TOPEKA, Kan. — Witnesses trying to persuade Kansas officials to encourage more criticism of evolution in public school classrooms have made statements that some scientists say revealed creationist views.
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Witnesses in a hearing of a subcommittee of the State Board of Education on how the theory should be taught have also acknowledged that they had not fully read evolution-friendly science standards proposed by educators. Nor had two of three presiding board members.
The subcommittee was in its third day of hearings Saturday, with a final day scheduled for Thursday. The entire board plans to consider changes in June to standards that determine how Kansas students are on science.
State and national science groups are boycotting the hearings, viewing them as rigged in favor of language backed by intelligent design advocates.
In turn, intelligent design advocates contend that they have been portrayed unfairly as advocating creationism. Intelligent design says some features of the natural world are so complex and well-ordered that they are best explained by an intelligent cause.
Repeatedly on Friday and Saturday, Topeka lawyer Pedro Irigonegaray, representing the drafters of the evolution-friendly standards, questioned witnesses about their personal beliefs.
Witnesses said they did not believe all life had a common origin or that man evolved from earlier, ape-like creatures. Some said they accepted the widespread scientific conclusion that the Earth was about 4.5 billion years old, but two said they believed it was 5,000 to 100,000 years old.
Nancy Bryson, a biology instructor at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, said having life appear from chemical molecules was "utterly impossible." Bryson came under fire for giving a public lecture in 2003 criticizing evolution and eventually lost her position as division science director at Mississippi University for Women.
“In my personal opinion, I believe there is an intelligent designer,” she said.
Other scientists said such statements showed the witnesses’ true motives — opening up the science curriculum for religion.
“They’re creationists first and scientists second,” Robert Bowden, a plant pathologist at Kansas State University, said after Friday’s hearing.
Evolution critics urge more open debate
Witnesses said the language backed by advocates of intelligent design would allow freer debate in the classroom.
“Teachers should be actually encouraged to discuss these issues,” said Russell Carlson, a biochemist and molecular biologist at the University of Georgia in Athens.
Irigonegaray repeatedly pointed out that witnesses had not fully read the evolution-friendly proposal, which would continue the state’s policy describing the theory as a key concept for students to learn.
Board member Kathy Martin, of Clay Center, elicited groans of disbelief from a few audience members when she acknowledged that she had only scanned the proposal, which is more than 100 pages long. Later, board member Connie Morris, of St. Francis, also said she had only scanned it.
Martin said during a break: “I’m not a word-for-word reader in this kind of technical information.”
Intelligent design advocates continued calling scholars, biologists and chemists to attack evolutionary theory that all life arose from a common source and that change in species over time can lead to new species.
Battles over evolution also have occurred in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania in the past few years.
In 1999, the Kansas State Board of Education, with a conservative majority — including Abrams — deleted most references to evolution in the science standards. The next election led to a less conservative board, which adopted the current standards. In last year’s elections, conservatives captured a majority again.
Irigonegaray hoped to show that intelligent design was a religious concept. He asked Carlson, “In your opinion, the intelligent designer is God, is it not?”
Carlson replied: “Well, yeah, I would agree with that.”
Asked to explain the appearance of humans on Earth, witness John Sanford, an associate professor of horticultural sciences at Cornell University, said: “My explanation, humbly offered, is that we were specially created.”
The board has sought to avoid comparisons between its hearings and the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tenn., in which teacher John Scopes was convicted of violating a state law against teaching evolution. However, both sides are represented by attorneys, even if scientists refuse to testify for evolution.
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