Science academies urge teaching of evolution

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Interacademy Panel on International Issues (IAP), a global network of the world's science academies, has released a statement urging parents and teachers to provide children with 'the facts about the origin and evolution of life on Earth'. The statement is signed by 67 of the 92 member academies of the organisation, and notes that in some schools around the world, "testable theories" about evolution are being "concealed, denied or confused by theories not testable by science".

File:UreyMillerExperiment.jpeg
The Miller-Urey experiment attempted to recreate the conditions of the primitive Earth in the laboratory to test the validity of the "soup theory" of the origin of life, and successfully synthesized some of the building blocks of life.

The statement presents four "evidence-based facts" that no scientific evidence has ever contradicted. These include the Earth being approximately 4.5 billion years old, life on Earth being at least 2.5 billion years old, and commonalities in all living organisms indicating a common primordial origin based on the process of photosynthetic organisms.

The news follows developments, mainly in the United States, where there is a concerted effort to include the teaching of 'intelligent design' (ID), a theory which claims that complex biological features indicate that the presence of an intelligent 'designer' in schools. Opponents of this movement argue that it doesn't qualify as a scientific theory, and is simply a disguise for creationist beliefs. In the US, where the separation of church and state is mandated by constitutional law, efforts to include ID in school syllabi were quashed by the courts, as the teaching of religion in schools is against the Establishment clause of the constitution of the United States. Despite this, George Bush has in the past remarked that he believes intelligent design should be taught in schools. The President has not shown any sign of plans to personally intervene in the legal debate however.

In December 2005, following legal case between the parents and the school district of Dover (Pennsylvania, USA), the judge decided that intelligent design was a religious view, and that it was unlawful to teach it as an alternative to evolution within the classroom. The IAP statement suggests that the science academies believe that ID is still being taught within some schools, however.

A Gallup poll conducted in May concluded that 46 percent of Americans believe that God created man in his present form sometime in the past 10,000 years, with 13 percent believing mankind evolved with no divine intervention and 36 percent saying that mankind developed over millions of years from lesser life forms, but with God guiding the process.

The IAP statement acknowledges limitations in current understanding, but argues that the process of science allows it to be open-ended and subject to correction and expansion as new understanding emerges.

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