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Kansas 102: Do the Kansas Science Standards Contain Claims Made Only by Intelligent Design Proponents?

Casey Luskin

Last week I explained how Nick Matzke was wrong to argue that the Kansas Science Standards‘ (KSS) mention of irreducible complexity implies that it requires teaching intelligent design (ID). Most of the rest of Mr. Matzke’s post concentrates on the false claim that the Kansas Science Standards’ section on evolution makes claims that come only from ID literature. This argument is only furthering a conspiracy theory which believes that, when the standards read “do not include Intelligent Design,” they really mean, “do include intelligent design.” Under Mr. Matzke’s reasoning, every science teacher in the state of Kansas is supposed to be in on this conspiracy, which would be the only reason for them to know they are supposed to disregard the plain language of the standards.

While it is true that ID proponents agree with many of the criticisms of evolution in the Kansas Science Standards, these criticisms are also found in mainstream scientific literature. Even if there are other viewpoints that dispute the Kansas Science Standards, there are legitimate sources from mainstream scientific literature which support the claims in the KSS. For example:

  • The Kansas Science Standards state, “Biological evolution postulates an unguided natural process that has no discernable direction or goal” (pg. 75). Contrary to Nick Matzke’s misrepresentation, the standards to not state “Evolution, if true, means life is purposeless.” This misrepresents the standards. The actual phrasing of the KSS reflects what is actually taught in many prominent biology textbooks. The popular college text Evolutionary Biology states that evolution couples “undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection” (Futuyma, 1998), and another textbook says that “evolution is not directed towards a final goal” (Purves, 2001). Even 38 Nobel Laureates wrote the Kansas State Board of Education in September 2005, explaining that “evolution is understood to be the result of an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection.”
  • The Standards state that criticisms of chemical origin of life hypotheses include “a lack of empirical evidence for a ‘primordial soup’ or a chemically hospitable pre-biotic atmosphere” and a “lack of adequate natural explanations for the genetic code” (pg. 77). These points are also validated by mainstream scientific literature. So drastic is the evidence against the primordial soup hypothesis that the Space Studies Board of the National Research Council in 1990 recommended to scientists a “reexamination of biological monomer synthesis under primitive Earthlike environments, as revealed in current models of the early Earth.” Regarding the pre-biotic atmosphere, a paper in Earth and Planetary Science Letters explained that “reduced [atmospheric] components are not supported by results of this and many other studies, which imply a scenario of Archean mantle redox not unlike that of today.” The paper concluded that “[l]ife may have found its origins in other environments or by other mechanisms” (Canile, 2002). Regarding the origin of the genetic code, prominent biologists John Maynard Smith and Eros Szathmary explain that “[t]he origin of the code is perhaps the most perplexing problem in evolutionary biology” (Smith & Szathmary, 1995). A paper in Cell Biology International reviewed this issue in 2004 and concluded:

    Random sequences are the antithesis of prescribed genetic information. There is no empirical or rational justification for theorizing that the random shuffling of nucleotides could generate instructions for a metabolic network. Progress has been made, however, on the evolution of already existing genetic instructions … [various citations] … But none of these papers provide mechanisms whereby stochastic ensembles in prebiotic environments acquire algorithmic programming prowess. (Trevors & Abel, 2004)

    Clearly the standards derive their claims from mainstream scientific writings regarding the state of origin of life.

  • The Standards also state “in many cases the fossil record is not consistent with gradual, unbroken sequences postulated by biological evolution” (pg. 75). Again, Nick Matzke misrepresents this claim to say that the Standards assert there are “no transitional fossils.” Yet many paleontologists have corroborated what the standards actually say. Paleontologist Robert Carroll writes, “Paleontologists in particular have found it difficult to accept that the slow, continuous, and progressive changes postulated by Darwin can adequately explain the major reorganizations that have occurred between dominant groups of plants and animals.” (Carroll, 1997.) Similarly, evolutionist paleontologist Niles Eldredge writes, “…we have proffered a collective tacit acceptance of the story of gradual adaptive change, a story that strengthened and became even more entrenched as the synthesis took hold. We paleontologists have said that the history of life supports that interpretation, all the while really knowing that it does not” (Eldredge, 1985). The KSS’s statement quoted here can be completely derived from mainstream scientific writings.
  • The Standards state that common ancestry has been challenged by “[d]iscrepancies in the molecular evidence” (pg. 76). Nick objects that this is “wrong,” but this claim has been supported in peer-reviewed literature. W. F. Doolittle writes, “[m]olecular phylogenists will have failed to find the ‘true tree,’ not because their methods are inadequate or because they have chosen the wrong genes, but because the history of life cannot properly be represented as a tree” (Doolittle, 1999). Similarly, Carl Woese wrote, “[p]hylogenetic incongruities can be seen everywhere in the universal tree, from its root to the major branchings within and among the various taxa to the makeup of the primary groupings themselves” (Woese, 1998). While these authors are evolutionists who retain their belief in common descent, the Kansas Science Standards find support in mainstream scientific literature that “[d]iscrepancies in the molecular evidence” do exist.
  • Finally, the Kansas Science Standards explain that “[w]hether 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” (pg. 76). Excepting the segment on irreducible complexity, this indicator resembles a statement by Robert Carroll, who asked, “[c]an changes in individual characters, such as the relative frequency of genes for light and dark wing color in moths adapting to industrial pollution, simply be multiplied over time to account for the origin of moths and butterflies within insects, the origin of insects from primitive arthropods, or the origin of arthropods from among primitive multicellular organisms?” (Carroll, 1997). Questions about the sufficiency of microevolution to explain macroevolution have been raised in mainstream scientific literature (e.g. see Simons, 2002; Carroll, 1997), as has support for the notion of irreducible complexity (e.g. see Lönnig & Saedler, 2002). In fact, over 600 doctoral scientists from around the world have signed a statement explaining they are “skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.” They state that “[c]areful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.” This may not constitute a majority position, but it certainly validates consideration by students in Kansas.

