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  Barnum on Steroids

COMMENTARY:

Barnum on Steroids

by Jason S. Miller

The Kansas state school board, comprised of ten members, is dominated by six conservative Christian members. The "Big Six," employing their infinite Biblical wisdom, has decided that Kansas needed to hold a hearing to determine the validity of the theory of Evolution.
Yes, Phineas Taylor Barnum would be green with envy. The master of the hoodwink would be in awe of the Religious Right were he alive today. Snake-charming, beguiling, conning, and flimflamming are at the heart of their repertoire, and their leaders leave Barnum looking like a bush leaguer. If the religious conversion business cycle hits a lull, there will be a glut of highly talented salespeople looking for work. This week, this Evangelical movement is flexing its muscle, and flashing its propagandistic cunning, as it soaks up the spotlight of national media attention in Topeka, Kansas.

Ringling Brothers could not rival the hype of the circus of events dubbed "Scopes II." Led by its three “ringmasters” (Kathy Martin, Steve Abrams, and Connie Morris), the Kansas State School Board has once again put the theory of Evolution on trial. Despite the lack of testimony from a single member of the established, mainstream scientific community, "the show must go on" as the board “proves” that Evolution is dubious at best. The purpose of this extravaganza is to “validate” the new science standards they desperately want to implement, and they are determined to “bring home the win” this time.

The scientific community is not denying the existence of God; they simply believe that proving the existence of God is beyond the scope of science, and discussion of the subject belongs in philosophy classes.

Under the "big top" of Memorial Hall in Topeka, the board has paraded a panel of "expert witnesses" to testify that Evolution is a "flawed theory." Several witnesses have asserted the fiction that there is a "controversy" in the scientific community about the validity of the theory of Evolution. John Calvert, a retired attorney and Kansas resident who heads the Intelligent Design Network, read scripted questions to nine of the 23 anti-Evolution witnesses over the course of May 5 and May 6, with more to following after the weekend.

Validity of Evolution Speaks for Itself
Meanwhile, the mainstream scientific community has elected to boycott this charade. Their position is that by participating in "The Greatest Show on Earth," they would be lending credence to the assertions that there is a controversy over Evolution, and that those who believe in Evolution are atheists by default. The truth is that the theory of Evolution has grown and changed significantly since its assertion by Charles Darwin in 1859, and scientists do disagree over some details. However, the majority of the scientific community agrees over the principal aspects of the theory. Conflict over the validity of Evolution is a sham perpetrated by the "showmen" of the Religious Right. Keith Miller, of Brown University, author of Finding Darwin's God, is a living example of one who believes in both Evolution and a Christian God. People like Miller, who are not uncommon in the scientific community or the general population, dispel the myth that Evolution demands that one embrace atheism. The scientific community is not denying the existence of God; they simply believe that proving the existence of God is beyond the scope of science, and discussion of the subject belongs in philosophy classes.

Pedro Irigonegaray, the "lyin' tamer" in this circus, is an attorney who chose to volunteer his services as the sole advocate for the preservation of Evolution in the science standards in the state of Kansas. He called the proceedings a "kangaroo court" and stated that Intelligent Design, the "rival theory" to Evolution, is "junk science." Through cross examination of the "expert witnesses" against Evolution, Irigonegaray exposed the fact that several of them have not even read the science curriculum recommendations submitted to the board. Following that revelation, conservative Christian board member Kathy Martin acknowledged that she had not read the recommendations in their entirety either.

What precipitated this absurdity?
In 2004, two groups presented recommendations to the Kansas State School Board concerning the science curriculum. A Majority Report by 25 individuals, including Steve Case, an associate research professor at the University of Kansas, recommended virtually no changes with respect to how public schools teach Evolution. John Calvert and seven other individuals wrote a Minority Report, summarized on this PDF. Displaying the height of hubris, this report calls for the school board to rewrite the very definition of science. The state school board, comprised of ten members, is dominated by six conservative Christian members. After receiving the Majority and Minority Reports, the "Big Six," employing their infinite Biblical wisdom, decided that Kansas needed to hold a hearing to determine the validity of the theory of Evolution.
What do the moderate school board members think?
At least two of the more moderate members of the board have refused to participate in the process. They both responded to me with their thoughts on the proceedings.

The truth is that the theory of Evolution has grown and changed significantly since its assertion by Charles Darwin in 1859, and scientists do disagree over some details. However, the majority of the scientific community agrees over the principal aspects of the theory.

