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Kansas to revisit evolution debate

Board to take up issue in June

TOPEKA, Kan. -- Students in Lisa Volland's advanced biology class examine flowers, lemons, and corn under the microscope, pondering how the plants evolved over time, increasing their chances of survival.

The Topeka West High School teacher does not discuss the biblical story of creation or ''intelligent design," just ''the big e-word," as she jokingly calls it.

''I don't think you can talk about living organisms without talking about evolution," she said. ''We don't talk about religion."

Classrooms like Volland's have come under scrutiny -- again -- in Kansas' seesawing battle over the teaching of evolution.

The battle could heat up over the coming weeks, with the Kansas State Board of Education expected to revise its science standards in June.

In 1999, the board deleted most references to evolution in the standards, bringing international ridicule and wisecracks from the late-night comedians. Elections the next year made the board less conservative, resulting in the current standards describing evolution as a key concept for students to learn.

Last year's elections gave conservatives a majority again, 6-4. A subcommittee plans six days of hearings in May, and advocates of intelligent design plan to put nearly two dozen witnesses on the stand to critique evolution.

National and state science organizations plan to boycott the hearings, contending they are going to be rigged in favor of intelligent design.

''We are concerned that the hearings will be an attempt to give scientific credibility to a nonscientific concept," said Alan Leshner, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Evolution says species change in response to environmental and genetic factors over the course of many generations. Intelligent design -- viewed by many scientists as merely repackaged creationism -- holds there is evidence that the universe was designed by some kind of higher power.

At a minimum, conservative groups such as the Discovery Institute want to see science lessons in Kansas include more criticism of evolution. ''We don't think any textbook is good in presenting the scientific weaknesses," said John West of the Seattle-based organization.

Scientists say that will open the door eventually to incorporating intelligent design and creationism.

Similar battles have been waged in the past few years in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

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