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The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

Kansas Evolution Hearings

Summary of the Background to the Kansas "Science Hearings" of May, 2005

Copyright © 2005
[Posted: July 1, 2005]



[Jack Krebs is vice-president of Kansas Citizens for Science]

The standards and the Minority proposals

In 1999, Kansas gained worldwide notoriety when the state Board of Education (BOE) passed creationist-influenced science standards. These standards were replaced by solid science standards in 2001 when pro-science moderates regained the Board majority from the creationist conservatives.

However, now in 2004-2005 the creationists have once again gained a 6-4 majority on the Board. In June 2004 the Board established a 25-member science writing committee to revise the science standards. Eight of these committee members (henceforth "the Minority") were creationists selected by the creationist Board members. In December 2004 the Minority submitted a Minority report directly to the Board (bypassing standard writing committee procedures) that contained a hodge-podge of anti-evolutionary claims from the Intelligent Design movement. At that time the Minority, led by Bill Harris, a managing director of the Intelligent Design Network (IDnet), declared that lawyer John Calvert, also a managing director of IDnet (but not a member of the committee) would represent the Minority as their "counsel and spokesperson."

In January 2005 the writing committee, at the direction of the Board, reviewed the Minority proposals. Following established voting procedures, the writing committee rejected all but one of the Minority proposals.

Also in January a series of four public forums on the standards began. These forums, held throughout the state, allowed members of the public the opportunity to give short two-minute statements to members of the writing committee. Drawn by the evolution/creation issue, almost a thousand people attended these forums, and over 200 spoke. Although the speakers were split about 50-50 on the issue, the ID advocates were not happy with the results because

On February 2, 2005 John Calvert wrote at the Discovery Institute's weblog at Public Floods Kansas Board with Input on Science Standards,

One thing is obvious. This [the public forums process] is not the proper process for deciding this issue. Focused hearings from experts are desperately needed to cut through the misinformation, ridicule and half truths.

It would have helped to have more scientists on our side. If that had been the case we would have won the debate hands down. As it was, the objective observer would leave scratching his head.

We also need theologians who can rebut the argument of the Christian biology teacher that there is no conflict between evolution or naturalism and Christianity. We need someone to explain the two logical conflicts that allow Dawkins to claim to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist and that precludes a Christian from making the same claim.

Thus the idea for the "science hearings" was born.

The science hearings plan and the scientists' boycott

At the state BOE meeting on February 9, 2005 Board chairperson and creationist leader Steve Abrams surprised the Board by proposing that the Board appoint a special subcommittee "to conduct hearings focused on the areas of disagreement outlined by the majority and minority positions of the Science Writing Committee." During the next three months the science hearings subcommittee, composed of three creationist Board members (Abrams, Connie Morris, and Kathy Martin), closely collaborated with Calvert to establish the quasi-legal format for the hearings. Their plan was for "each side," the Minority and the mainstream science "Majority," to take three days to present the arguments for their case.

However, the science community refused to play. At the March 8, 2005 BOE meeting, Harry McDonald, president of Kansas Citizens for Science, presented a KCFS resolution calling for all scientists to boycott the hearings. The resolution concluded by saying,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that KCFS calls on the entire science and science education community of Kansas to refuse to participate in the hearing proceedings. Science has its own validity and has made its position on these matters perfectly clear and unambiguous. ID and other forms of creationism aren't science. The specific proposals in the minority report have been rejected by the writing committee and by the science community at large. The science community should not put itself in the position of participating in a rigged hearing where non-scientists will appear to sit in judgment and find science lacking. Science should not give the anti-evolution members of the board the veneer of respectability when they take their predictable action. Let the board take responsibility for its actions without dignifying those actions with the appearance of academic rigor.

During the next two months the Kansas Department of Education (KSDE) searched worldwide for a scientist to agree to coordinate the pro-science position. They found no one who was willing to do so.

However, in April, 2005 a local pro-science Topeka lawyer, Pedro Irigonegaray, agreed to represent mainstream science at the hearings. In the meantime, a coalition of organizations and individuals had formed in opposition to the hearings . Irigonegaray quickly aligned himself with the Coalition for Science. He announced that he would not be defending science nor calling scientists to testify, but would rather attempt to bring out the real political, educational, legal and theological issues involved in the situation.

During this time Calvert assembled a group of 24 witnesses to testify in support of the Minority proposal. Calvert and the hearings subcommittee decried Irigonegaray's refusal to present pro-science witnesses, going so far as to label the boycott "unfair" and an effort to "silence the Minority." The Minority was counting on the scientists' participation to give them credibility, and the scientists wouldn't play. (I am reminded of a Bob Dylan line: "What about that millionaire with the drumsticks in his pants? He looked so baffled and so bewildered when he played and we didn't dance.)

The science hearings

Calvert carefully orchestrated the Minority presentations on May 5-7, 2005. He had scripted beforehand an outline of the dialog between the Minority witnesses and himself, and the Board subcommittee played along with prepared questions and enthusiastic cheerleading. Calvert placed great emphasis on the credentials of the Minority witnesses as part of the Minority's strategy of trying to establish that there is a genuine controversy about evolution.

However, Irigonegaray's cross-examination was not in their control. His cross-examination strategy developed over the three days. In general, his questioning and the general nature of the presentations established a number of points:

On May 12, 2005 Irigonegaray gave his closing argument, a two hour summary of the issues. (Irigonegaray's Powerpoint presentation and all his supporting exhibit documents can be found at KSDE website.) Irigonegaray did not submit to cross-examination. He explained that he was not a witness but rather counsel for his client, which he took to be mainstream science as represented by Draft 2 of the standards, and that one does not cross-examine counsel. Calvert and Abrams protested, to no avail, but Calvert was given his allotted cross-examination time to respond as he wished.

Court reporters transcribed the entire hearings. You can read all this for yourself and draw your own conclusions. Have fun!



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