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Last Updated: Monday, 20 February 2006, 10:54 GMT
Churches urged to back evolution
By Paul Rincon
BBC News science reporter, St Louis

Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is widely accepted by scientists
US scientists have called on mainstream religious communities to help them fight policies that undermine the teaching of evolution.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) hit out at the "intelligent design" movement at its annual meeting in Missouri.

Teaching the idea threatens scientific literacy among schoolchildren, it said.

Its proponents argue life on Earth is too complex to have evolved on its own.

As the name suggests, intelligent design is a concept invoking the hand of a designer in nature.

It's time to recognise that science and religion should never be pitted against each other
Gilbert Omenn
AAAS president

There have been several attempts across the US by anti-evolutionists to get intelligent design taught in school science lessons.

At the meeting in St Louis, the AAAS issued a statement strongly condemning the moves.

"Such veiled attempts to wedge religion - actually just one kind of religion - into science classrooms is a disservice to students, parents, teachers and taxpayers," said AAAS president Gilbert Omenn.

"It's time to recognise that science and religion should never be pitted against each other.

"They can and do co-exist in the context of most people's lives. Just not in science classrooms, lest we confuse our children."

'Who's kidding whom?'

Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, which campaigns to keep the teaching of evolution in public schools, said those in mainstream religious communities needed to "step up to the plate" in order to prevent the issue being viewed as a battle between science and religion.

Sign appealing for voters to support the re-election of a Dover school board
Parents in Dover, Pennsylvania, won a court battle over evolution
Some have already heeded the warning.

"The intelligent design movement belittles religion. It makes God a designer - an engineer," said George Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory.

"Intelligent design concentrates on a designer who they do not really identify - but who's kidding whom?"

Last year, a federal judge ruled in favour of 11 parents in Dover, Pennsylvania, who argued that Darwinian evolution must be taught as fact.

Dover school administrators had pushed for intelligent design to be inserted into science teaching. But the judge ruled this violated the constitution, which sets out a clear separation between religion and state.

Despite the ruling, more challenges are on the way.

Fourteen US states are considering bills that scientists say would restrict the teaching of evolution.

These include a legislative bill in Missouri which seeks to ensure that only science which can be proven by experiment is taught in schools.

I think if we look at where the empirical scientific evidence leads us, it leads us towards intelligent design
Teacher Mark Gihring
"The new strategy is to teach intelligent design without calling it intelligent design," biologist Kenneth Miller, of Brown University in Rhode Island, told the BBC News website.

Dr Miller, an expert witness in the Dover School case, added: "The advocates of intelligent design and creationism have tried to repackage their criticisms, saying they want to teach the evidence for evolution and the evidence against evolution."

However, Mark Gihring, a teacher from Missouri sympathetic to intelligent design, told the BBC: "I think if we look at where the empirical scientific evidence leads us, it leads us towards intelligent design.

"[Intelligent design] ultimately takes us back to why we're here and the value of life... if an individual doesn't have a reason for being, they might carry themselves in a way that is ultimately destructive for society."

Economic risk

The decentralised US education system ensures that intelligent design will remain an issue in the classroom regardless of the decision in the Dover case.

"I think as a legal strategy, intelligent design is dead. That does not mean intelligent design as a social movement is dead," said Ms Scott.

US President George Bush
Bush said students ought to hear different schools of thought
"This is an idea that has real legs and it's going to be around for a long time. It will, however, evolve."

Intelligent Design has also received backing from US President George W Bush, who has said schools should make students aware of the concept.

But Mr Omenn warned that teaching intelligent design would deprive students of a proper education, ultimately harming the US economy.

"At a time when fewer US students are heading into science, baby boomer scientists are retiring in growing numbers and international students are returning home to work, America can ill afford the time and taxpayer dollars debating the facts of evolution," he said.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Hear about the teaching of 'intelligent design'



SEE ALSO:
Victors hail US evolution ruling
21 Dec 05 |  Americas
Big questions for a small town
20 Dec 05 |  Americas
A question of creation
15 Aug 05 |  Magazine
Bush weighs into evolution debate
09 Aug 05 |  Americas
Kansas rejects theory of evolution
12 Aug 99 |  Americas


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