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Archive for Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Evolution defender won’t call witnesses

Attorney warns new science standards could create legal fight

May 3, 2005

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— In what could become perceived as a modern-day Monkey Trial in Kansas, an attorney who's supposed to defend evolution in public hearings doesn't plan to call any witnesses or debate the theory's merits.

The attorney, Pedro Irigonegaray, also predicted Monday that the State Board of Education would face a lawsuit if it revised the state's science testing standards to include elements of intelligent design, which Irigonegaray said some board members were trying to do.

He is working with science and education groups that have boycotted the hearings and said he would attempt to shed light on evolution critics' motives. A three-member board subcommittee scheduled four days of hearings, starting Thursday in Topeka, to review evidence for and against evolution.

"We determined that it would be inappropriate to debate an issue such as evolution with individuals who are merely bringing to table a supernatural answer," Irigonegaray said during an interview.

But John Calvert, a retired Lake Quivira attorney organizing the case for intelligent design advocates and evolution critics, called Irigonegaray's tactics "silly" and "all bluff."

Calvert also said following intelligent design advocates' proposals was the only way to avoid a legal challenge.

"Pedro doesn't have a case. He knows he doesn't have a case, so he's not putting one on," said Calvert, who helped found the Intelligent Design Network. "His client is on trial, and he's not going to have him testify because he can't afford to put his client in the dock."

Intelligent design says some features of the natural world are best explained by an intelligent cause. Evolution says species change over time, and that's how different species can emerge from common ancestors, including man and apes.

Though the state board has sought to avoid comparisons with the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, which involved a Dayton, Tenn., teacher convicted of illegally teaching evolution, the hearings will in some ways resemble a trial, with witnesses being questioned.

The board subcommittee originally planned six days of hearings -- Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and May 12-14. However, it canceled the last two days after Irigonegaray said he wouldn't call witnesses.

Irigonegaray said he's defending a draft of science standards presented earlier this month to the board by a majority of a committee of educators reviewing them. The draft would continue the present policy of describing evolution as a key concept for students to learn before graduating high school.

But the board also accepted a minority report with changes designed to expose students to more criticism of evolution. That proposal has the backing of intelligent design advocates.

The minority report doesn't seek to include intelligent design in the standards, and its advocates say they only wish to give students a more balanced picture of evolution. But many scientists think the language would allow teaching about intelligent design, which the scientists deride as creationism.

Irigonegaray noted that Calvert's witnesses include leading national advocates of intelligent design.

"They are not coming here to Kansas to suggest that we teach a Buddhist approach, are they?" Irigonegaray said.

Irigonegaray said he would use his questioning to focus on the backgrounds and motives of the witnesses favoring intelligent design.

"Who do they represent?" he said. "It's our opinion that they simply represent a rather small sectarian view."

But Calvert said he planned to ask his witnesses about their backgrounds, including religious views.

"We don't have a hidden agenda," he said.

Irigonegaray said that because the minority report advanced intelligent design, endorsing it could lead to a legal challenge about whether it represents the state endorsing a particular religious view. He said the board risked spending tens of thousands of dollars on litigation.

But Calvert said he and an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, a Scottsdale, Ariz., Christian legal group, would present a legal opinion in support of the minority report.

They will argue that evolution advances a "naturalistic" philosophy and the only way to avoid a legal challenge is to present a balanced view, Calvert said.

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