As a State Board of Education subcommittee heard more testimony Friday on how evolution should be taught in Kansas classrooms, one member acknowledged that she hadn't read all of an evolution-friendly draft of science standards proposed by educators.
Kathy Martin made the comment while attempting to reassure a witness who said he hadn't read the entire proposal, just parts of it. Russell Carlson, a biochemistry and molecular biology professor at the University of Georgia, said he had reviewed an alternate proposal from intelligent-design advocates.
"I've not read it word for word myself," Martin said of the other proposal, eliciting groans of disbelief from a few members of the audience.
The board expects to consider changes in June in how Kansas students are tested statewide on science. The three-member subcommittee began hearings Thursday, and will hear more testimony Saturday and again next Thursday.
"It's intellectually stimulating," said board Chairman Steve Abrams, one of the three presiding members. "It's good information."
Similar battles have occurred in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania in the past few years.
The Kansas board has sought to avoid comparisons of its hearings with the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tenn., in which teacher John Scopes was convicted of violating a law against teaching evolution. But the hearings do resemble a trial, with attorneys managing each side's case.
In 1999, the Kansas State Board of Education, with a conservative majority — which included Abrams — deleted most references to evolution in the science standards. The next election led to a less conservative board, which adopted the current standards describing evolution as a key concept for students to learn before graduating high school.
Last year, conservatives captured a majority again, and many scientists fear the board will adopt revisions supported by intelligent design advocates. The conservative majority includes the three subcommittee members, Abrams, Martin and Connie Morris.
Intelligent design advocates said they only want to expose students to more criticism of evolution, giving them a more balanced picture of the theory attributed to 19th-century British scientist Charles Darwin.
"The way Darwinian evolution is usually presented is that the evidence is overwhelming, and there is no controversy about it," said Jonathan Wells, a senior fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which supports intelligent design research. "That's clearly not the case."
Intelligent design advocates question evolutionary science, which says that change in one species can lead to new species and that different species have common ancestors.
Intelligent design says some features in the natural world — because they are complex and well-ordered — are best explained by the actions of a powerful intelligent being.
None of the changes that intelligent-design advocates have proposed in the standards mention their ideas. But other scientists scoff at the notion that the board isn't being pushed to endorse intelligent design.
"The only things that exist in intelligent design literature are criticisms of evolution," said Keith Miller, a research assistant professor in geology at Kansas State University. "Who are the people they are bringing here to speak? Advocates of intelligent design."
Viewing the hearings as rigged against evolution, national and state science groups are boycotting, so no scientist is expected to testify against the intelligent design advocates' case. Instead, they are conducting a series of news conferences at the Statehouse.