Sue Gamble wrote: "I do not support these hearings and will not participate in them. There is no controversy in the Science Community about the validity of Evolution as a part of Science. The Theory of Evolution has been continually supported and strengthened since its introduction in 1859. My understanding from scientists is that Evolution is one of the strongest theories within science, and actually unifies other scientific disciplines. This is a political issue for the ultra conservative faction on the state board who currently hold 6/4 majority. This is not an educational issue."

Carol Rupe, another moderate board member, expressed her views: "My personal belief is that God created the heavens and the earth and that He did it through evolution. There is no controversy for me between science and my faith. My father is a doctor and my son is a doctor; they have taken many science courses. They also both have strong faiths. I think that in science class we must teach what scientists think happened. There are plenty of opportunities to teach other ideas in philosophy, sociology, and comparative religion classes. We've been hearing that the teaching of evolution is itself teaching a religion. I certainly don't feel that way, and I don't know of anyone who does. Science is not anti-God any more than math is anti-God. The discussions that are taking place about changing science should be between scientists in the science community. If Intelligent Design is to be recognized as science, then it needs to be peer reviewed. If it is accepted by scientists, then it should be taught. The debate should not be taking place in school board meetings across the country because that is not where science becomes science."

Cast of "Characters"
Ironically, not one of the "performers" in Kansas’s version of the Cirque Plume holds a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology. Their credentials qualifying them as “experts” qualified to objectively challenge the theory of Evolution are highly questionable. John Calvert, the "star of the show," is a retired attorney turned Intelligent Design proponent. William Harris, a close associate of Calvert, is a professor of medicine at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, and has admitted that he believes that the Christian God is the "Intelligent Designer." Mustafa Akyol is a Turkish activist writer with a master's degree in history. Akyol is affiliated with a Turkish organization called Bilim Arasfirma Vakfi, which began as a religious cult, and was instrumental in virtually eliminating Evolution from the curriculum of Turkish schools. High school biology classes in Turkey, a secular nation, now teach a form of creationism. Charles Thaxton and Jonathan Wells are both strong proponents of the concept of Intelligent Design, the pseudo science offered by the Religious Right as an alternative “theory” to Evolution.
What is this Intelligent Design "Theory" Anyway?
Intelligent Design is a cleverly packaged form of Creationism which the Religious Right is attempting to sneak into public classrooms through a variety of means, including this farcical "hearing" in Kansas. In 1991, Phillip Johnson, a Berkeley law professor, kicked off the movement by authoring Darwin on Trial. The premise of Intelligent Design is that mere observation of the complexity of the universe provides "evidence" that there was an intelligent designer.

"If Intelligent Design is to be recognized as science, then it needs to be peer reviewed. If it is accepted by scientists, then it should be taught. The debate should not be taking place in school board meetings across the country because that is not where science becomes science," said a moderate Kansas school board member.

In virtual unanimity, the scientific community rejects the credibility of Intelligent Design. Lacking the support of scientific evidence, research, or peer review, Intelligent Design only qualifies as a "theory" in the minds of those who are desperate to "prove" the existence of their version of the Christian God, and manipulate children into believing in their version of the Christian faith. In 1996, Bruce Chapman founded an allegedly non- partisan think-tank called the Discovery Institute. However, an internal document leaked in 1999 called "The Wedge Strategy" belies the true purpose of Discovery.

In the "Wedge," the Discovery Institute summarizes its five-year objective as follows:

"We are building on this momentum, broadening the wedge with a positive scientific alternative to materialistic scientific theories, which has come to be called the theory of intelligent design (ID). Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

Despite its denials to assertions that it is advancing Creationism as an alternative to Evolution through the theory of Intelligent Design, Discovery’s Christian agenda, and its alignment with the Religious Right, are quite obvious. Howard Ahmanson, an ultra-conservative California savings and loan heir, has provided Discovery with millions of dollars in funding. Phillip Johnson still appears as a "program advisor" on Discovery's website. Two of the "circus performers" from the Kansas trial, Charles Thaxton and Jonathan Wells, are listed as "fellows" with the Institute. If one needs further evidence, "The Wedge Strategy" document articulates their objectives quite clearly. After connecting the dots, it does not take a rocket scientist (or an evolutionary biologist) to see the pattern emerging with Johnson, Calvert, Harris, and their cohorts leading the charge to drive their Christian wedge into America's secular public schools.

