May 5, 2005
Debate Over Evolution Becomes War of Words
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Eighty years after the first famed "Monkey Trial," a second one of sorts opened Thursday, giving critics of evolution a forum in which to attack the theory.
A State Board of Education subcommittee began four days of trial-like hearings on evolution, and witnesses were advocates of intelligent design, critics of evolution or both.
The entire board plans to consider changes in June to standards that determine how Kansas students are tested on science.
The three board members presiding over the hearings are all conservative Republicans and receptive to criticism of evolution. Two of them, Kathy Martin, of Clay Center, and Connie Morris, of St. Francis, agreed several times with witnesses critical of evolution.
"I was hoping this hearing would give me good, hard evidence that I could repeat," Morris said.
There were no protests, but over the lunch hour, the Kansas Highway Patrol brought in metal detectors for use outside the auditorium where the hearings were held. Lt. John Eichkorn said the patrol wasn't responding to a specific threat, adding, "We're constantly re-evaluating our security needs."
The board has sought to avoid comparisons of its hearings with the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tenn., in which a teacher was convicted of violating a law against teaching evolution. But the hearings resemble a trial, with attorneys managing each side's case.
In 1925, attorney Clarence Darrow, representing teacher John Scopes, attempted to make creationism look foolish. In the Kansas hearings, evolution is under attack.
Even before the hearing began, Pedro Irigonegary, a Topeka attorney representing what he called mainstream science, dismissed the event as a "kangaroo court."
Nor was Susan Gibbs, a Lawrence mother of two teenagers who attended the hearings, sure her thinking about evolution would change because of the testimony.
"I believe in God, but I'm not sure He created everything," she said during a break. "I'm right in the middle."
Last year, the board asked a committee of educators to recommend changes but eventually received two competing proposals. One, the majority plan, would continue the existing policy of treating evolution as a key concept for students to learn. The other, the minority plan, suggests more criticism of evolution.
Some science groups and many scientists contend the board is being pushed to adopt language that would enshrine tenets of intelligent design in the standards - even if that concept isn't mentioned by name. National and state organizations are boycotting the hearings, viewing them as rigged against evolution.
But intelligent design advocates say that's not true and argue that they're only trying to give students a more balanced view of evolution.
Evolution says species change over time and that such changes can lead to new species, giving different ones, such as man and apes, common ancestors. Intelligent design says some features of the natural world, because of their well-ordered complexities, are best explained by an intelligent cause.
"Public science education is an institution," Harris testified. advocate. "It appoints a teacher to be a referee among ideas ... Nobody would tolerate a football game where the referee was obviously biased."
But Irigonegaray repeatedly attacked Harris' assertion that the majority's proposed standards stifle criticism of evolution in the classroom.
Irigonegaray asked him, referring to the majority proposal: "Where in the standards does it say teachers and students cannot discuss criticism of evolution?"
Harris replied: "It doesn't say that. I think it's implicit."
Charles Thaxton, who lives near Atlanta but is a visiting assistant professor of chemistry at the Charles University in the Czech Republic, also presented another key criticism of evolution. He testified that there's no evidence that life formed from a primordial soup.
Irigonegaray asked Thaxton whether he accepted the theory that humans and apes had a common ancestor.
"Personally, I do not," he said. "I'm not an expert on this. I don't study this."
On the Net:
State Board of Education: http://www.ksbe.state.ks.us/
Kansas Citizens for Science: http://www.kcfs.org/
Discovery Institute: http://www.discovery.org/