Archive for Friday, May 13, 2005

Board’s evolution hearings come to bitter conclusion

Conservative board members to prepare report

May 13, 2005


— Historic hearings on evolution that attracted international attention ended Thursday in acrimony, tears, finger-pointing and heated exchanges.

Pedro Irigonegaray, a Topeka attorney defending evolution, was at the center of the dispute when he refused to be cross-examined after delivering a two-hour verbal attack, blasting critics of evolution.

"This was a gigantic waste of money and an insult to Kansas teachers," Irigonegaray said of the hearings on science standards that will be used as a guide for instruction of science to Kansas public school students.

Thursday was reserved for Irigonegaray to present his closing arguments in favor of evolution.

Critics of evolution testified for three days last week, deriding evolution as an atheistic view that should be countered in science class.

State Board of Education members Steve Abrams, Kathy Martin and Connie Morris will put together a report next month that will recommend which standards to approve. The full state board could approve standards this summer.

Mainstream scientists boycotted the evolution hearings, but Irigonegaray was allowed to cross-examine the evolution critics. Reporters from dozens of media outlets from across the country, and some from other countries, observed the hearings.

But on Thursday when conservative State Board of Education members and attorney John Calvert, director of an intelligent design organization, sought to cross-examine Irigonegaray, he refused.

"I am not a witness," Irigonegaray said. "My personal views are irrelevant."

Attorney Pedro Irigonegaray, center, begins to walk away after
attempting to hands with John Calvert, right, after Irigonegaray's
closing argument at a hearing on how evolution is taught Thursday
in Topeka. Calvert refused to recognize Irigonegaray's gesture.

Attorney Pedro Irigonegaray, center, begins to walk away after attempting to hands with John Calvert, right, after Irigonegaray's closing argument at a hearing on how evolution is taught Thursday in Topeka. Calvert refused to recognize Irigonegaray's gesture.

Education board chairman Abrams, of Arkansas City, called Irigonegaray's actions a "breach" of the ground rules for the hearings.

Board member Morris, of St. Francis, told Irigonegaray, "I believe your behavior here was abusive," she said, "I just want you to know I forgive you."

Board member Martin, of Clay Center, her eyes filling with tears, said, "This board has been accused of being close-minded. I guess we will leave that up to the public."

During a short break in the hearing, Irigonegaray went to shake Calvert's hand, but Calvert refused.

"I don't think he is playing by the rules," Calvert said.

But Irigonegaray said he was the attorney representing mainstream scientists -- not a witness -- and he never agreed to be cross-examined.

"He had three days," Irigonegaray said of Calvert. "I've chosen to take less than two hours."

It was an emotional end to hearings that pitted proponents of intelligent design -- an idea that science cannot explain certain complexities of life and that the world is evidence of a master planner -- against scientists who say that evolution is the foundation for science instruction.

The intelligent design proponents accused the mainstream scientists of propping up evolution as a religion, while the mainstream scientists accused their critics of trying to open up science classes to teaching about biblical creationism.

The battle started after a 25-member standards-writing committee provided two reports -- one was approved by 17 members of the committee and supported evolution; the other was supported by eight members and included criticism of evolution and tried to insert language that de-emphasized the importance of evolution.

A conservative majority on the state Board of Education voted to have hearings on the two reports. Calvert rounded up witnesses, all of whom criticized evolution and many of whom supported intelligent design.

After three days and 23 witnesses, Irigonegaray took the podium, laying out a case against the evolution critics.

The hearings were a show for proponents of intelligent design and a waste of taxpayers' money, he said.

The three conservative board members overseeing the hearing had already decided they would choose the standards criticizing evolution, he said.

He said the science standards that criticized evolution included a religious bias that would open up the state to a legal challenge because it violated the separation of church and state. Morris replied that no such constitutional separation existed.

Irigonegaray read a letter written by Steve Case, a pro-evolution scientist from Kansas University, who was co-chairman of the science standards committee.

In that letter, Case accused Abrams of misleading the public about Abrams' intentions.

But Abrams and Calvert accused the mainstream scientists of using underhanded tactics to try to discredit their witnesses.

In closing remarks, Abrams said evolution teaching could persuade young students who hadn't developed abstract thought processes that a godless theory "could be viewed as the only way we came to be."

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