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Evolution Hearings End In Kansas

by Jason Miller

Evolution Now Under Siege in Schools (1999)

What is "intelligent design?"

Intelligent design is a cleverly packaged form of creationism which the religious right is attempting to sneak into public classrooms through a variety of means, including the Kansas School Board hearings. In 1991, Phillip Johnson, a Berkeley law professor, kicked off the movement by authoring "Darwin on Trial." The premise of intelligent design is that mere observation of the complexity of the universe provides "evidence" that there was an intelligent designer.

In virtual unanimity, the scientific community rejects the credibility of intelligent design. Lacking the support of scientific evidence, research, or peer review, intelligent design only qualifies as a "theory" in the minds of those who are desperate to "prove" the existence of their version of the Christian God.

In 1996, Bruce Chapman founded the Discovery Institute, whose alleged purpose is to advance scientific objectivity. Unfortunately for Discovery, someone leaked an internal document a few years later (LINK) which revealed Discovery's "Wedge" strategy and true agenda.

Here the Discovery Institute summarizes its five-year objective: "We are building on this momentum, broadening the wedge with a positive scientific alternative to materialistic scientific theories, which has come to be called the theory of intelligent design (ID). Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

Despite their frequent denials, the religious right is advancing creationism as an alternative to evolution under the guise of intelligent design. The Discovery Institute is the chief architect and proponent of "ID." Howard Ahmanson, an ultra-conservative Christian, and heir to a savings and loan fortune, has provided it with millions of dollars in funding and Phillip Johnson still appears as a program advisor on Discovery's website. Several of the "expert" witnesses from the Kansas trial, including Michael Behe, Charles Thaxton, and Jonathan Wells, are listed as fellows with the Institute. John Calvert, the conservative Christian posing the questions to the witnesses, leads the Intelligent Design Network of Kansas.

Almost exactly 80 years after John Thomas Scopes challenged the state of Tennessee by daring to teach evolution in a high school classroom, Darwin's theory is again on trial. The courtroom this time was a series of hearings held by Christian conservatives on the Kansas State School Board. The thinly veiled purpose of this extravaganza: To rewrite the very meaning of science by validating a biblical-based, anti-science reworking of the evidence called "intelligent design."

The hearings concluded May 12 following four days of trial-like proceedings. The School Board, which is dominated by Christian conservatives, is expected to vote on the matter before summer.

Despite the lack of testimony from a single member of the mainstream scientific community, three of the most conservative Board members presided over these "Scopes II" hearings in Topeka's Memorial Hall. A parade of intelligent design experts appeared and explained that evolution is a flawed theory, and several witnesses asserted the fiction that there is a controversy within the mainstream scientific community over the validity of evolution.

This confrontation has been brewing since 1999, when the Kansas State School Board voted to delete almost all references to evolution from the state's curriculum. Following the 2004 elections, when avowed religious candidates gained a 6 to 4 majority, two groups presented recommendations to the Board concerning the science curriculum.

A Majority Report written by 25 individuals recommended virtually no changes with respect to how public schools teach evolution. John Calvert, a retired attorney and Kansas resident who heads the Intelligent Design Network, was among the seven individuals who wrote a Minority Report (PDF summary) calling for the school board to rewrite the universally accepted definition of science. Faced with incompatible Majority and Minority Reports, the School Board decided that naturally meant it was time to host hearings to determine the validity of evolution.

With mainstream scientists electing to boycott this charade, it was left to attorney Pedro Irigonegaray to passionately defend the preservation of evolution teaching in Kansas schools. Donating his time to the cause, he has called the proceedings a "kangaroo court" and described intelligent design as "junk science." Through cross examination, Irigonegaray exposed the fact that several of the witnesses testifying against evolution have not even read the Minority Report. Following that revelation, conservative Christian board member Kathy Martin acknowledged that she had not read the Report in its entirety either.

