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FYI Number 140: September 28, 2005

Astronomical Society Speaks Out on Teaching of Intelligent Design


On September 26, the first court case challenging the constitutionality of teaching Intelligent Design in public school science classes opened in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In Kitzmiller v. Dover, the Dover Area School District is being sued by eleven parents over a science curriculum policy that states, in part, "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."

In related news, the Council of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), a Member Society of the American Institute of Physics, has adopted a new statement on the teaching of evolution and intelligent design.

"Since ‘Intelligent Design' is not science, it does not belong in the science curriculum of the nation's primary and secondary schools," the AAS statement declares. While "evolution is a valid scientific theory," the statement says, "'Intelligent Design' fails to meet the basic definition of a scientific idea: its proponents do not present testable hypotheses and do not provide evidence for their views that can be verified or duplicated by subsequent researchers."

Robert Kirshner of Harvard University, the President of AAS, said in a press release that "Science teachers have their hands full teaching the things that we actually know about the world we live in. They shouldn't be burdened with content-free dogma like Intelligent Design." Former astronaut George Nelson, the Education Officer for AAS, added that "Anti-science movements like Intelligent Design, however disguised, seriously undermine the already difficult task of educating the next generation to be science literate. And a science literate citizenry is necessary if America is to continue to thrive."

The full text of the statement, which was released on September 20, follows:

"American Astronomical Society Statement on the Teaching of Evolution
"20 September, 2005

"The American Astronomical Society supports teaching evolution in our nation's K-12 science classes. Evolution is a valid scientific theory for the origin of species that has been repeatedly tested and verified through observation, formulation of testable statements to explain those observations, and controlled experiments or additional observations to find out whether these ideas are right or wrong. A scientific theory is not speculation or a guess – scientific theories are unifying concepts that explain the physical universe.

"Astronomical observations show that the Universe is many billions of years old (see the AAS publication, An Ancient Universe, cited below), that nuclear reactions in stars have produced the chemical elements over time, and recent observations show that gravity has led to the formation of many planets in our Galaxy. The early history of the solar system is being explored by astronomical observation and by direct visits to solar system objects. Fossils, radiological measurements, and changes in DNA trace the growth of the tree of life on Earth. The theory of evolution, like the theories of gravity, plate tectonics, and Big Bang cosmology, explains, unifies, and predicts natural phenomena. Scientific theories provide a proven framework for improving our understanding of the world.

"In recent years, advocates of ‘Intelligent Design,' have proposed teaching ‘Intelligent Design' as a valid alternative theory for the history of life. Although scientists have vigorous discussions on interpretations for some aspects of evolution, there is widespread agreement on the power of natural selection to shape the emergence of new species. Even if there were no such agreement, ‘Intelligent Design' fails to meet the basic definition of a scientific idea: its proponents do not present testable hypotheses and do not provide evidence for their views that can be verified or duplicated by subsequent researchers.

"Since ‘Intelligent Design' is not science, it does not belong in the science curriculum of the nation's primary and secondary schools.

"The AAS supports the positions taken by the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Science Teachers' Association, the American Geophysical Union, the American Chemical Society, and the American Association of Physics Teachers on the teaching of evolution. The AAS also supports the National Science Education Standards: they emphasize the importance of scientific methods as well as articulating well-established scientific theories.

"References Cited
The Ancient Universe: How Astronomers Know the Vast Scale of Cosmic Time.
Published by the American Astronomical Society.
It is also available as a PDF on the Society's webpages at
http://www.aas.org/education/publications/AncientUniverseWeb.pdf."

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

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