Topeka A national science group is avoiding the State Board of Education's hearings on evolution next month, arguing they will confuse the debate over how the theory is taught in public schools.
The board expects in June to consider changing the state's science testing standards, which currently describe evolution as a key concept for students to learn before graduating from high school. Advocates of intelligent design are hoping students are exposed to more criticism of evolution.
A three-member board subcommittee plans hearings for May 5-7 and May 12-14 and has billed them as an examination of evidence for and against evolution. But all three members are part of the board's conservative majority and receptive to intelligent design advocates' efforts -- making some scientists suspicious.
The Washington-based American Association for the Advancement of Science has declined to provide witnesses to defend evolution. Chief Executive Officer Alan Leshner wrote a letter this week to the state Department of Education.
"Rather than contribute to scientific education, it will most likely serve to confuse the public about the nature of the scientific enterprise," Leshner wrote of the board's effort.
Leshner said in a telephone interview Thursday that hearings would suggest "great controversy" existed among scientists about evolution, when it does not.
"Evolution has been subjected to tremendous analysis and debate over the years," Leshner said. "We have come out of the Middle Ages."
Kansas Citizens for Science, a group supporting the current, evolution-friendly standards, has called for a boycott of the hearings. So far, only evolution skeptics have committed to participating.
Rob Crowther, spokesman for the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which supports scientists researching intelligent-design theory, said the AAAS and other strong supporters of evolution were trying to duck a debate over its flaws.
"You'd think they'd want to stand up and give their best case," he said during a telephone interview. "I don't know what they're afraid of."
Evolution says species change in response to environmental and genetic factors over the course of many generations. Intelligent design holds there is evidence of an intelligent design behind the origin of the universe, the formation of the Earth and biological change.
Critics see intelligent design as a form of creationism, though Crowther and other advocates say they don't believe science can prove God exists.
The Kansas board isn't considering any proposals to add intelligent design or creationism to state standards, but some scientists worry that exposing students to criticism of evolution is a first step.