Education Icon Education
Free Speech Icon Free Speech

Kansas Citizens for Misrepresenting the Kansas Science Standards’ Misinformation Promoted by Scientific American

Casey Luskin

On the Scientific American Blog, John Rennie has perpetuated various myths about the Kansas Science Standards (KSS) promoted by “Kansas Citizens for Science.” Mr. Rennie upholds a recent KCFS news post which says the following:

Q. How have the standards changed?
The KBOE (Kansas Board of Education) Standards:
— Change the definition of science so that it can include supernatural causes.
— Change the definition of evolution to imply that evolution conflicts with belief in God.
— Add solidly refuted criticisms of evolution that are only part of the creationist literature.

It’s difficult to call these anything but plain old fabricated lies. Before delving in, please note that there will be a major difference between my post and Mr. Rennie’s post: my post will include citations to textbooks, scientific authorities, and most importantly, the Kansas Science Standards themselves for documentation. In contrast, Rennie’s post includes only citations to assertions from false political ads by a group called Kansas Citizens for Science.

The Supernatural?
First, the KSS clearly do not include the supernatural. As I explained here, there is no way one can argue that the Kansas Science Standards include the supernatural:

The new 2005 Kansas science standards simply reset Kansas’ definition of science back to how approximately every other state in the country defines science, essentially the way Kansas had defined it until 2001. This definition is given below:

Science is a systematic method of continuing investigation that uses observations, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory-building to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena. Science does so while maintaining strict empirical standards and healthy skepticism. Scientific explanations are built on observations, hypotheses, and theories. A hypothesis is a testable statement about the natural world that can be used to build more complex inferences and explanations. A theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate observations, inferences, and tested hypotheses. Scientific explanations must meet certain criteria. Scientific explanations are consistent with experimental and/or observational data and testable by scientists through additional experimentation and/or observation.

(2005 Kansas Science Standards, pg. 10, emphasis added)

Where are the references to the supernatural? The truth is that when Darwinists took over the Board of Education in 2001 and defined science as “seeking natural explanations,” Kansas became the only state in the United States to explicitly advocate for hard-code methodological naturalism into its state science standards. Thus, the new 2005 Kansas standards, by removing such language, moves closer to the norm for U.S. science standards.

Here’s a question I submit to Mr. Rennie and all proponents of the false conspiracy theory that Kansas now teaches the supernatural in science classes: if Kansas incorporated the supernatural into its definition of science, then how do you explain the fact that its science standards emphatically require that all science be “testable as a scientific hypothesis”? Rennie is perpetuating a flatly false claim.

Redefining evolution?
Second, Rennie claims that the KSS change the definition of evolution “to imply that evolution conflicts with belief in God.” This badly misrepresents what the standards state. As I already explained here, the Kansas Science Standards simply define evolution precisely how it has been characterized by many biology textbooks:

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 do 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.”
(Kansas 102: Do the Kansas Science Standards Contain Claims Made Only by Intelligent Design Proponents?)

Only Including Creationist Material?
Finally, as I explained here, the material in the KSS are not simply from “creationist” literature. Rather, much of the claims find support in mainstream scientific literature:

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

The KSS and Intelligent Design
Finally, Rennie quotes the KCFS political ad as follows:

Q. The KBOE claims that Intelligent Design isn’t in the standards. But it is!
— The standards define Intelligent Design (ID) as “the scientific disagreement with the claim that the apparent design of living systems is an illusion.”
— The standards say that students need to learn “scientific criticisms of the theory” of evolution, which would obviously include Intelligent Design as defined.
— The standards include Intelligent Design terminology (such as “irreducible complexity”), as well as many Intelligent Design arguments against evolution.

It is dishonest to leave off mention of the important statement in the standards that “We also emphasize that the Science Curriculum Standards do not include Intelligent Design” and “these standards neither mandate nor prohibit teaching about this scientific disagreement.” I explain elsewhere that the argument that the KSS require the teaching of ID requires a conspiracy theory including all teachers in the state:

Mr. Krebs’ argument also ignores how courts would interpret the unambigously clear statement of legislative intent regarding the KSS. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:

“We also emphasize that the Science Curriculum Standards do not include Intelligent Design.”

This isn’t a conspiracy where every teacher in the state somehow “knows” that the KSS don’t mean what they unambigously say. Mr. Krebs’ argument requires the greatest conspiracy in education ever known, and baseless claims that “teaching the controversy” is equivalent to teaching intelligent design. Mr. Krebs’ argument is based upon conspiracy theories and baseless claims that “teaching the controversy” is equivalent to teaching intelligent design. This argument should not sway informed people.
(Black and White: There’s no ID under the Kansas Science Standards)

Moreover, the statement about the standards including “Intelligent Design terminology” is irrelevant because “irreducible complexity” need not be an argument for ID, and is not framed as such in the KSS:

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.

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

Thus the KSS make it clear that irreducible complexity is framed only as a challenge to evolution and not as an argument for intelligent design.
John Rennie has unfortunately relied upon a source containing much misinformation. The actual Kansas Science Standards, mainstream biology textbooks, and the mainstream scientific literature support none of the claims made in the Kansas Citizens for Science political ad.

Special thanks to Joseph C. Campana at for alerting me to the fallacious information being promoted by Scientific American in John Rennie’s blog post.

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.



John RenniekansasKansas Citizens for Science