Nick Matzke was trying to claim that critical analysis is the same as intelligent design. However, many aspects of the Kansas Science Standards find support in mainstream scientific thought and do not have their origin in ID literature alone.

(Mr. Matzke also claims that some of the standards range from “wrong” to even worse–“wrongety-wrong”–through no fewer than 13 links to TalkOrigins and other sources. This post is not intended to be a refutation of all of the many pages cited in Matzke’s post, but rather my point here is simply to show that the Kansas Science Standards find support for their claims in mainstream scientific literature.)

In his post, Nick Matzke only responded to one of the five reasons given in our Critical Analysis FAQ for why teaching critical analysis of evolution is different from teaching intelligent design. We’ve held they were different before the Dover trial, and we continue to do so now. I’d like to see him respond to the other four reasons, and I’d like particularly for him to give an explanation for this reason:

Final Proof: The Pudding (the Darwinists’ own behavior):

It took Darwinists less than two months to file a lawsuit in Dover, Pa, after an explicitly pro-ID policy was passed. If they really believed that policies calling for critical analysis of evolution during science instruction are the same as teaching ID, lawsuits would have already have arisen over the many critical analysis of evolution policies around the United States. But such lawsuits haven’t materialized, because they know that critical analysis of evolution is different from teaching about ID.

(Critical Analysis of Evolution is Not the Same as Teaching Intelligent Design)

Nick Matzke’s idea that the sections of the Kansas Science Standards dealing with evolution come only from ID literature is fiction. His arguments that the Kansas Science Standards include ID are the same . . . but they sure make a nice conspiracy theory.

References (for this post and Kansas 101):
Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box (Free Press, 1996).

Dante Canile, “Vanadian in peridotites, mantle redox and tectonic environments: Archean to present” Earth and Planetary Science Letters 195:75-90 (2002).

Robert Carroll, Patterns and Processes of Vertebrate Evolution, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997, pp. 8-10.

W. F. Doolittle, “Phylogenetic Classification and the Universal Tree,” Science, Vol 284:2124-2128 (June 25, 1999).

Niles Eldredge, Time Frames: The Rethinking of Darwinian Evolution and the Theory of Punctuated Equilibria, (Simon & Schuster: New York NY, 1985), pg. 44.

Douglas J. Futuyma, Evolutionary Biology (3rd ed., Sinauer Associates Inc., 1998), p. 5.

W.E. Lönnig & H. Saedler Chromosome Rearrangements and Transposable Elements, Annual Review of Genetics, 36:389–410 (2002).

Scott A. Minnich and Stephen C. Meyer, “Genetic analysis of coordinate flagellar and type III regulatory circuits in pathogenic bacteria,” Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Design & Nature, Rhodes Greece, edited by M.W. Collins and C.A. Brebbia (WIT Press, 2004).

National Research Council Space Studies Board, The Search for Life’s Origins, (National Academy Press: Washington D.C., 1990).

William K. Purves, David Sadava, Gordon H. Orians, & H. Craig Keller, Life: The Science of Biology, (6th ed., Sinauer; W.H. Freeman and Co., 2001), pg. 3.

Andrew M. Simons, “The continuity of microevolution and macroevolution,” Journal of Evolutionary Biology 15 (2002): 688-701.

John Maynard Smith & Eors Szathmary, The Major Transitions in Evolution (W.H. Freeman: Oxford UK, 1995), p.81.

J.T. Trevors & D.L. Abel, “Chance and necessity do not explain the origin of life,” Cell Biology International, 28:729-739 (2004).

Woese C., “The Universal Ancestor,” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA, 95:6854-9859 (June, 1998).


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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