Comments and report from
Dr. Jonathan Wells (one of the four
panelists) of the Discovery Institute concerning the
Ohio State Board of Education Standards Committee
Meeting on March 11, 2002 to discuss Intelligent Design
Dr. Jonathan Wells has gave us permission to post his commentary and report.
In addition to the 2 hour debate before the Ohio State School Board on March 11 that was reported in the news media, there was an "Icons of Evolution" lecture by me at Ohio State University Monday night (attended by several hundred people, most of them students and almost all friendly); another Board meeting Tuesday morning (which we did not attend); and testimony by me, Stephen Meyer, and attorneys David DeWolf and John Calvert before the Ohio House of Representatives Education Committee Tuesday afternoon. The following report deals almost entirely with the first (the debate).
Steve Meyer and I (in consultation with others) had decided ahead of time that we would not push for including intelligent design (ID) in the state science standards, but would propose instead that the standards include language protecting teachers who choose to teach the controversy.
I went first, and had fifteen minutes to establish that there is scientific controversy over (a) the way textbooks present the evidence for evolution (using vertebrate embryo drawings -- and what happened to high school biology teacher Roger DeHart when he tried to tell his students the truth about them -- as an example); (b) the sufficiency of the evidence for Darwinian evolution (quoting from peer-reviewed biology publications and the recent "100 Scientists" ad); and (c) intelligent design as a scientific alternative to Darwinism (citing Mike Behe's use of the bacterial flagellum, and Ken Miller's critiques of it, to show disagreements among biologists over the evidence). Microbiologist Scott Minnich was in the audience, and I quoted him to show that Ken Miller's critiques of Mike Behe were scientifically challenged. I concluded by asking (rhetorically) whether teachers should be permitted to teach students about these three aspects of the scientific controversy over Darwinian evolution.
Case Western Reserve Physics professor (and creation-basher) Lawrence Krauss went second, and spent the first few minutes of his talk attacking me and my religious affiliation. This was in direct violation of instructions from the moderator. Krauss then argued that ID is not science because (a) it is not testable, and (b) IDers do not publish in peer-reviewed journals. One of Krauss's slides appeared to compare IDers to flat-earthers, but he quickly skipped over that slide as he mumbled something about a handout. (I had written, and an Ohio IDer had printed and distributed beforehand, a handout showing that the "flat earth" is a myth concocted by 19th-century Darwinists to slander Christians.) Krauss concluded by quoting Bruce Gordon at Baylor University, to show that even advocates of ID do not think it should be included in public school science curricula.
Steve Meyer went next. He argued for a "teach the controversy" approach, and in support quoted Charles Darwin himself "A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question." Steve pointed out that the definition of science being promoted by Darwinists is part of the controversy, and pointed out that many famous (and ultimately successful) scientific ideas were first proposed in books rather than "peer-reviewed" journals (including Copernicus's De Revolutionibus, Newton's Principia, and Darwin's Origin of Species). Steve then proposed, NOT that the state mandate the teaching of ID, but that it include language consistent with the Conference Report accompanying the federal education bill that would protect teachers who choose to teach their students one or more aspects of the scientific controversy over evolution.
Steve pointed out that this is (a) consistent with U.S. Supreme Court decisions; (b) the law of the land; (c) favored by the overwhelming majority of American voters; and (d) good pedagogy. (For people unfamiliar with the language of the Conference Report, here it is "The Conferees recognize that a quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science.
Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.") (NOTE Someone posted a comment from a Darwinist claiming that "now, the creationists are going to fight for a voluntary inclusion of intelligent design into curriculums, and leave it up to the individual school districts." We actually proposed something a bit stronger - namely, that the standards include language specifically protecting teachers and school districts that choose to include ID or other aspects of the controversy.)
Ken Miller went last (having successfully lobbied for this position beforehand with the Board). He began by attacking the criticisms of his biology textbooks I had made in *Icons of Evolution*, arguing that neither the moth photos nor his improved embryo drawings misrepresent the truth. Rather than present evidence for either of his claims, however, he simply quoted a letter by embryo expert Michael Richardson and others in *Science* stating that the embryo evidence supports Darwinism despite Haeckel's fakery, and an article by moth expert Bruce Grant claiming that I had intentionally distorted the facts. (NOTE Although Grant himself has reported that moths don't normally rest on tree trunks, he vilifies me for making this public.) Miller then mocked Behe, holding up a modified mousetrap he was using as a tie clasp, and another modified mousetrap he was using as a key holder, to prove that Behe is wrong. He also cited fossils of extinct elephants and argued that a designer would have presumably gotten it right the first time rather than letting so many species go extinct.
Miller then ridiculed IDers for "not showing up at scientific meetings" or publishing in peer-reviewed journals, and he accused us of "leapfrogging" over the process of science by resorting to politics to promote our view. He concluded by saying that he is a religious person, but he doesn't believe that biology classrooms should be turned into battlegrounds of beliefs.
(NOTE Someone posted a comment from a "correspondent in Ohio" stating that "the one punch that Miller landed had to do with a couple details in Icons of Evolution." Although I do think Miller landed a rhetorical punch, he never really addressed the evidence on these points. Nevertheless, the format of the debate prevented me from pointing this out to the Board.)
