National scientists push for including evolution lessons

National scientists push for including evolution lessons
In SMU visit, academy leaders say evidence-based science is needed
By KAREN AYRES SMITH / The Dallas Morning News - 4/2/2008 - original
Texas students must receive a strong science education that includes important lessons on evolution if they are to be prepared to compete in the global economy, top national science leaders said Tuesday during a visit to Southern Methodist University.

Three scientists from the National Academies, a coalition of science advisory groups, said years of scientific research have consistently supported evolution, the biological theory that humans and other species evolved from lower forms of life.

Their comments came amid an ongoing review of the state's public school science curriculum that has sparked controversy about the best way to present evolution to students.

"I think parents really want their children exposed to different points of view," said Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences. "But the fact is there is no scientific controversy."

The scientists came to SMU for a speech about the need for more young people to study science so the U.S. can be more competitive with other countries. Before their remarks, the group spoke with The Dallas Morning News about the need for secondary teachers to present evidence-based science to students including evolution.

Many conservatives, including the State Board of Education chairman, have long pushed for teachers to present what some groups say are weaknesses in the theory of evolution. For example, some argue that it can't explain the development of complex cells.

Many skeptics of evolution say they aren't calling for schools to teach creationism or intelligent design, a theory that says certain features of the universe are so complex that they are best explained by an intelligent cause. But others argue that raising questions about evolution amounts to slipping God into the classroom.

Harvey Fineberg, president of the Institute of Medicine, one of the National Academies, said that parents and students need to understand that people can support religion and evolution.

"Belief in religion and conviction about God is utterly in keeping with evolution," said Dr. Fineberg, a former provost at Harvard. "They are not incompatible."

The current Texas science curriculum, which was approved in 1998, dictates that students should understand the theory of evolution. But elsewhere in the rules it also stipulates that students should analyze any strengths and weaknesses of all theories.

Disputes over that curriculum have caused controversy for years. In November, the state's science director, Chris Comer, said she was forced to resign over allegations that she had inappropriately endorsed evolution. Texas Education Agency officials pointed to other infractions.

Since then, science teachers and professors from across the state have started to meet in groups to redraft the curriculum standards, which must be approved by the State Board of Education..