Not one of the "experts" offering testimony held a degree in evolutionary biology. The star witness was John Calvert, a retired attorney turned intelligent design proponent. William Harris, a close associate of Calvert, is a professor of medicine at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, and has professed that he believes the Christian God is the "intelligent designer." Mustafa Akyol is a Turkish activist writer with a master's degree in history, and is affiliated with a Turkish organization and religious cult which was instrumental in virtually eliminating evolution from the curriculum of schools in that country. High school biology classes in the secular nation of Turkey now teach a form of Creationism. Charles Thaxton and Jonathan Wells are both strong proponents of the pseudo-science concepts of intelligent design.


The conservative faction of the Kansas State School Board is led by Kathy Martin, the outspoken former teacher from Clay Center, Kansas, who minces no words about her agenda, or her tenuous grasp of science. In an interview with the Clay Center newspaper, Martin said, "evolution has been proven false. intelligent design is science-based and strong in facts." Going further, she stated, "Man has changed and evolved, but we are not going to change back into monkeys." When asked if intelligent design was a form of Creationism, she commented, "Of course this is a Christian agenda. We are a Christian nation. Our country is made up of Christian conservatives. We don't often speak up, but we need to stand up and let our voices be heard." Martin saved her most revealing dictum for last. "Why shouldn't theology be taught in the classroom? Morality ought to be taught in every class. Prayer ought to be allowed. Whenever a child wanted to pray in class, I prayed with them. All children believe in God. Even little children whose parents don't take them to church believe in God."

Martin was elected in November as a stealth candidate to push an anti-evolution agenda. "We encouraged people to elect a conservative school board" to revive the evolution debate, Rev. Terry Fox, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Wichita told the Los Angeles Times. "It was a piece of cake. It was such a low-flying election, no one was paying attention." Martin, who had never before run for public office, told the Times she was reluctant to run until meeting with conservative and religious leaders. "I prayed, and God helped me decide. Suddenly, I was traveling all over the state, talking to people. I kept running into strangers who were working on behalf of my campaign."

In a state where there is currently a dearth of funding for public schools, Kathy Martin, Steve Abrams, and Connie Morris spent $10,000 on the "Scopes II" spectacle. The hearings concluded with Martin accusing Irigonegaray of having a "bullying tongue" and Morris calling him "abusive." She also said Thursday, "I want you to know I forgive you."

What do the moderate school board members think? At least two of the more moderate members of the board have refused to participate in the process. When asked their thoughts on the proceedings, Sue Gamble wrote:

"I do not support these hearings and will not participate in them. There is no controversy in the Science Community about the validity of evolution as a part of Science. The Theory of evolution has been continually supported and strengthened since its introduction in 1859. My understanding from scientists is that evolution is one of the strongest theories within science, and actually unifies other scientific disciplines. This is a political issue for the ultra conservative faction on the state board who currently hold 6/4 majority. This is not an educational issue."

Carol Rupe, another moderate board member, expressed her views: "My personal belief is that God created the heavens and the earth and that He did it through evolution. There is no controversy for me between science and my faith. My father is a doctor and my son is a doctor; they have taken many science courses. They also both have strong faiths. I think that in science class we must teach what scientists think happened. There are plenty of opportunities to teach other ideas in philosophy, sociology, and comparative religion classes. We've been hearing that the teaching of evolution is itself teaching a religion. I certainly don't feel that way, and I don't know of anyone who does. Science is not anti-God any more than math is anti-God. The discussions that are taking place about changing science should be between scientists in the science community. If intelligent design is to be recognized as science, then it needs to be peer reviewed. If it is accepted by scientists, then it should be taught. The debate should not be taking place in school board meetings across the country because that is not where science becomes science."

Kansas may be center stage today, but the religious right has no end of plans for other offensives. Despite their loosely organized nature, the religious right is highly unified in their obsession to forge a theocracy in America. "Scopes II" is not an aberration -- it is an harbinger of a wider attack on non-biblical thought.

Jason Miller is free-lance activist writer from Overland Park, Kansas

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Albion Monitor May 12, 2005 (

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