This week, the leading lights of the Intelligent Design movement — Drs. Jonathan Wells and Michael Behe among them — will make their way to Topeka, Kan. There, they will make an appeal to the state’s elected school board to allow in-class criticisms of Darwinism and its derivatives, which are now taught not as theory — not even as fact, actually — but as something close to dogma.
The ID advocates may very well succeed. The school board now has a 6-to-4 majority sympathetic to a rational challenge to Darwnism. What is more, in the six years since the evolution controversy first exploded in Kansas, the ID movement has done an impressive job refocusing the debate on science and logic and undoing the crude stereotypes under which all opponents of naturalism have had to labor since the Scopes trial.
The pro-Darwinian forces in Kansas, however, are not about to roll over. These forces have come together under the aegis of the not-for-profit Kansas Citizens For Science and have mounted a systematic and effective resistance since 1999 when the issue first surfaced. This year, in response to the leveling of the playing field, KCFS has opted for hardball.
On Feb. 10, in its typically hyperbolic style, KCFS posted on its website a series of attacks against the “the six-member anti-science majority” and the ID advocates and threatened a “staged re-enactment of the Scopes trial.”
Behind the scenes, the language was less tempered still. The KCFS discussion board lit up that day. And although most of the comments are not particularly relevant, those from the KCFS Secretary and Media Contact Liz Craig bear scrutiny.
My strategy at this point is the same as it was in 1999 … notify the national and local media about what’s going on and portray [the school board majority] in the harshest light possible, as political opportunists, evangelical activists, ignoramuses, breakers of rules, unprincipled bullies, etc.
The “target” for Craig’s propaganda, as she freely admits, are “the moderates who are not particularly well educated about the issues.” In 1999, the KCFS strategy was to scare the uninformed into thinking that any official resistance to Darwin would cause the state great embarrassment. To assure the desired outcome, the KCFS then prodded the media to portray the state school board — and by extension its citizens — as evangelical activists, ignoramuses and the like.
Craig is openly boastful about her success in this regard. The uninformed — dressed up by Craig and the media as “moderates” — responded by voting out school board members from vulnerable districts, particularly the suburban districts where citizens were most concerned about what the rest of the world thought. The hostile media coverage had, in fact, caused these citizens great “embarrassment.”
Thomas Frank upped the embarrassment ante in his specious best-seller, “What’s The Matter With Kansas,” a book whose take on the “barking idiocies” of the school board and the “cranks, conspiracists and calamity howlers” who comprise the state’s citizenry almost perfectly mirrors Craig’s.
Despite Frank and the media, conservatives regained the majority on the school board in 2004. When first apprised of the school board’s intentions, KCFS spokespeople immediately contacted the Kansas City Star, and the Star obliged KCFS by publicly wringing its hands and fretting about new national humiliations to come. “Kansas science classes should not get sidetracked into issues that belong in religious education,” thundered the Star editorial, fully misunderstanding the issue.
“There may be no way to head off another science standards debacle,” adds Craig in her Feb. 10 posting, “but we can sure make them look like asses as they do what they do.”
“I believe the right game plan can make their lives in the spotlight a living hell,” responds KCFS member Robert Madison, a former high-school science teacher. “There is nothing wrong with doing what worked in 1999.”
“We’ve got national and international coverage for our issue,” answers an upbeat Craig. “London Guardian, Time, NPR, Newsweek, USA Today, National Review, Toronto newspaper, to name a few.”
Readers of those publications — and Frank’s book — might get a second opinion before believing that political opportunists, evangelical activists, ignoramuses, breakers of rules and unprincipled bullies are destroying the state of Kansas.
Truth is often the first casualty when paradigms shift.
Jack Cashill is an Emmy-award winning independent writer and producer with a Ph.D. in American Studies from Purdue.