Evolution Update

In south-central Pennsylvania, the Dover Area School Board recently revised its science curriculum guidelines to include the statement, "Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design." The district is thought to be the first in the country to specifically require the teaching of "intelligent design." According to news reports, the move prompted two members of the Dover school board to resign. NSTA Executive Director Gerry Wheeler calls the action "bad educational policy that will diminish the quality of science education the students of Dover will receive."

Late last month the school board defended its decision by posting a statement on its website that says, "Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence." The statement also indicated that school board members would "monitor the instruction to make sure no one is promoting but also not inhibiting religion." To view the statement, go to http://www.dover.k12.pa.us/doversd/cwp/view.asp?A=3&Q=261852.

In Wisconsin, the Grantsburg school board has opened the door for the study of so-called "alternative theories" of evolution. The activity began earlier this summer when the board passed a measure "…to direct our science department to teach all theories of origins." After questions were raised from concerned citizens, the board revised the statement to read, "When theories of origin are taught, students will study various scientific models or theories of origin and identify the scientific data supporting each." The school board defends its statement as promoting critical-thinking skills, but the action has raised a number of concerns about its intent.

The school board's move prompted a wave of letters from scientists, educators, and even deans from the University of Wisconsin, which noted that the "'alternative theories' promoted are a collection of spurious and misinformed attacks on evolution coupled with simplistic and misleading descriptions of evolution." To read a recent news article and editorial from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, go to http://www.jsonline.com/news/state/nov04/275002.asp, and http://www.jsonline.com/news/editorials/nov04/276761.asp.

Meanwhile, residents of Cobb County, Georgia, continue to await a court decision about whether the following disclaimer can continue to be placed in science textbooks.

"This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

In this U.S. District Court case, Selman et al. v. Cobb County School District et al., Plaintiff Jeffrey Selman is suing the Cobb County School District for placing this disclaimer in science textbooks, which singles out the theory of evolution as being "…a theory, not a fact," but does not address any other scientific theories in the textbooks. The case began on November 8 and ended on November 12. The judge has not yet ruled on the case.

Recent articles of interest:

"School Science Debate Has Evolved"
USA Today, November 28, 2004

"Anti-evolution teachings gain foothold in U.S. schools"
San Francisco Chronicle, November 30, 2004

"The Descent of Dissent"
Scroll down to Op-Chart by Colin B. Purrington and Felix Sockwell
The New York Times, December 5, 2004

To read regular news updates on these and other cases and to review resources, go to the National Center for Science Education at http://www.ncseweb.org. For the NSTA position statement, The Teaching of Evolution, go to http://www.nsta.org/positionstatement&psid=10.

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