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Association for Women Geoscientists
Policy Paper on Science Curricula
and the Teaching of Evolution in K-12 Classrooms

Passed by the AWG Board of Directors April 25, 1998; reaffirmed March 31, 2007.

The Association for Women Geoscientists supports the teaching of evolution in the science curriculum and urges the separation of science from religious teaching in public school's science curricula. We believe that all students should be taught the method and principles of modern science, including the method of hypothesis testing by observation, data collection, experimentation, and the difference between scientific theory and hypothesis. Any hypothesis that is not subject to testing, or does not arise from observation and repeatable data, cannot be considered science.

To do otherwise puts students at a disadvantage in understanding and appreciating our Earth, as well as in their pursuit of higher education and careers in science.

We support other professional organizations in holding this view. The following is a list (not comprehensive) of Internet resources for science teachers with information on the nature of current scientific thinking on evolution, and statements of policy from many professional scientific organizations on this subject.


AMERICAN ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE - AAAS

 

AMERICAN GEOLOGICAL INSTITUTE - AGI
Adopted by AGU Council December 1981; reaffirmed May 1990, May 1994, May 1994; expanded and reaffirmed December 1999

The American Geophysical Union affirms the central importance of scientific theories of Earth history and organic evolution in science education. An educated citizenry must understand these theories in order to comprehend the dynamic world in which we live and nature's complex balance that sustains us.

Science employs a logical and empirical methodology to understand the natural world. Scientific research entails observation of natural phenomena, formulation of hypotheses as tentative, testable statements to explain these phenomena, and experiments or observations to test these hypotheses. Scientific theories, like evolution and relativity and plate tectonics, are hypotheses that have survived extensive testing and repeated verification. Scientific theories are therefore the best-substantiated statements that scientists can make to explain the organization and operation of the natural world. Thus, a scientific theory is not equal to a belief, a hunch, or an untested hypothesis. Our understanding of Earth's development over its 4.5 billion-year history and of life's gradual evolution has achieved the status of scientific theory.

"Creation science" is based on faith and is not supported by scientific observations of the natural world. Creationism is not science and does not have a legitimate place in any science curriculum.

AGU opposes all efforts to require or promote teaching creationism or any other religious tenets as science. AGU supports the National Science Education Standards, which incorporate well-established scientific theories including the origin of the universe, the age of Earth, and the evolution of life. 

http://www.agiweb.org/gapac/evolution_statement.html

AMERICAN GEOPHYSICAL UNION – AGU
Adopted by Council December 1981; reaffirmed May 1990, May 1994; expanded and reaffirmed December 1999; reaffirmed December 2003

The American Geophysical Union affirms the central importance of scientific theories of Earth history and organic evolution in science education. An educated citizenry must understand these theories in order to comprehend the dynamic world in which we live and nature's complex balance that sustains us.

Science employs a logical and empirical methodology to understand the natural world. Scientific research entails observation of natural phenomena, formulation of hypotheses as tentative, testable statements to explain these phenomena, and experiments or observations to test these hypotheses. Scientific theories, like evolution and relativity and plate tectonics, are hypotheses that have survived extensive testing and repeated verification. Scientific theories are therefore the best-substantiated statements that scientists can make to explain the organization and operation of the natural world. Thus, a scientific theory is not equal to a belief, a hunch, or an untested hypothesis. Our understanding of Earth's development over its 4.5 billion-year history and of life's gradual evolution has achieved the status of scientific theory.

"Creation science" is based on faith and is not supported by scientific observations of the natural world. Creationism is not science and does not have a legitimate place in any science curriculum.

AGU opposes all efforts to require or promote teaching creationism or any other religious tenets as science. AGU supports the National Science Education Standards, which incorporate well-established scientific theories including the origin of the universe, the age of Earth, and the evolution of life.

http://www.agu.org/sci_soc/policy/positions/evolution.shtml

THE GEOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA - GSA
Adopted in May 2001; revised in October 2006

The Geological Society of America strongly supports teaching evolution and the directly related concept of deep time as part of science curricula. GSA opposes teaching creationism alongside evolution in any science classroom. The evolution of life on earth stands as one of the central concepts of modern science. During the past two centuries, research in geology, paleontology, and biology has produced an increasingly detailed and consistent picture of how life on Earth has evolved.

Science, by definition, is a method of learning about the natural universe by asking questions in such a way that they can be answered empirically and verifiably. If a question cannot be framed so that the answer can be tested and the test results can be reproduced by others, then it is not science. Creationism, whether in its earlier form as creation “science” or its more recent guise of intelligent design, attempts to explain complicated phenomena of the natural world by invoking a creator or designer. Creationism is not science because it invokes supernatural phenomena that cannot be tested. It therefore has no place in a science curriculum.

Background

The rock record provides a treasure trove of fossils, and by the early 1800s, geologists had used physical relationships among rocks to establish the basis for the geologic time scale. They understood that the fossil record shows major changes in life forms over time. In 1859, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species showed that these changes can be explained by natural selection operating on random variations in organisms: the process we now know as biological evolution. Since then, we have continued to uncover details of life’s history, and biologists have elucidated the genetic and molecular basis for evolution. Scientific discoveries in these fields and related disciplines have progressively sharpened our understanding of evolution, which is now so well established as a well tested fact.

