K-State science education professor to give symposium

February 14, 2004

Imagine you've been standing at the back of a line for hours to get tickets to your favorite concert or sporting event. Now picture someone who cuts in front of the line as the ticket window opens.

That's how a Kansas State University educator describes a movement proposed by a group at the Discovery Institute in Seattle with regard to promoting the intelligent design theory as a scientific one that is an alternative to the theory of evolution.

"I think everybody can relate to standing in line," John Staver said. "It's probably a part of world culture. The intelligent design people are trying to cut in line and the scientific community is merely pointing that out."

Staver, a K-State professor of science education and director of the Center for Science Education whose mission is to enhance the quality of teaching and learning in science, mathematics, technology and environmental education throughout Kansas and the prairie states. He recently completed a five-year term as executive secretary of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching. Staver was co-chairperson of the 27-member committee of Kansas science educators who wrote new science standards emphasizing evolution. These were approved by the Kansas Board of Education, which reversed a 1999 board decision that allowed school districts to decide if evolution would be taught to students.

Today Staver will deliver a paper titled "Should intelligent design be included in school science?" at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Seattle. Staver and two other educators will take the position and present evidence counter to that theory.

Staver's answer to that question is a resounding "no" until the theory can be established as an accepted scientific theory. According to Staver, the intelligent design theory is a religious-based idea that is an outgrowth of older forms of creationism.

"They're arguing that among other things, evolution is a bankrupt theory that is being protected unfairly by the scientific community," Staver said. "They also assert that evolution no longer, if it ever did, explains and predicts anything and that intelligent design theory is a worthy, scientific alternative theory."

Staver said to establish intelligent design as a scientific theory, advocates must conduct extensive, empirically based scientific experimentation and scientific work, take those procedures, data and results to various scientific professional society meetings, have their data scrutinized and studied, published in refereed scientific journals and then try to get it accepted.

"That's how new scientific ideas are eventually either accepted or rejected by the scientific community," Staver said. "There are just legions of examples throughout the history of science."

Staver cites as an example a group of scientists who several years ago proposed that they had generated cold fusion in an experimental set up at near room temperature. The scientists shared their data and procedures with other scientific groups who replicated the work but could not get the same results. As such, the scientific community dismissed the idea.

"The ID folks are not even doing this," Staver said. "They are taking their idea to the public and trying to convince them that intelligent design is a scientific theory and a better scientific theory that explains the complexities of life and both the unity and diversity of living systems better than does evolution.

"There's nothing wrong with religion. I happen to be a religious person. It just simply isn't science and its proponents are not engaging in the kind of intellectual activity that could get it legitimized as science."

In addition to Staver discussing educational issues involving the conflicting theories, Ron Numbers, a historian of science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will review the various forms of changes in creationist thinking and demonstrate that intelligent design theory is an outgrowth of those forms of thinking. Steven Gey, a professor of constitutional law at Florida State, will address the legal precedents and the constitutional law issues surrounding the theories.

According to Staver, the intelligent design theory first emerged in the early 1990s. Phillip Johnson, a retired professor of law at University of California-Berkeley, is the acknowledged "father" of the theory. Johnson's book, "Darwin on Trial," subpoenas evolutionary theory before a court of inquiry. Staver said the book is "not a scientific book, but a book about ideas and ideology."

"That's fine," Staver said. "I personally have no problems with intelligent design theory as a religious-based theory. I have big problems with it as a scientific theory."

Kansas State University

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