- August 15, 2006
How to Make Sure Children Are Scientifically Illiterate
By LAWRENCE M. KRAUSS
Voters in Kansas ensured this month that noncreationist moderates will
once again have a majority (6 to 4) on the state school board, keeping
new standards inspired by intelligent design from taking effect.
This is a victory for public education and sends a message nationwide
about the public's ability to see through efforts by groups like the
Discovery Institute to misrepresent science in the schools. But for
those of us who are interested in improving science education, any
celebration should be muted.
This is not the first turnaround in recent Kansas history. In 2000,
after a creationist board had removed evolution from the state science
curriculum, a public outcry led to wholesale removal of creationist
board members up for re-election and a reinstatement of evolution in the
In a later election, creationists once again won enough seats to get a
6-to-4 majority. With their changing political tactics, creationists are
an excellent example of evolution at work. Creation science evolved into
intelligent design, which morphed into "teaching the controversy," and
after its recent court loss in Dover, Pa., and political defeats in Ohio
and Kansas, it will no doubt change again. The most recent campaign
slogan I have heard is "creative evolution."
But perhaps more worrisome than a political movement against science is
plain old ignorance. The people determining the curriculum of our
children in many states remain scientifically illiterate. And Kansas is
a good case in point.
The chairman of the school board, Dr. Steve Abrams, a veterinarian, is
not merely a strict creationist. He has openly stated that he believes
that God created the universe 6,500 years ago, although he was quoted in
The New York Times this month as saying that his personal faith "doesn't
have anything to do with science."
"I can separate them," he continued, adding, "My personal views of
Scripture have no room in the science classroom."
A key concern should not be whether Dr. Abrams's religious views have a
place in the classroom, but rather how someone whose religious views
require a denial of essentially all modern scientific knowledge can be
chairman of a state school board.
I have recently been criticized by some for strenuously objecting in
print to what I believe are scientifically inappropriate attempts by
some scientists to discredit the religious faith of others. However, the
age of the earth, and the universe, is no more a matter of religious
faith than is the question of whether or not the earth is flat.
It is a matter of overwhelming scientific evidence. To maintain a belief
in a 6,000-year-old earth requires a denial of essentially all the
results of modern physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology and geology. It
is to imply that airplanes and automobiles work by divine magic, rather
than by empirically testable laws.
Dr. Abrams has no choice but to separate his views from what is taught
in science classes, because what he says he believes is inconsistent
with the most fundamental facts the Kansas schools teach children.
Another member of the board, who unfortunately survived a primary
challenge, is John Bacon. In spite of his name, Mr. Bacon is no friend
of science. In a 1999 debate about the removal of evolution and the Big
Bang from science standards, Mr. Bacon said he was baffled about the
objections of scientists. "I can't understand what they're squealing
about," he is quoted as saying. "I wasn't here, and neither were they."
This again represents a remarkable misunderstanding of the nature of the
scientific method. Many fields - including evolutionary biology,
astronomy and physics - use evidence from the past in formulating
hypotheses. But they do not stop there. Science is not storytelling.
These disciplines take hypotheses and subject them to further tests and
experiments. This is how we distinguish theories that work, like
evolution or gravitation.
As we continue to work to improve the abysmal state of science education
in our schools, we will continue to battle those who feel that knowledge
is a threat to faith.
But when we win minor skirmishes, as we did in Kansas, we must remember
that the issue is far deeper than this. We must hold our elected school
officials to certain basic standards of knowledge about the world. The
battle is not against faith, but against ignorance.
Lawrence M. Krauss is a professor of physics and astronomy at Case
Western Reserve University.
Ann Popplestone AAB, BA, MA
CCC Metro TLC
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