February 8, 2001 Letter Urging KS Board to Keep Naturalism Out

IDnet responds to the Science Standards Writing Committee

February 8, 2001

Board of Directors
Kansas State Board of Education
120 SE 10th Avenue
Topeka, Kansas 66612-1182

Re: Our proposed revisions to the Sixth Draft of the Kansas Science Education Standards contained in our letter dated January 5, 2001 (Proposed Revisions”) and the January 30, 2001 Response (the “Response”) of the Science Standards Writing Committee (the “Committee”).

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Following the meeting on January 9, 2001, we submitted our Proposed Revisions to two groups of scientists, educators, lawyers and philosophers for comment. We also sought written endorsements from those who wished to state that they “generally agree with the substance of the Revisions.” To date we have received 104 written responses, including responses from the three authors. All but two of those responses reflect general agreement with the substance of the Revisions without further qualification. The two other responses favor the Revisions but were qualified in minor respects. We received no negative responses.

The 104 endorsements included endorsements issued by 58 persons holding one or more doctoral degrees, 14 holding terminal master’s degrees and 27 holding terminal bachelor’s degrees. Fifteen of the doctoral degrees were granted in the fields of biological sciences (biology, biochemistry, molecular biology, neurobiology, microbiology, plant pathology and zoology), eight in medicine, eight in law, six in chemistry, five in physics, 4 in philosophy, two in mathematics, two in education, including science education, two in psychology, one each in astronomy, oceanography, history of science and engineering, and two in other fields. The 14 masters and 27 bachelor terminal degrees were granted in a wide range of fields, including four in geology and earth sciences.

The endorsers are employed or retired from employment as college professors (34), research scientists (9), attorneys (6), physicians and health care professionals (8), K-12 school teachers (9), business or technical managers or specialists (24), members of school boards (3), graduate students (6), pastors and religious ministers (3) and other activities (2). Most of the responses come from throughout the United States. A few have come from Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany, indicating the global perspective of this issue.

The endorsement of the Proposed Revisions by this significant group of credentialed professionals suggests that those Revisions have merit.

In light of these endorsements, we are obviously disappointed with the response of the Committee. Its terse reply simply sweeps under the rug fundamental problems that inhere in the Sixth Draft. The Committee avoids a response to the substantive criticisms implicit in the Proposed Revisions by making a hollow claim that the Sixth Draft does not promote Naturalism.

Interestingly, this claim reflects an important agreement between us. We both agree that science standards should not be used to lead our children to a belief in Naturalism. Where we differ is whether the Sixth Draft actually has that effect. Is the Sixth Draft naturalistic or not? We and the endorsers find that the Sixth Draft promotes Naturalism. The Committee contends that it does not – at least that it does not promote a “philosophy of naturalism.”

With all due respect to the Committee, the Sixth Draft clearly promotes a belief in Naturalism. If these science standards are followed by teachers as directed, those teachers will lead our children toward a belief that design does not play a role in the origin of the universe, of life and the diversity of life. That is Naturalism. It makes no difference whether the Committee or the Board believes that it is injecting philosophy into the standards. If these standards are used as proposed they will have the effect of preaching naturalism to our children. They will improperly lead our Children to a belief that they are not the products of design and that they are the products of only natural causes.

The primary mechanism to achieve this end is the Sixth Draft’s proposed use of a definition of science that permits only “natural explanations of the world around us.” Natural explanations comprehend only “natural causes.” This rules out design as a cause even though the inference of design is logically based on data that is observed in nature, consistent with scientific methods used in other scientific disciplines that focus on design detection. If there was ever any doubt about the intent of this natural limit to censor design inferences and explanations, it was removed in the dialogue between Dr. Abrams and the Co-Chairmen of the Committee on January 9, 2001. In that discussion the Committee leaders advised the Board that the new definition of science is intended to narrow the “domain of science” such that teachers are not permitted under the Sixth Draft to bring up design as a possible cause of natural objects. If a child raises the question, then the Sixth Draft requires that the child be told that this matter is outside the “domain of science” and to take the question elsewhere.

This has the effect of promoting naturalism. It makes no difference whether you call it methodological naturalism or philosophical naturalism, it has the same effect. Our children will be led down a path that takes them to only one conclusion about their origins – a naturalistic one. As the Supreme Court has said, government must be concerned not only with the “form” of its actions, but the “effect” of them. In the arena of origins science the effect must be neutral. The Sixth Draft does not pass this test.

The Committee asserts, as if it were fact, that “science” requires that only natural explanations be permitted. This is not true. The Committee should take note that the Latin root of the word “science” means “knowledge.” The Committee’s definition is far too limited and prescriptive and is actually at odds with the current definition that is properly driven by logic. The Committee definition also conflicts with the common definition of science provided by Webster’s New Third International Dictionary. That highly respected source defines science as a body of knowledge “formulated with reference to the discovery of general truths.” Nowhere does it suggest that explanations must be limited to only natural ones. Finally, the limitation to only “natural explanations” conflicts with the view of the Supreme Court that science must focus “solely on principles and methodology, not on the conclusions that they generate.” [ Daubert v. Merrill Dow Corporation, Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993) and Kumho Tire Co., Ltd., Et al. V. Carmichael Et al. 119 S.Ct. 1167 (1999)].

For the many logical, scientific, legal and cultural reasons outlined in our January 5 letter, the Committee’s definition is one which is inconsistent with science that seeks to provide honest answers to fundamental questions regarding our origin. The naturalistic definition proposed by the Committee and the National Science organizations which hold copyright permission over much of the Sixth Draft, is simply an inherently misleading mechanism that will have the effect of guiding our children to a belief in Naturalism.

Our Proposed Revisions also seek to cure misinformation that will result from the proposed naturalistic teachings. Regardless of the wisdom of teaching only one of the two possible explanations for origins, this methodology is inherently misleading if the strategy is not explained to students in great detail. Nowhere does the Sixth Draft seek to explain its naturalistic assumption. This undisclosed assumption, along with the censorship of evidence which challenges the naturalistic explanation, will lead teachers to seriously misrepresent the strength of the evidence that supports the naturalistic explanation. Our revisions detail the numerous instances of this misinformation. The Committee response completely fails to address these problems and their expected consequences.

We recognize that your patience concerning science standards may be quite thin by now. However, this issue is important. The Proposed Revisions squarely address this most difficult problem of how to teach our children about the origin of the universe, of life and its diversity. They provide a logical, scientific, legal and culturally satisfying solution. It is one that has been endorsed by a significant number of qualified scientists, educators, philosophers and lawyers. We urge you to follow their lead and adopt the Proposed Revisions.

Thank you.

Very truly yours,

s/John H. Calvert            s/William S. Harris          s/Jody F. Sjogren
John H. Calvert, J.D.      William S. Harris, PhD    Jody F. Sjogren, M.S., CMI
Managing Director          Managing Director           Managing Director

cc: The Endorser