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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 June 2006, 21:46 GMT 22:46 UK
Scientists urge evolution lessons
Origin of Species. Image: Shaun Curry/AFP/Getty Images
The statement follows fierce debate in the US

The world's top scientists have joined forces to call for "evidence-based" teaching of evolution in schools.

A statement signed by 67 national science academies says evidence on the origins of life is being "concealed, denied, or confused" in some classes.

It lists key facts on evolution that "scientific evidence has never contradicted".

These include the formation of Earth 4.5 billion years ago, and the onset of life at least 2.5 billion years ago.

"We know of schools in various parts of the world where the children are told that the Earth is about 8,000 years old," said Yves Quere, co-chair of the Inter Academy Panel on International Issues, the global network of science academies.

"So in this statement we say you cannot teach this to children, it is wrong."

Dr Quere said the statement reflected growing concern within the scientific community that children were not being taught basic facts on evolution and the nature of scientific inquiry.

"In some countries, the simple theory of evolution is denied in the teaching of children in schools," he said.

Design debate

The academies' statement says: "We urge decision-makers, teachers, and parents to educate all children about the methods and discoveries of science and to foster an understanding of the science of nature.

"Knowledge of the natural world in which they live empowers people to meet human needs and protect the planet."

'EVIDENCE-BASED' FACTS
The Earth has changed under the effect of numerous forces since its formation, and continues to do so
Since life first appeared on Earth, it has taken many forms, all of which continue to evolve
Commonalities in the structure of the genetic code of all organisms living today, including humans, clearly indicate their primordial origin

Its release follows fierce debate about whether so-called intelligent design (ID) should be taught in biology courses in schools, mainly in the US.

Adherents to ID maintain that many features of the Universe and of living things are too complex to have been the result of natural selection.

Instead, they argue, these phenomena must have been designed by a highly intelligent force.

Last year, a group of parents successfully took a school board in Dover, Pennsylvania, to court to stop the teaching of ID in science classes.

Steve Fuller, a professor of sociology at the University of Warwick, UK, was an expert witness at the trial, defending the right to teach alternatives to evolution.

He commented on the statement: "I think it is pretty mild, in the sense that the only people who will take serious exception are the biblical literalist, six-day creationist-type people.

"The words evolve and evolution here are used without any content," he said. "They do not actually say anything about the explanation or the causal mechanisms that are involved in all of this development of life that has occurred over all of these billions of years.

"It really doesn't hit on the kinds of issues that would separate either contesting schools within evolutionary theory or evolution versus intelligent design."


Do you agree with the scientists? Should there be "evidence-based" teaching of evolution in schools?

Your comments:

It is not the duty of one society to tell another how to function
Ian Kavanagh, New York, USA

The theory of evolution is but one take on the story of our origins. While I happen to agree with said theory, it is not fair and borders on arrogance to force other people to teach something they may think to be false, especially if the entire society is of the mind. It is not the duty of one society to tell another how to function, exist, and teach. When all societies become one in this globalised world, hopefully we will not have such a problem, but for right now we are not the intellectual police of the world.
Ian Kavanagh, New York, USA

Students need to be exposed to evolutionary and creationistic interpretation of data. A weak position typically is afraid of entertaining alternative ideas. If evolutionary thought is sound, thinking people will have little difficulty recognising that the ideas espoused by creationists need to be simply ignored. However, there is a growing number of highly qualified scientists and informed lay people that question the credibility of evolutionary hypotheses. Scientific truth can withstand rigorous investigation.
David Brian, Paradise, California, USA

I certainly do feel that the evidence that supports the facts of evolution should be taught to students in all school. The methods of science should be stressed. However, evolution cannot be totally understood by anyone until they understand basic genetics, molecular biology and geology. All of these topics should be taught and it should be stressed how these areas of science firmly support the processes of evolution.
Eugene Field, Patterson, USA

Evidence-based teaching is mandatory in a science class (astronomy, geology, biology, anthropology, etc). If students register for a science course, scientific methods and scientific findings are the ONLY justifiable subject matter. Those averse to science are free to spend their time on other pursuits.
Peter M. Gardner, Columbia, MO, USA

Of course I'd want "evidence-based" teaching in science classes rather than the alternative, which is, of course, "lack-of-evidence (otherwise known as "faith")-based teaching". Science should, after all, be about what we know, based on rational factual data, (rather than the wishful thinking of what some might like to believe life is like, regardless of the actual evidence available). The place for such musings is in philosophy class, or church.
Greg du Pille, Auckland, NZ

When there is such powerful evidence for evolutionary theory why should the facts not be taught to children? The science classroom should be one of facts, testable theories, experimentation and discovery that leads to a richer understanding of our world. Storytelling can wait until religious education lessons.
Rob, Colchester, UK

Yes, there should be "evidence-based" teaching is schools to show how little true evidence there is for Darwinian evolution theory. Most of evolutionary theory is clearly faith-based.
Hugh Mai, London, Ontario, Canada



SEE ALSO
Creationism 'no place in schools'
11 Apr 06 |  Education
Creationism to be in GCSE papers
10 Mar 06 |  Education
Evolution takes science honours
23 Dec 05 |  Science/Nature
'Intelligent design' teaching ban
20 Dec 05 |  Americas

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