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Kansas 101: Why the Kansas Science Standards Do NOT Cover Intelligent Design

Casey Luskin

I usually ignore Panda’s Thumb because it is a blog site where bloggers have near-unlimited license to namecall and say mean-spirited things which contribute nothing to the scientific debate over evolution. However, because Nick Matzke recently defended me there (sort of), I’ll dignify Nick’s latest post on Kansas with a response here. This is despite the fact that Nick’s Kansas post perpetuates the old conspiracy theory that the Kansas Science Standards (KSS) are all about teaching ID, and does so while making numerous snide and irrelevant ad hominem-type comments. This post will be the first in a two-part series.

Nick opens by complaining about Discovery Institute’s current activities in Kansas. Talk about irony! Recently, his employer, the Oakland, California-based National Center for Science Education (NCSE), appeared on stage in Lawrence, Kansas with the Pennsylvania-based attorneys who represented the national ACLU in the Kitzmiller case, alongside representatives from Kansas Citizens for Science (KCFS). The next time someone from Kansas gets bothered about individuals or groups from outside of Kansas supporting their current, excellent science standards, remind them of this picture. It’s worth a thousand words:

Photo from Lawrence, KS includes: Eugenie Scott (NCSE, Oakland, CA ), Eric Rothschild (Pepper – Hamilton / ACLU, Philadelphia, PA), Steve Harvey (Pepper – Hamilton / ACLU, Philadelphia, PA), and Jack Krebs (KCFS, Kansas).

Original Caption reads: “Legal talk. Lawyers for the Dover, Pennsylvania, plaintiffs joined Kansas Citizens for Science in Lawrence last week in attacking the state’s new science standards.” (Science, Vol 311:588 February 3, 2006)

But my primary point here is to demonstrate the bankruptcy of Nick’s arguments that the KSS teach intelligent design. The emptiness of Nick’s claim is best illustrated by looking at the case of irreducible complexity. Nick, referring to the Kansas Science Standards, states:

“Irreducible complexity” is a problem for evolution. Hello? I thought the standards “do not include Intelligent Design.” Even if you want to argue that all of the standard bogus creationist objections to evolution are critical analysis and not “intelligent design”, there is no way that “irreducible complexity” can be associated with anyone other than Michael Behe, leading ID advocate and Discovery Institute Senior Fellow.

(Nick Matzke in “No one here but us Critical Analysis-ists…“)

Nick thus uses the genetic fallacy to argue that talking about irreducible complexity (IC) must always mean arguing for intelligent design simply because Michael Behe is the best-known popularizer of IC, and Behe also argues for intelligent design. This is not a valid form of logical argumentation because Nick’s argument only works if he logically proves that arguing for irreducible complexity necessarily entails arguing for the conclusion of intelligent design. But this same Nick Matzke advised the plaintiffs in the Dover trial, where Ken Miller testified that irreducible complexity is NOT an argument for intelligent design:

Q … is Dr. Behe’s argument for irreducible complexity, is that an argument directly for design?

A. That’s a good point. The answer is, no, it’s not. It really is an argument that says why such systems are not produceable by evolution. So it’s a negative argument against evolution.

(Kitzmiller v. Dover Trial transcript of Ken Miller, pg. 15, day 1 PM session)

Nick can’t have it both ways: either IC must always logically mandate intelligent design, or it doesn’t. The truth is that Miller is actually half-right: irreducible complexity can be simply a negative argument against evolution. (However, for different reasons, i.e. because intelligent agents are the sole-known cause of irreducibly complex structures, IC can also be an argument for intelligent design, making Miller’s statement a misrepresentation.) But in the Kansas Science Standards, irreducible complexity is only discussed in the context of how irreducible complexity is an empirical argument against evolution. Here is what the standards state:

Whether microevolution (change within a species) can be extrapolated to explain macroevolutionary changes (such as new complex organs or body plans and new biochemical systems which appear irreducibly complex) is controversial.

(Kansas Science Standards, pg. 76)

In the Kansas Science Standards, irreducible complexity is not meant to be discussed in the context of it being a positive argument for intelligent design, but merely as a challenge to evolution. Arguing for intelligent design using irreducible complexity requires also talking about some positive content, where one explains how intelligent agents are the primary cause of irreducibly complex machines. But the KSS don’t do that, for they only discuss IC in the context of it being a challenge to evolution. As Ken Miller concedes above, this is quite possible to do because in his own words, one can argue for the unevolvability of a structure, based upon irreducible complexity, and not conclude intelligent design. That’s how the Kansas Science Standards operate. The true nature of irreducible complexity is discussed in our Traipsing Into Evolution, which states:

Had Judge Jones paid more attention to the arguments actually made by ID proponents, it would have been clear to him why irreducible complexity can be an argument for design as well as a criticism of Darwinian evolution. This is a genuine dualism due to the fact that neo-Darwinism and intelligent design make competing and opposite predictions about irreducible complexity.

(Traipsing Into Evolution: Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller v. Dover Decision, pg. 40)

To summarize, historical sciences operate by studying present-day causes and applying them to the historical record to determine which causes best explain the observed historical data. Studying the Darwinian mechanism reveals that it is a cause incapable of producing irreducibly complex structures. (Behe, 1996) Thus we can argue against Neo-Darwinism by finding irreducibly complex structures. We can also study the origin of irreducibly complex structures to reveal that intelligence is the primary known cause of such structures. (Minnich & Meyer, 2004) Thus we can use irreducible complexity to infer design. But evidence for one theory does not in-and-of-itself constitute evidence for another theory. When we discover irreducible complexity, we can discuss it solely in the context of it being a challenge to Neo-Darwinism. Although it can imply design, our discussion can easily stop right there if we want, especially if our goal is to only require talking about empirical challenges evolution under a policy that explicitly states that teachers need “not include Intelligent Design” (Kansas Science Standards, pg. ii).

The Kansas Science Standards explicitly do NOT require discussing alternative explanations like intelligent design for the origin of irreducibly complex structures, and they only mention irreducible complexity as a stumbling block to evolutionary mechanisms.

Nick Matzke continues to construct various conspiracy theories as to why the mention of irreducible complexity implies you’re talking about intelligent design–yet prominent scientists from Nick’s own camp acknowledge that arguing for irreducible complexity does not mandate arguing for intelligent design. It seems obvious that the Kansas Science Standards imply mere critique of evolution by mentioning irreducible complexity rather than going further to discuss intelligent design. Nick Matzke does not have the right to argue that irreducible complexity necessarily mandates arguing for design when the plaintiffs at the Kitzmiller trial, under Nick’s own counsel, argued otherwise.

Stay tuned for part two of this series entitled “Kansas 102” in the coming days!