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Evolution Bandwagon

June 29, 2006

Israel and Palestine, India and Pakistan agree. ...all children should learn evolution.

Science academies from those and 63 other countries, including the United States, signed a “statement on the teaching of evolution”  last week, which says that in "certain public systems of education" -- not naming names, Dover --  “theories about the origins and evolution of life” are being “confused with theories not testable by science.”

As “intelligent design” took center stage last year – largely, in the U.S., due to a lawsuit in Pennsylvania where a federal judge ultimately ruled that ID could not be taught in public schools – some scientists found themselves in an unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable position of being advocates for science.

Some of those scientists spoke out about the need to get behind elementary and secondary teachers. Sean Carroll, a genetics professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who has had a pulpit because of his popular book about evolution – Endless Forms Most Beautiful –  previously said that K-12 teachers feel challenged, and that “they need to hear that the National Academy of Sciences and university scientists back them up.”

Academies of sciences from around the world hope they sent a loud message to that effect when they signed the statement drafted by the InterAcademy Panel on International Issues, a global network of 92 science academies.

The page-long statement notes that there may still be “open questions about the precise details of evolutionary change,” but then lists “results” that “scientific evidence has never contradicted.” Those results included that the Earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago, and that life sprang up about 2.5 billion years ago, and that life has continued to evolve in ways that palaeontology, biology, and biochemical sciences “are describing and independently confirming with increasing precision.”

The statement points out that "human understanding of value and purpose are outside of natural science’s scope" and that "a number of components -- scientific, social, philosophical, religious, cultural and political -- contribute to it."

Bill Skane, a spokesman for the National Academy of Sciences, said that statements that bring together academies from so many countries “are a big deal for us. It means we’re not only sitting down with the Brits and the French,” who took the lead on the statement, “but the Chinese and the Indians.”

Skane said that collaboration of this sort among academies is a new phenomenon. Skane said that academies not only “wanted to put some institutional capital on the table,” but that the cohesiveness helps speak to governments in countries where “the scientific community doesn’t have a voice.”

Academic proponents of intelligent design, who asked not to be identified, said that issuing statements is contrary to the open exchange of ideas that is essential to scientific progress.

John Campbell, executive director of the InterAcademy Council, which produces reports on global science and health issues, said that the first statement that brought together academies was crafted in India in 1993, and the statement noted that population growth would be an issue of increasing importance for development and the environment. The InterAcademy Panel grew out of that first meeting. “It’s important that governments understand that there’s a consensus on certain issues,” Campbell said.

 

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