Our formal presentations were followed by a one-hour Q&A session. Board members submitted written questions to the moderator. We each had 2 minutes to respond to each question, and the order rotated, so that I went first on the first question (with Miller having the last word), Krauss went second on the second (with me having the last word), etc . The questions were pretty balanced; but because things moved so quickly I was unable to take comprehensive notes, so I cannot give a balanced report.
On four occasions when I followed Ken Miller, however, I was able to nail him on his misrepresentations. Since I'm always looking for an opportunity to add luster to my own reputation, I'll describe those.
(1) In response to one question, Miller used a transparency to rebut the claim I had made in my formal presentation that most major groups of animals appeared abruptly in the Cambrian explosion without fossil evidence of common ancestry. Miller argued that some "major groups" of animals (insects, mammals, reptiles, and I think birds) first appeared AFTER the Cambrian explosion, and that the Ediacaran fauna showed the existence of ancestral animal forms BEFORE the Cambrian explosion. As Miller left the projector, I asked him if I could borrow his transparency; without thinking, he gave it to me. (I tried this again later, with another of his transparencies, but the second time he refused.) I used Miller's own transparency to show that his "major groups" were not phyla (the term I had used in my presentation), and that the Ediacaran fauna (with one possible exception) are not thought to have been ancestral to the modern phyla -- in fact, some paleontologists doubt the Ediacarans were even animals. I think it was clear to the Board and the audience that Miller had twisted the facts.
(2) At one point Miller claimed to have done a computer word search of the recently passed federal education bill without turning up the language of the Santorum Amendment, or even any reference to biological evolution. (Of course, Miller deliberately omitted the Conference Report from his search.) As he left the podium, I simply quoted the relevant passage (cited above) directly from the Congressional Record.
(3) In response to one question, Miller repeated his charge that ID proponents do not publish in peer-reviewed science journals. I followed by quoting from a letter sent to Mike Behe by the editor of one such journal "As you no doubt know, our journal has supported and demonstrated a strong evolutionary position from the very beginning, and believes that evolutionary explanations of all structures and phenomena of life are possible and inevitable. Hence a position such as yours, that opposes this view... cannot be appropriate for our pages." (This -- and other correspondence that Behe has had with science journals -- is posted at the Discovery Institute web site.)
(4) In response to a question about how recent genetic research bears on evolution, Miller said that molecular phylogenies have overwhelmingly confirmed inferences from other evidence about the evolutionary relationships of organisms. I responded by showing a short series of Powerpoint slides (which I sometimes use in my lectures) illustrating how -- in the case of the animal phyla -- molecular phylogenies (a) are inconsistent with phylogenies based on morphology; (b) differ depending on what molecule is used to construct them; and (c) even differ when the same molecule is analyzed by two different laboratories. I concluded with a quote from Darwinian biologist Michael Lynch (published in the peer-reviewed journal *Evolution* in 1999) "Clarification of the phylogenetic relationships of the major animal phyla has been an elusive problem, with analyses based on different genes and even different analyses based on the same genes yielding a diversity of phylogenetic trees."
Although I felt afterwards (as I usually do after dealing with people like Krauss and Miller) that I needed a shower, I felt that Steve and I had succeeded in (a) showing the Board that there IS a scientific controversy here, and (b) presenting a reasonable solution to the Board's problem, by proposing that it NOT mandate the teaching of ID (which is, after all, a new and minority view among biologist), but simply that it act to protect teachers who choose to discuss the scientific controversy.
Immediately after the 2-hour debate, the Board members were whisked away under police escort to another meeting, while the four panelists moved to another room to spend the next 2 hours meeting the press. Some of the subsequent local TV coverage was surprisingly balanced, considering the anti-ID hysteria whipped up by the Columbus Dispatch and Cleveland Plain Dealer in the weeks preceding March 11. One notable feature of the press conference was the surprise appearance of the Democrat candidate for Ohio governor, who capitalized on the concentration of reporters to blast the present Republican governor for being soft on creationism.
Another interesting aspect of the press conference was a statement by Ken Miller, featured on the evening news, to the effect that ID advocates are trying to present their views to the public "without the approval of science." Afterwards, in private, Steve Meyer kept repeating Miller's pompous declaration with a heavy German accent, sounding for all the world like Heinrich Himmler, Hitler's propaganda chief.
The Board met again Tuesday morning, and heard from five Ohioans commenting on the proposed science standards. I was told later by one of those who spoke that four of the speakers favored the idea of either including ID or protecting teachers who want to include it. The fifth speaker was Steve Edinger, a biology instructor (and, like Krauss, a fervent creation-basher) at Ohio University. Edinger apparently spent much of his time personally ridiculing me, Steve Meyer and other IDers; afterwards, one Board member (a plain-spoken cattleman) told Edinger he was full of bull and would do well to keep his mouth shut.
All in all, I think things went well. At the very least, we were able to air the controversy in a way that (I think) opened at least a few eyes to what is really going on. The Ohio story is not over. The Board will not actually vote on the science standards until the Fall. Stay tuned for further exciting developments between now and then.
Jonathan Wells, Ph.D.
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