Kansas Evolution Hearings Grow Contentious

A modern-day Monkey Trial in Kansas ended Thursday with a public argument over whether the State Board of Education is damaging science education and whether evolution's defenders have misbehaved.

In advocating evolution-friendly science standards for the state's public schools, Topeka attorney Pedro Irigonegaray (search) spent two hours attacking language proposed by intelligent design advocates, the advocates' motives and the board's conservative majority.

The entire board plans to consider changes by August in the standards, which determine how fourth-, seventh- and 10th-graders are tested on science statewide.

A board subcommittee heard three days of testimony last week from evolution critics. Irigonegaray called no witnesses because state and national science groups boycotted the public hearings as rigged against evolution.

Irigonegaray sometimes lectured presiding board members Thursday, saying they were undermining science education, hurting the state's reputation and even endangering Kansas' efforts to build a biosciences industry.

"You have a responsibility to the children and the future of this state that you have sadly — sadly — failed," Irigonegaray told them.

Board members didn't let such comments go unanswered, accusing him and other evolution defenders of character assassination.

"I believe your behavior here was abusive," said board member Connie Morris, of St. Francis. "I want you to know I forgive you."

John Calvert, a retired Lake Quivira attorney who helped found the Intelligent Design Network and organized the anti-evolution case, said he wouldn't shake Irigonegaray's hand because of the personal attacks.

"I don't think this strategy deserves a handshake," he said.

The board has competing proposals to update the science standards. One continues treating evolution as a key concept for students to learn — and as a well-established theory. The other, from intelligent design advocates, would expose students to more criticism of evolution.

Abrams sought to avoid comparisons between the hearings and the famed Scopes Monkey Trial (search) in Dayton, Tenn., in 1925, in which teacher John Scopes was convicted of violating a state law against teaching evolution. But last week's testimony culminated with Irigonegaray questioning Calvert, who called himself as his own last witness.

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.

All three presiding board members are part of its conservative majority, which is expected to approve at least part of the language sought by intelligent design advocates.

Last week, witnesses criticized evolutionary theory that natural processes may have created life from chemicals, that all life has a common origin and that man and apes have a common ancestor.

Intelligent design says some features of the natural world are best explained by an intelligent cause because they are well-ordered and complex.

Irigonegaray derided intelligent design as a new form of creationism and said its advocates are trying to inject a narrow religious view into science classes. After his two-hour statement, he said he wasn't a witness and refused to take questions.

Calvert demanded time to rebut Irigonegaray. Irigonegaray told Abrams: "You do whatever you wish."

"The judge will be the people of the state and these media," he said speaking of the reporters attending the hearings.

Abrams allowed Calvert to speak. Then he, Morris and the third presiding board member, Kathy Martin, of Clay Center, chastised Irigonegaray. Martin said Irigonegaray had a "bullying tongue."

"Being honest and straightforward is the way I still operate," Martin said, her voice choked with emotion.

Intelligent design advocates have repeatedly cited an Internet posting in February, in which a Kansas Citizens for Science (search) spokeswoman said her strategy was portraying evolution critics as "political opportunists, evangelical activists, ignoramuses, breakers of rules, unprincipled bullies, etc." Group members said the posting was a personal opinion, not their policy.