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FYI Number 70: May 18, 2005

AAPT Statement on the Teaching of Evolution and Cosmology

Threats to the teaching of high-quality, peer-reviewed science continue to arise in school districts around the country. "Although the controversy focuses primarily on biology," National Academy of Sciences President Bruce Alberts warned Academy members earlier this year that "some who challenge the teaching of evolution in our nation's schools have also focused their sights on the earth and physical sciences" (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/049.html).

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) and many of its Member Societies have been active in monitoring this issue and, in some instances, taking actions to defend the teaching of high-quality science in science classrooms. To address efforts "to weaken and even to eliminate significant portions of evolution and cosmology" from state and local educational objectives, the Executive Board of the American Association of Physics Teachers, an AIP Member Society, recently adopted a statement on the teaching of evolution and cosmology. The text of the April 24 statement follows:

"AAPT Statement on the Teaching of Evolution and Cosmology

"The Executive Board of the American Association of Physics Teachers is dismayed at organized actions to weaken and even to eliminate significant portions of evolution and cosmology from the educational objectives of states and school districts.

"Evolution and cosmology represent two of the unifying concepts of modern science. There are few scientific theories more firmly supported by observations than these: Biological evolution has occurred and new species have arisen over time, life on Earth originated more than a billion years ago, and most stars are at least several billion years old. Overwhelming evidence comes from diverse sources - the structure and function of DNA, geological analysis of rocks, paleontological studies of fossils, telescopic observations of distant stars and galaxies - and no serious scientist questions these claims. We do our children a grave disservice if we remove from their education an exposure to firm scientific evidence supporting principles that significantly shape our understanding of the world in which we live.

"No scientific theory, no matter how strongly supported by available evidence, is final and unchallengeable; any good theory is always exposed to the possibility of being modified or even overthrown by new evidence. That is at the very heart of the process of science. However, biological and cosmological evolution are theories as strongly supported and interwoven into the fabric of science as any other essential underpinnings of modern science and technology. To deny children exposure to the evidence in support of biological and cosmological evolution is akin to allowing them to believe that atoms do not exist or that the Sun goes around the Earth.

"We believe in teaching that science is a process that examines all of the evidence relevant to an issue and tests alternative hypotheses. For this reason, we do not endorse teaching the "evidence against evolution," because currently no such scientific evidence exists. Nor can we condone teaching "scientific creationism," "intelligent design," or other non-scientific viewpoints as valid scientific theories. These beliefs ignore the important connections among empirical data and fail to provide testable hypotheses. They should not be a part of the science curriculum.

"School boards, teachers, parents, and lawmakers have a responsibility to ensure that all children receive a good education in science. The American Association of Physics Teachers opposes all efforts to require or promote teaching creationism or any other non-scientific viewpoints in a science course. AAPT supports the National Science Education Standards, which incorporate the process of science and well-established scientific theories including cosmological and biological evolution.

"This statement was adopted by the Executive Board of the American Association of Physics Teachers on April 24, 2005."

In cooperation with many of its Member Societies, AIP continues to track attempts around the country to dilute the science taught in science classrooms. In some instances, AIP and several Member Societies have initiated such responses as writing letters to school boards and state and local officials, encouraging individual scientists to testify at hearings, issuing news alerts, and encouraging other grassroots initiatives.

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
301-209-3094

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