August 9, 2005
Washington, DC--The Kansas State Board of Education is doing a disservice to the state's K-12 students by adopting a curriculum that redefines science such that intelligent design/creationism and other non-scientific concepts could be taught in science classes.
On Tuesday the school board voted 6-4 to adopt science standards that question evolution, despite objections from a committee of scientists and educators tasked with writing the standards. The standards will now go through an external review panel before they become official, but observers expect the board to approve them in their current form this fall.
Members of the mainstream scientific research community maintain that there is no controversy about evolution, a unifying principle of biology. Concerned by increasing international competitiveness, they worry that students in Kansas and other areas will be unprepared to embark on careers in the biological sciences and other technical fields.
"If our students are going to compete in the global economy and if we are going to attract the next generation into the sciences, we must teach science," says Dr. Marvalee Wake, president of the American Institute of Biological Sciences. "We simply cannot begin to introduce non-scientific concepts into the science curriculum."
In March the committee on science standards issued a draft that defined science as "a human activity of systematically seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us." Members of the board responded by holding taxpayer-funded hearings on intelligent design--widely denounced in the media and scientific community--and subsequently changing the standards to remove the phrase "natural explanations." Critics worry that this opens the door to the inclusion of supernatural or religious ideas in science classes. The new standards also single out evolution as a controversial concept, mirroring the rhetoric of intelligent design proponents.
The majority of biologists utilize the theory of evolution in their work on a daily basis. The scientific method requires generating hypotheses, testing the hypotheses with data, and drawing conclusions based on the data; this is the practice of scientists, including evolutionary biologists. Intelligent design presumes complexity whose origins and pathways are not testable and that demand a "designer" to achieve. This approach is not scientific. A comparison of diverse approaches is amenable to philosophy or religion classes, but not those in science, in which our understanding of life's phenomena is increased through rigorous testing and analysis rather than assumptions.
"The theory of evolution underpins all of modern biology," says AIBS Executive Director Richard O'Grady. "When teachers are told to treat intelligent design as science, their students are not learning about the nature of science. Scientific theories can be tested; beliefs cannot."
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