Thursday, May 18, 2006


Awbrey's Misperceptions

In a letter to the Topeka Capitol-Journal, David Awbrey, communications director of the Kansas State Department of Education, attempts to "clear up misperceptions of my comments about evolution made at a journalists' forum in Johnson County on May 3."

Awbrey's letter, far from clearing up "misperceptions" instead reveals how little he understands about the Kansas Science Standards.

"My main argument," writes Awbrey, "was that many participants in the evolution debate are engaged in metaphysical speculation, which is a kissing cousin to religion.

"The late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, for example, calls human origins a 'glorious accident.' He saw no order or logic in the universe and certainly no supernatural forces at work in the unfolding of the Earth's natural history."

Awbrey's paraphrase of Gould's thinking on the subject may or may not be accurate. But, that's not the issue. The standards committee did not propose teaching Gould's metaphysical speculations about purpose, order, or supernatural forces.

The standards proposed by the committee's majority are utterly silent on those issues.

Not so, the standards proposed by the intelligent design minority led by John Calvert and William Harris, or the revisions to the standards passed by the right-wing majority that currently controls the state board of education.

Here, in a poorly disguised attempt to bolster the biblical literalist views on origins held by the religious right, pseudoscience is injected into the standards.

Where the science grounded standards rejected by the board say nothing at all about the origin of life because there is no well grounded theory -- just a number of intriguing hypotheses -- the right-wing majority rushed to fill the void with Genesis-friendly code words based solely on the metaphysical musings of the fundamentalist right.

Awbrey concludes by quoting the great philosopher William James to the effect that, "we should be humble and avoid claiming absolute knowledge of things that could well be beyond our intellectual or moral abilities to comprehend."

In Kansas, it is the scientists and educators who have exhibited humility, and the board, working hand in glove with their creationist and intelligent design allies, who claim absolute knowledge. It's clear that this knowledge is well beyond their intellectual or moral abilities to comprehend.

Awbrey makes much of his journalistic background. Perhaps he would have done well to learn a bit more about the history of this battle before lecturing those of us who were here in Kansas, attending the board meetings, the hearings, and public meetings.

Do you suppose Awbrey's read the standards, yet?


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