By Jason Miller
Phineas Taylor Barnum would be green with envy. The master of the hoodwink would be in awe of the Religious Right movement. Mirroring Barnum, snake-charming, beguiling, conning, and flimflamming are at the heart of its repertoire. Yet these masters of manipulation leave Barnum looking like a bush leaguer. Over the last week, the radicals of the Right have been flashing their propagandistic cunning as they soak up the spotlight of national media attention in Topeka, Kansas.
Faith vs. Science: Round 2
In "Scopes II", a 21st Century reenactment of the “Monkey Trial” of 1925, the 6 to 4 conservative Christian majority on the Kansas State School Board has again put the theory of Evolution on trial. Despite the lack of testimony from a single member of the mainstream scientific community, "the show must go on" as three of the most conservative board members preside over this "hearing." What is the thinly veiled purpose of this extravaganza? With certainty, it is to validate the concept of Intelligent Design and to denigrate Evolution.
Under the "big top" of Memorial Hall in Topeka, the board has paraded a panel of experts on the concept of Intelligent Design to testify that Evolution is a flawed theory. Several witnesses have asserted the fiction that there is a controversy in the mainstream scientific community over the validity of evolution. John Calvert, a retired attorney and Kansas resident who heads the Intelligent Design Network, has questioned the "expert" witnesses over the last few days in high hopes of exposing the alleged weaknesses of Evolution.
What are the stakes?
Once the dog and pony show is over, the Kansas State School Board will implement their new science standards. They will rewrite the very definition of science and seriously limit the teaching of Evolution in our science classes. 455,000 young minds stand to be corrupted by the "theory" of Intelligent Design. By 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, passages from Genesis could replace references to Evolution in biology classes. Intellectual regression threatens to infect twenty other states with similar maladies over the next few months.
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.
Displaying the height of hubris, this report calls for the school board to rewrite the universally accepted definition of science. Based on the Majority and Minority Reports, the "Big Six, employing their infinite Biblical wisdom, decided to host hearings to determine the validity of Evolution. Witness the spectacle of "Scopes II."
Validity of Evolution Speaks for Itself
Mainstream scientists elected to boycott this charade. They chose not to debate over a theory that is widely embraced by the scientific community, or address the false dichotomy that belief in Evolution demands that one be an atheist. 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. Kenneth Miller, of Brown University and author of Finding Darwin's God, is a living example of one who believes in both Evolution and a Christian God. Miller, whose beliefs are not uncommon amongst scientists and the general population, dispels the myth that Evolution and atheism are synonymous. The scientific community is not denying the existence of God; they simply believe that proving the existence of God is beyond the realm or purpose of science.
Pedro Irigonegaray, the "lyin' tamer" in this circus, is an attorney who is
passionately defending the preservation of evolution in Kansas schools. Nobly donating his time to the cause, he has called the proceedings a "kangaroo court". "Junk science" is how he describes Intelligent Design. Through cross examination, Irigonegaray exposed the fact that several of the witnesses testifying against Evolution have not even read the Minority Report. Following that revelation, conservative Christian board member Kathy Martin acknowledged that she had not read the Report in its entirety either.
Cast of "Characters"
Not one of the "performers" in the Kansas Cirque Plume holds a PhD in evolutionary biology. Just what are the credentials of those who have gathered to debunk a theory that has withstood 146 years worth of scientific scrutiny? 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. BAV, a religious cult, was instrumental in virtually eliminating Evolution from the curriculum of Turkish schools. High school biology classes in the secular nation of Turkey now teach a form of Creationism. Charles Thaxton and Jonathan Wells are both strong proponents of the concept of Intelligent Design, a pseudo science promoted by the Religious Right.
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. 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 our children into believing in their version of the Christian faith. In 1996, Bruce Chapman founded the Discovery Institute, whose alleged purpose is to advance scientific objectivity. Unfortunately for Discovery, someone leaked an internal document in 1999. With clear articulation, The Wedge Strategy belies the true agenda of Discovery.
In the Wedge, the Discovery Institute summarizes its five year objective as
"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 their frequent denials, the Religious Right is advancing Creationism
as an alternative to Evolution under the guise of Intelligent Design. The Discovery Institute is the chief architect and proponent of "ID". Its alignment with the Religious Right is quite transparent. Howard Ahmanson, an ultra-conservative Christian, and heir to a savings and loan fortune, has provided it with millions of dollars in funding. Phillip Johnson still appears as a program advisor on Discovery's website. Several of the "expert" witnesses from the Kansas trial, including Michael Behe, Charles Thaxton, and Jonathan Wells, are listed as fellows with the Institute. John Calvert, the conservative Christian posing the questions to the witnesses, leads the Intelligent Design Network of Kansas. The Wedge Strategy document is the icing on the cake. The dots are in place. Connect them, and a disturbing picture emerges.
Betrayals of Public Trust
The conservative faction of the Kansas State School Board personifies the Religious Right, the Intelligent Design movement, and their 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 their personal religious crusade. In a state where there is currently a dearth of funding for public schools, they chose to spend $10,000.00 on the "Scopes II" spectacle simply to provide a vehicle to support their denigration of Evolution. By helping 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. Kansans put them in office to oversee the secular education of our children, not to introduce their personal faith into the classroom.
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, where such education belongs.
Board member Kathy Martin, the out-spoken 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 Center newspaper, 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."
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."
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.
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."
Harbinger of Darkness
Kansas may be center stage today, but next week the Religious Right will launch a new offensive. Despite their loosely organized nature, the Religious Right is highly unified in their obsession to forge a theocracy in America. Men like James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell have a vision for America that includes renewing the patriarchal nature of our society, establishing Christianity as the national religion, superseding the US Constitution with the Bible as the ultimate source of law, openly persecuting homosexuals and non-Christians, and teaching our children that faith supplants logic. Dominionism is the goal of the hard-liners of this movement. In Genesis 1:26, God proclaimed man to be the ruler of the Earth, and the Religious Right is "heaven bent" on claiming their dominion. "Scopes II" is not an aberration. It is an omen. Those who value their civil liberties and intellectual freedom would be wise to take heed and make a stand, before it is too late.
Jason S. Miller is a 38 year old free-lance activist writer with a degree in liberal arts. He is a husband and a father to three boys, and he 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. Jason welcome responses at firstname.lastname@example.org.