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07 May 2005

nuts & bolts of Kansas evolution hearings

Top-Tech News
Saturday 7 May 2005 3:41PM

Evolution Debate:
Kansas Considers Changing
Testing Standards

In a building where visitors once could view a natural history display, three state Board of Education members plan to hash over what critics say about a long-dead British scientist and his theory of evolution.

Four days of hearings are a precursor to a review in June of proposed changes in the state's science testing standards.

Facing a receptive conservative board majority, advocates of intelligent design hope it will revise the standards to expose students to more criticism of evolution.

Intelligent design advocates also hope their critique of evolution will receive widespread news coverage and bring what they view as a robust scientific debate to the general public's attention.

"I expect that our side is going to focus on the science pretty rigorously," said John West, senior fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which supports intelligent design research. "I hope the media doesn't just cover the antics but what's actually said."

But many scientists and some science groups are hoping that people don't consider the hearings a debate over science. Critics of intelligent design view it as creationism and argue that the hearings are rigged against evolution.

A coalition of science and education groups plans to set up a booth inside the building but aren't planning on calling any witnesses -- or debating the science supporting evolution.

"By the end of Thursday, the media will be totally bored with hearing the ID people get up and spout their drivel all day," said Harry McDonald, president of Kansas Citizens for Science. "The whole purpose of these hearings was to create the facade that science debates ID, and we're not going to debate it."

Evolution, attributed to Charles Darwin because of his 1859 book "On the Origin of Species," says environmental conditions cause species to change over time. It says such change can lead to new species and that different species, such as man and apes, can have common ancestors.

Intelligent design says some features of the natural world, because of their well-ordered complexities, are best explained by an intelligent cause.

West said there'll be no discussion during the hearings about intelligent design, only evolution.

But McDonald said: "It's going to be clear that they have political and religious agendas."

Board Chairman Steve Abrams has said the hearings will inform board members, himself included, about science. To critics, the hearings mirror the famed Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, when a Dayton, Tenn., teacher was convicted of violating a state law against teaching evolution.

And the hearings -- on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and May 12 -- will resemble a trial. Evolution critics will call 24 witnesses altogether, who will make PowerPoint presentations and face both cross-examination and questions from the three presiding board members.

Department of Education staff members were working Tuesday on arrangements for the hearings inside a 180-seat, second-floor auditorium in Memorial Hall. The building, near the Statehouse, houses state offices but once was home to the Kansas State Historical Society.

Until the 1970s, it also was home to a natural history display about birds on its top floor. Studying birds provided crucial evidence for Darwin as he developed his theory.

The doors to the auditorium sit between two bronze plaques containing excerpts from President Abraham Lincoln's writings, including from his Second Inaugural Address in 1865, contemplating the Civil War between North and South.

The plaque reads in part: "Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other."

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© 2005 Tulsa World
© 2005 Top Tech News


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