Betrayals of Public Trust
Our three "ring-masters" here in Kansas are "poster children" for the Intelligent Design movement, and its insidious purposes. Elected by the people of Kansas to represent the educational interests of our children in our secular public schools, Kathy Martin, Steve Abrams, and Connie Morris are selling our children out to advance the cause of the Religious Right. In a state where there is currently a dearth of funding for public schools, they chose to spend $10,000 on the "Scopes II" spectacle simply to provide a vehicle to support their denigration of Evolution, one of the most widely accepted theories in the scientific community. By choosing to help employ The Wedge Strategy to transform public school classrooms into religious pulpits, they are complicit in violating the First Amendment of the US Constitution and in trampling the rights of America’s 75 million non-Christians.

As a Kansas taxpayer, voter, and parent of a student in the public school system, I take serious issue with the waste of time and resources spent on these hearings. It is a foregone conclusion that the 6-4 majority on the board will vote to adopt the science standard recommendations of the Minority Report. They have stacked the deck in their favor. They have launched tenacious propagandistic attacks against sound science, and are preparing to flatten the wall of separation of church and state. My wife and I teach our son spirituality in the home. If we wanted a school that taught Evangelical Christian dogma, we would send him to a private Evangelical Christian school. Spiritual lessons belong in the home or the church, not in the public schools, and certainly not in science classes. Even my two other sons, who attend a Catholic school, will learn the theory of Evolution in their science classes when they reach that point in the curriculum.

Board member Kathy Martin, the outspoken former teacher from Clay Center, Kansas, minces no words about her agenda or her tenuous grasp of the facts. In an interview with the Clay City paper, Ms. Martin said, "Evolution has been proven false. Intelligent Design is science-based and strong in facts." Going further, she stated, "Man has changed and evolved, but we are not going to change back into monkeys." Giving an enthusiastic “thumbs up” to the Religious Right when asked if Intelligent Design was a form of Creationism, she commented, "Of course this is a Christian agenda. We are a Christian nation. Our country is made up of Christian conservatives. We don't often speak up, but we need to stand up and let our voices be heard." Ms. Martin saved her most revealing dictum for last. "Why shouldn’t theology be taught in the classroom? Morality ought to be taught in every class. Prayer ought to be allowed. Whenever a child wanted to pray in class, I prayed with them. All children believe in God. Even little children whose parents don't take them to church believe in God." It is indeed frightening that she is in a position that enables her to render decisions affecting the education of our children.

What are the Stakes?
Once the dog-and-pony show is over, the Kansas State School Board will implement the Minority Report, rewrite the definition of science as we now know it, and seriously weaken the standing that Evolution holds in our science classes. 455,000 young minds stand to be corrupted by the introduction of the "junk science" of Intelligent Design" into the classroom. Next year, our children could be learning that the Earth is only 10,000 years old, and that humans saddled and rode dinosaurs. Both are commonly held beliefs amongst ardent members of the Religious Right. Two years from now, Genesis could replace Evolution in biology classes.

Kansas is not the only battleground over Evolution. Ohio schools adopted challenges to Evolution in 2002. Twenty other states are contemplating similar changes in their curriculum.

Despite the fact that it is a loosely organized coalition, the Religious Right is highly unified in their thrust to achieve their objective of a theocratic, Christian nation. Men like James Dobson, Ted Haggard, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell have a vision for America that includes strengthening the patriarchal nature of our society, establishing Christianity as the national religion, superseding the US Constitution with the Bible as the ultimate source of American law, openly persecuting homosexuals and non-Christians, and teaching our children that faith supplants reason.

Take a long, hard look at "Scopes II." Kansas may be a stronghold for the Religious Right, but it is not an aberration to be dismissed lightly. Dominionism, the act of Christians rising to fulfill their God-appointed places of rulers of the Earth (see Genesis 1:26), is the ultimate goal of this movement, and the Religious Right is increasing its political power across the country with each passing day. “Scopes II” is merely the first of many circus-like spectacles, not unlike those held in the Colosseum of ancient Rome. However, this time around the “true Christians” of the Religious Right intend to make lion fodder of their opposition.


Jason Miller, 38, of Overland Park, Kansas, is a free-lance activist writer with a degree in liberal arts. He is a husband and a father to three boys, and earns his living as an account representative at a finance company. His affiliations include the ACLU and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He welcomes responses at willpowerful@hotmail.com.


Copyright © 2005 The Baltimore Chronicle. All rights reserved.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on May 9, 2005.

 
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