TOPEKA, Kan. — Hearings held to determine how the theory of evolution should be treated in Kansas public schools ended Thursday in a bitter clash over the meetings’ purpose — and the behavior of participants.
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The conservative state Board of Education plans to consider proposed changes in standards by August that determine how students are tested on science statewide.
The board is expected to approve at least part of a proposal from advocates of “intelligent design,” which holds that some features in the natural world are so complex and well-ordered that an intelligent cause is the best way to explain them.
Intelligent design advocates say, however, they are not pushing their ideas, only trying to expose students to more criticism of evolution.
The four days of hearings drew reporters from as far afield as Canada, France, Great Britain and Japan — plus a film crew shooting a documentary.
John Calvert, a retired attorney representing intelligent design advocates, complained Thursday of the personal attacks generated in the debate — and refused to shake hands with Pedro Irigonegaray, an attorney representing evolution defenders.
“I don’t think this strategy deserves a handshake,” he said.
Irigonegaray spent two hours attacking language proposed by intelligent design advocates, the advocates’ motives and the board’s conservative majority — but called no witnesses.
“You have a responsibility to the children and the future of this state that you have sadly — sadly — failed,” Irigonegaray told the board.
State and national science groups — led by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Kansas Citizens for Science — boycotted the public hearings, claiming they were rigged against evolution.
“This lacks honor and integrity and rules,” said Steve Case, assistant director of the Center for Science Education at the University of Kansas.
He said witnesses called by intelligent design advocates merely resurrected creationists’ old criticisms of evolution.
“It’s old news. A lot of their assumptions have been addressed and debunked,” Case said. “They’ll go to the next public forum and say them again.”
But the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which supports intelligent design research, said Case and other evolution defenders were ducking hard questions.
“Their attitude seems to be ‘trust us; everyone else is stupid,’” said John West, a senior fellow at the institute. “They seem to crawl under a rock when anybody tries to question them.”
Battles over evolution also have occurred in recent years in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
In 1999, the Kansas board deleted most references to evolution from the science standards. Elections the next year resulted in a less conservative board, which led to the current, evolution-friendly standards. Conservative Republicans recaptured the board’s majority in 2004 elections.
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