Jack Krebs’ Approach to Statutory Interpretation

Michael Francisco

In Jack Krebs’ post at Pandasthumb, he takes Casey Luskin up on a challenge to show that the Kansas Science Education Standards somehow “sanction the teaching” of intelligent design. (Luskin has now responded as well.)
According to Krebs, “the standards do say to teach ID” (emphasis his). Unfortunately for Krebs, his reading of the Kansas standards is an exercise in torturing a text to say what one desires, instead of respecting the plain meaning of the text.
To make his case Krebs relies on a flawed chain of inferences which, at best, would establish that the standards merely permit teaching about some intelligent design ideas.
Krebs makes two big errors. First, he completely fails to explain why the standards include unambiguous language which say the standards “neither mandate nor prohibit teaching about” intelligent design. Krebs would have us stick our head in the sand and pretend the language doesn’t exist. Second, Krebs purposefully misreads into the KSS far more about intelligent design than the standards actually say.

Reading Too Much Into the KSS
The Kansas standards note that Intelligent Design is “the scientific disagreement with the claim of many evolutionary biologists that the apparent design of living systems is an illusion.”
From this Krebs makes two observations:

First, ID is a scientific disagreement, according to the Board. Secondly, ID is defined negatively as a disagreement with evolutionary theory as they purport to understand it.

The KSS does not claim to be offering an all-inclusive definition of ID. Krebs treats the description as more than it is. He makes two observations that ignore the key design aspect of the Kansas description. The KSS says that Intelligent Design disagrees with “many evolutionary biologists” and the nature of that disagreement is over design, the apparent design which those biologists claim is “illusion.” The KSS thus clearly implies that Intelligent Design believes that the appearance of design comes from a designer. This would be a positive claim, as opposed to Krebs attempt to read the KSS to treat ID as only being negative criticism. This does not characterize the inference to design as simply a “negative argument” against evolution. Rather, it simply notes that ID proponents disagree with many evolutionary biologists about whether the “appearance of design” is an “illusion.” No statement is made about ID requiring mere negative arguments against evolution. In fact, the KSS say very little about how we infer design.
Additionally, Krebs over-reaches when he equates the Kansas quote, which identifies “many evolutionary biologists” with his own “evolutionary theory.” This again, tries to read the one sentence explanation in the KSS as being a broad, universal claim to define ID.
Krebs this uses this misreading to set up a chain of inferences. He notes, quite correctly, that the Kansas standards call for instruction “about areas where scientists are raising scientific criticisms of the theory” and that “opposing scientific evidence” will be involved. From this part of the Kansas standards, he infers that since Intelligent Design is defined as a scientific critique, it may be taught.
Ignoring Plain Meaning
Krebs conveniently offers no explanation for why the explicit language of the KSS that ID is “not included” and not “mandated” should be completely ignored. Even worse, Krebs offers an interpretation of inference from general terms that contradicts the clear specific language of the KSS. Following normal standards for interpreting statutes, this method fails.
Following common sense, courts give effect to every term in a statute, avoid internal inconsistencies, and use more specific terms to understand more general terms. Accordingly, it makes no sense to avoid the plain language of the KSS which excludes ID from being mandated and instead to rely on a tenuous stretching of other general terms in the text. A court faced with interpreting the KSS would no doubt read and account for the clear, specific language. Krebs’ wishful misreading of the statute remains conveniently silent.
Perhaps Krebs wants us to believe that the Kansas board lied or intended to mislead the public when they included the clear language clarifying that teaching about the controversy is not teaching about ID. This would be a bold claim and certainly deserves more explanation than Krebs provides. If the clear language really should be avoided, then we deserve a good explanation why.
Once Krebs’ “black and white” reasoning is compared with the full text of the Kansas Standards, it becomes clear that they do not say what Krebs desires the standards to say.