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1999 Ig Nobel Prizes: When Kansas put Evolution on Trial

By Marlena Tyldesley

In 1999, the Kansas State Board of Education, along with the Colorado Board of Education, won the Ig Nobel Prize in Science Education for “mandating that children should not believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution any more than they believe in Newton’s theory of gravitation, Faraday’s and Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism, or Pasteur’s theory that germs cause disease.” (The 1999 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, n.d.) In the years following this scathing and satirical award, the Kansas State Board of Education would debate their approach to science education.

In one particular stretch of the hearings, Pedro Irigonegaray, a lawyer representing the curriculum draft of the Kansas Science writing committee, the group chosen by the State Board of Education, introduced himself as representing “mainstream science.” Irigonegaray went on to describe the draft, referred to as “Draft 2” throughout the hearing transcript, as being “neutral in respect to the nature of spiritual reality.”(Kansas Evolution Hearings, n.d.) The issue of spirituality was of question in the hearing because, according to Irigonegaray, the opposition was pushing for a curriculum that advanced “a narrow, theological view of science that conflicts with mainstream Christianity and many other faiths.” (Kansas Evolution Hearings, n.d.)

This view is that of the National Intelligent Design Movement, a group which argues that there are parts of life that are simply too complex to explain scientifically, and must instead be due to the presence of a higher power known to them as the intelligent designer (What is the intelligent design movement?, n.d.).

Irigonegaray accused the Board of Education of wasting taxpayer dollars on hearings with the intention of justifying its “support for inserting creationist claims into the science standards and to provide a showcase for the National Intelligent Design Movement.” (Kansas Evolution Hearings, n.d.) Instead, Irigonegaray argued, the Board should refer to the Kansas Science writing committe’s plea for scientists to boycott the hearings, as “scientific merit is not established through public discourse and debate, but rather, internally through a consensus of those with the specialized background necessary to make judgment.” (Kansas Evolution Hearings, n.d.)

At the conclusion of his remarks, Mr. Irigonegaray refused to stand for questions, outraging his opposition. Refusing to enter his personal opinion on science or theology, Irigonegaray stated “I am not a witness, and, therefore, I will not stand for questioning. If you want answers I urge you to do what you have not yet done, read Draft 2. Thank you very much. I am done.” (Kansas Evolution Hearings, n.d.)


The 1999 Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony. (n.d.). Improbable.

Kansas Evolution Hearings. (n.d.). The TalkOrigins Archive.

What is the intelligent design movement? (n.d.). Understanding Evolution.

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