Education Icon Education
News Media Icon News Media

Washington Post Editorial Contains Inaccurate Information about Kansas and Intelligent Design

An editorial in yesterday’s Washington Post, “Nothing Wrong With Kansas“, contains many inaccurate statements about the Kansas Science Standards and intelligent design.

First, it wrongly frames the Kansas issue as being about intelligent design:

[T]he conservatives regained the majority in 2004 and moved to promote intelligent design — a challenge to Darwinian theory based not on biblical inerrancy or overt creationism but on purportedly scientific flaws in the theory.

(“Nothing Wrong With Kansas,” Washington Post, Sunday, August 6, 2006)

But the standards are not about intelligent design. Not only do they clearly state, “the Science Curriculum Standards do not include Intelligent Design” (Kansas Science Standards, pg. ii), but the standards only require teaching about scientific criticisms of Neo-Darwinism in a way that does not get into intelligent design (see here for an explanation).

Because the editorial board at The Washington Post mistakenly thinks Kansas is dealing with intelligent design, it then goes on to promote a mistaken and straw version of intelligent design, asserting that ID is all about the supernatural. The editorial ends up promoting the following misinformation about ID:

Intelligent design is a defensible theological position — the belief that life is so complex and perfect that a creator must lie somewhere behind it. But being untestable in its positing of a supernatural explanation for natural phenomena, it is no more scientific than the belief that Athena was born from Zeus’s head.

(“Nothing Wrong With Kansas,” Washington Post, Sunday, August 6, 2006)

This characterization might be an accurate description of how some critics view intelligent design, but the actual theory of intelligent design does not postulate anything about the supernatural. Michael Behe explains this point:

“[A] scientific argument for design in biology does not reach that far. Thus while I argue for design, the question of the identity of the designer is left open. Possible candidates for the role of designer include: the God of Christianity; an angel–fallen or not; Plato’s demi-urge; some mystical new age force; space aliens from Alpha Centauri; time travelers; or some utterly unknown intelligent being. Of course, some of these possibilities may seem more plausible than others based on information from fields other than science. Nonetheless, as regards the identity of the designer, modern ID theory happily echoes Isaac Newton’s phrase hypothesis non fingo.”

(Michael Behe, “The Modern Intelligent Design Hypothesis,” Philosophia Christi, 2(3)(1):165 (2001)

Ironically, after wrongly accusing the Kansas Science Standards of teaching about the “untestable” supernatural, the editorial fails to recognize that the Kansas Science Standards make testability the centerpiece of their definition of science:

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. … The core theories of science have been subjected to a wide variety of confirmations and have a high degree of reliability within the limits to which they have been tested.

(Kansas Science Standards, pg. ix, emphasis added)

How can the Kansas Science Standards promote the supernatural (which is untestable) when the standards emphatically make testability a centerpiece of its definition of science? Did the author of this editorial read the Kansas Science Standards?

Finally, the editorial sets up a straw-characterization of ID proponents, implying they reject all forms of evolution. It states, “[T]here is no scientific controversy over whether evolution happens,” implying that ID-proponents would not view evolution as an answer to the question, “How do bacteria become drug-resistant?” Of course, no ID-proponent doubts the reality that “evolution happens.” We all know that small-scale changes take place in populations, causing major problems like antibiotic drug resistance.

The editorial also asks, “Why do birds, bees and bats all have wings?” That’s a good question, a question we think students should ask. And we think they should look carefully at statements of mainstream scientists like Robert Carroll, who doubts the sufficiency of microevolutionary mechanisms to answer such questions:

Can 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? How can we explain the gradual evolution of entirely new structures, like the wings of bats, birds, and butterflies, when the function of a partially evolved wing is almost impossible to conceive?

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

The truth is that, according to the editorial, students shouldn’t ask such questions because they might challenge Neo-Darwinism. The editorial states that “[i]ntelligent design can lead only to unintelligent students, or at least badly educated ones.” This argument is predicated upon a false claim because Kansas isn’t teaching intelligent design. But would teaching ID lead to deficient students? If America is really failing at science, then perhaps the problem is the status quo, where the vast majority of school districts teach only the scientific evidence that supports Darwin’s theory.

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.



__editedkansasWashington Post