updated 9/20/2005 5:39:08 PM ET 2005-09-20T21:39:08

Thirty-eight Nobel Prize laureates asked Kansas state educators to reject proposed science standards that treat evolution as a seriously questionable theory, calling it instead the "indispensable" foundation of biology.

The group, led by the writer Elie Wiesel, said it wanted to defend science and combat "efforts by the proponents of so-called intelligent design to politicize scientific inquiry."

The proposed standards, which could come up for final Board of Education approval later this year, are designed to expose students to more criticism of evolution but state in an introduction that they do not endorse intelligent design.

That increasingly popular theory argues that some features of the natural world are best explained as having an intelligent cause because they are well-ordered and complex. Its followers attack Darwin's evolutionary theory, which says that different species develop from common ancestors through a process of natural selection.

Education Board Chairman Steve Abrams, a conservative Republican who has supported the proposed standards, said he was unmoved by the scientists' plea, which became public Thursday.

"I don't think anything should be taught as dogma," Abrams told the Lawrence Journal-World.

The standards, used in developing tests for students, came up for update under state law.

Besides Wiesel, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, the letter writers include chemists, physicists and medical experts from Wiesel's New York-based Foundation for Humanity.

In their letter, they lauded evolution, saying "its indispensable role has been further strengthened by the capacity to study DNA."

The group said intelligent design can't be tested scientifically "because its central conclusion is based on belief in the intervention of a supernatural agent."

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story, published Sept. 16, contained an imprecise definition of evolutionary theory.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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