By John Hanna, Associated Press
TOPEKA, Kan. — Eighty years after the first famed "Monkey Trial," a second one of sorts opened Thursday, but this time with evolution in the dock.
A State Board of Education subcommittee began four days of trial-like hearings that give evolution's critics, many of them advocates of intelligent design, a public forum to attack the theory attributed to 19th Century British scientist Charles Darwin.
The entire board plans to consider changes in June to standards that determine how Kansas students are tested on science.
"The purpose of the hearings is to assist us as the board members deal with complicated and sometimes confusing issues," said Board Chairman Steve Abrams, a member of the subcommittee.
The board asked a committee of educators to recommend changes but 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.
"Public science education is an institution," said Bill Harris, a University of Missouri-Kansas City professor of medicine and intelligent design advocate. "It appoints a teacher to be a referee among ideas.
"Nobody would tolerate a football game where the referee was obviously biased."
But Harris, the hearings' first witness, acknowledged the debate has religious and philosophical ramifications.
"We hope to show there is a scientific controversy," he said. "We now have a religious issue in our schools. One of our goals is to remove the religious bias."
But Pedro Irigonegaray, a Topeka attorney representing what he called mainstream science, repeatedly attacked Harris' assertion that the majority's proposed science stifles 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."
The presiding board members are part of a conservative majority that is receptive to criticism of evolution. Member Kathy Martin, a retired Clay Center teacher, even told Harris she agreed with much of what he said.
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.
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.
There was one key difference. In 1925, attorney Clarence Darrow, representing teacher John Scopes, attempted to make creationism look foolish. In the Kansas hearings, evolution is under attack.
"This is the Scopes Trial turned on its head," said Bruce Chapman, the Discovery Institute's president.
I do not know how many of the school board members are college graduates and if they were, did they take biology or zoology?
I admit that I don't understand all of the concepts behind Intelligent Design. What it says to me is that Intelligent Design is more Trinitarian based beliefs, but with little facts to back up their assumptions. On the other hand, many scientific discoveries have been proved by Darwin have been used time after time and can stand up easily.
I recall when I was a high school teacher in a town of 1000, I mentioned in lecturing an English class (when talking about stories) that Genesis was apocryphal (passed down, not necessarily counterfeit). My goodness, I was hauled in front of the school board, who also had wondered if I said other things that were heretical. I felt like Jesus at the time in the reverse.
But it is true that there are many situations and people in the Good Book that lack explanation. For example, where did Mrs. Cain come from? What about Mrs. Abel? Was it incest, which is big sin? How was it possible for Noak to build an Ark and have only so many people on it? And in terms of the New Testament, what happened to Jesus between the ages of 11 and 32? Why didn't he marry? We have always been told to "have faith."
I think Darwin's theory has been tested well. But I might add that his theory is incomplete because his studies were first based on studying barnacles. Big Bang theory is in place, but yet, no scientist can explain the first nanoseconds in the life of the Universe.
I am sad to see that school board members lack an understanding of science or more important, the differences between science, philosophy, and theology. If someone with a great understanding of theology and philosophy taught "Intelligent Design" separately from biology but in complement and content that is not totally trinitarian, I would welcome such for my child...and myself, for my taxpayer money. My spouse, who is a big believer of the Trinity, agrees that Creationism is more about philosophy and theology, and if taught as such classes, could complement what students learn in biology.
How do we reach out to those whose beliefs belonging to Christianity and other faiths but can live with the separation of church and state? Why do those who support Republican causes always want to pit people against one another? In JRE's and my America, we work to collaborate and build bridges, not divide ourselves against each other, especially when it comes to faith and economics.