Attorney’s personal questions led to doubts about evolution

Evolution, intelligent design proponents share viewpoints

John Calvert swears he’s not trying to push religion onto Kansas school children.

All he wants, he says, is a little objectivity in the state’s science standards.

“There is bias in the teaching of evolution,” said Calvert, managing director of Shawnee Mission-based Intelligent Design Network. He will speak at the State Board of Education hearings this week on what Kansas students should learn about the origins of life.

Evolution, Calvert said, is one explanation. So, too, is intelligent design, the notion that everything in the universe is designed and not the result of an unguided process.

Both theories, he said, are just that — theories. And it’s not right, he said, that one is taught without the other.

“The only way to cure the problem,” he said, “is to replace bias with objectivity. Let the conclusions be dictated by the evidence.”

What could be wrong with that? Plenty, said state school board member Carol Rupe: “That’s like saying the Earth is flat and round at the same time.”

Science issue

If Calvert has a problem with evolution, Rupe said, he should hash it out with scientists, not with board members.

Age: 64Profession: corporate finance and business litigation attorney; managing director of Shawnee Mission-based Intelligent Design NetworkWill attend the hearing? Yes, and has arranged for at least 23 proponents of intelligent design, himself included, to speak.Quote: “It’s inappropriate for the state to suppress evidence of design and support a naturalistic world view that supports nontheistic belief systems.”

“If the scientific community comes to accept intelligent design, it will be taught. It’s the scientific community that decides what’s science — that’s where science is validated,” said Rupe, a moderate Republican from Wichita.

Board members, she said, have no business deciding what is or isn’t science. “We are lay people,” she said. “We aren’t scientists.”

Rupe’s reluctance isn’t shared by the board’s conservative majority.

“This is a very important issue to a lot of people — not just to the board or to the (board-appointed) science standards committee,” said board chairman Steve Abrams, a veterinarian from Arkansas City.

More than 1,200 people, he said, have attended public hearings on the science curriculum.

“That’s a lot of people compared with the four or five who show up for the hearings on math or language curriculum,” Abrams said.

In February, the board’s six conservatives put Calvert in charge of the May 5-7 public hearing on intelligent design.

A similar hearing on evolution is set for May 12-14, though it appears few, if any, scientists will participate.

“It’s not a hearing, it’s a kangaroo court,” said Leonard Krishtalka, director of the Kansas University Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center.

“I’m not aware of anyone who intends to go,” he said.

Undeterred, Calvert has arranged for at least 23 proponents of intelligent design, himself included, to speak at the hearing. Most are from out of state.

Questioning evolution

Calvert, 64, is not a scientist. He is a successful corporate finance and business litigation attorney from Lake Quivira.

As a young adult, Calvert was an agnostic and a fan of Ayn Rand’s objectivism philosophy. But in 1978, an unwanted divorce caused him to re-evaluate his life’s course. Eventually, he became a Christian.

“I started questioning things I’d always taken for granted,” including the origin of life, he said.

Evolution, he concluded, was “based more on philosophy than on data.”

A geology major in college, Calvert said he had undertaken a project aimed at studying the differences between crinoid fossils from the base and the crest of a 150-foot-tall limestone cliff near Columbia, Mo.

Crinoids at the bottom of the cliff were thought to be 10 million to 30 million years older than those at the top. According to evolution theory, the two groups should have been different.

But they weren’t, Calvert said. “I had a living room full of (crinoid) skeletons, and I couldn’t tell there was any substantive difference.”

Thursday-Saturday: Science standards hearings in auditorium of Memorial building, 120 S.W. 10th St., Topeka.

The experiment showed that evolution is hardly as conclusive as it’s taught.

After 32 years with the Kansas City, Kan., law firm Lathrop & Gage, Calvert took early retirement in 1999 to co-found Intelligent Design Network, which made itself available to boards of education around the nation.

Since its inception, the network has participated in science-standards deliberations in Ohio, New Mexico, North Carolina, Minnesota, Georgia, Montana and California. In Michigan, a local district told teachers they couldn’t discuss intelligent design; in Pennsylvania, a district required teachers to discuss it. Ohio’s state school board wrestled with the issue for two years, adopting lesson plans last year praised by intelligent design supporters.

Fair shake

Calvert said he wanted a chance to compete in the marketplace of ideas. Teachers, he said, are obligated to be fair.

“It’s inappropriate for the state to suppress evidence of design and support a naturalistic world view that supports nontheistic belief systems,” Calvert said.

“Modern science is not objective,” he said. “It is just flat not objective.”

Calvert has yet to sway board members like Rupe.

“I think Mr. Calvert is an intelligent man,” Rupe said, “but on this, I think he’s misguided. He’s on a mission from God. If he wants us to believe that there’s a higher power behind intelligent design, then isn’t it just as logical to think the Martians did it?”

Steve Case, a researcher at Kansas University and chairman of the state education board’s Science Standards Curriculum Revision Committee, has been sparring with Calvert for several months.

“He’s not a scientist,” Case said. “But he’s driven — he’s attended every committee hearing even though he’s not on the committee. I’m afraid his drive takes him beyond accuracy and truth and into manipulation.

“But he’s an excellent marketer of ideas,” Case said. “He’s the puppet master, he’s behind this whole thing. It’s amazing.”