature to technology apllications. The flaw with design creation is that it is not a theory and has not added anything to the understanding of nature or to the progress of understanding nature. Creation by a creator would be a miracle and therefore be a one time exception to nature. This is why science may appear to conflict with other ways of knowing about the universe, unfortunately leading some groups to see selected theories of science as a threat to their belief systems. This is not the case: science does not, in fact cannot, explain or judge nonscientific issues or supernatural belief systems. These attempts, which commonly result from a misunderstanding of the nature of science itself, have no place in science or in the science classroom or laboratory.
Steve Case: Thank you all for the challenge. I have not had this much fun since my oral exams! The arguements in this area are often complex and quite specific. It is clear to me as a science educator that we need to achieve a much higher level of communication between what is going on in science and the general public. I look forward to this task.
washingtonpost.com: Unfortunately time has run out for our discussion. Thanks to all who participated and especially to Steve Case who stayed on a few minutes longer to answer the very good questions you sent in.
We hope that this series of discussions on evolution, creationism, religion and science has been interesting and thought-provoking.
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