The discovery of radioactivity in the twentieth century and its use for measuring ages of rocks has made it possible to quantify the age of Earth and to estimate rates of many geologic processes. Many rocks of over a billion years in age can now be dated with great precision. The ages of many rocks have been confirmed by repeated tests in multiple laboratories, often using different isotopic decay schemes. The results are consistent with the processes that uplift the land and cause the erosion and deposition of sediments. Geologists can now identify rocks that record hundreds of millions of years of sedimentation by the slow layer-by-layer accumulation of mud, the rhythmic rise and fall of tides on ancient continental margins, or the slow back-and-forth meandering of rivers in ancient valleys. Organisms that grow only a few millimeters each year have formed reefs hundreds of meters thick. Additionally, techniques that date more recent deposits have been repeatedly and accurately compared to known historical events.
Studies of Earth’s history, including the evolution of life on Earth, aid not only in the search for natural resources, but also in the quest to understand how the Earth-life system functions. The geologic record reveals how forms of life have responded to past environmental change, sometimes migrating, sometimes evolving, and sometimes becoming extinct. Understanding evolution has made possible many of the medical advances that save human lives and has furthered agricultural developments that feed the world.

The short-term adaptive evolution demonstrated by the ability of viruses to evolve and adapt to new vaccines, or simply to new environmental conditions, is readily comparable to longer-termed evolution of more advanced species.

From before the time of Darwin, some people have objected to and challenged those findings of science that were considered to conflict with certain traditional religious beliefs about creation. Creation “science” and intelligent design have emerged from religious thought, and because they invoke supernatural phenomena, they cannot frame questions that can be tested scientifically. Therefore, by definition, the notions of creation “science” and intelligent design are not science. The immensity of geologic time and the evolutionary origin of species are concepts that pervade modern geology, biology, and other sciences that support human life. These concepts must therefore be treated as central themes of science courses. Without an adequate knowledge of geologic time and the evolutionary origin of species, students will not understand the processes that shape the natural environment in which they live. As a result, they will lack the understanding that is essential for making wise decisions regarding the environment upon which our survival depends.

Implementation

The Geological Society of America encourages use of this position statement in dialogue about teaching evolution in schools.

When discussing the importance of teaching evolution and geologic time with school boards, legislative committees, and other groups likely to include individuals with strong fundamental religious conviction, it may be necessary to argue that literal interpretations of creation stories do not constitute science, but we must respect the differing viewpoints and interests of others.

Remember that:

The separation of science and religion that we advocate does not mean that science and religion are incompatible. Many scientists who study evolution are religious; several major religions accept the importance of evolution; and some religious scholars find evolution fertile ground for the development of theological and spiritual understanding.
Scientists do not and cannot claim to prove or disprove the existence of God or other major tenets of religious traditions.

The core concepts of evolution are firmly established, but our understanding of evolution is itself changing and, as with any field of active research, there will be debate about unresolved issues at the frontiers of evolutionary science. Our understanding of the relationships between the evolution of species and the ecological systems that sustain them is progressing. But instead of weakening the case for evolution, scientific debate on these topics shows how science advances. As those controversies are resolved, the answers enrich our understanding of evolutionary processes.

Some of the arguments used to support the idea of an intelligent design focus on issues that are not well understood and claim that some action by a creator is needed to explain gaps in our understanding. Scientists find that it is generally wiser to admit that the gap exists and to work to understand how to fill it. For example, Darwin had no way of explaining how traits were transmitted from generation to generation, but Mendel’s later discovery of genes paved the way for one of the most robust pillars of modern evolutionary understanding.

The ability of future generations to cope with mounting environmental, agricultural and human health challenges will depend upon how effectively they can master the scientific method and utilize the vast body of knowledge we now call science. The science taught in our schools must be the best the scientific community can offer. Science must not be confused with religious claims, no matter how well intended the latter may be.

http://www.geosociety.org/aboutus/position1.htm

 

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF GEOSCIENCE TEACHERS -  NAGT
Final Draft Nov. 1, 2006

Position Statement on Teaching Evolution

The National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT) recognizes that the scientific theory of evolution is a foundational concept of science, and therefore must also be a cornerstone of science education. Evolution in the broadest sense refers to any change over time. The study of Earth’s evolution provides society with the time and space perspectives necessary to understand how Earth’s physical and biological processes developed, provides insight into the natural processes active on Earth, and shapes our view of Earth’s future.

Evolutionary studies apply to most branches of science, including organic evolution, cosmic evolution, geologic evolution, planetary evolution, and cultural evolution. Each of these subdisciplines of science provides evidence that evolution is pervasive: galaxies have changed, stars and planets have changed, Earth has changed, life forms on Earth have changed, and human culture has changed. Evolution is therefore factual and is a unifying concept of the natural sciences. For this reason, the National Science Education Standards (NRC), Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS), numerous national education policy documents, and individual states, through their published science education frameworks, all recognize that evolution is a unifying concept for science disciplines and provides students with the foundation to help them understand the natural world. NAGT fully agrees with and supports the scientific validity of evolution as reflected in the position statements of the numerous scientific societies that unanimously support evolution on scientific grounds. NAGT further maintains that the scientific theory of evolution should be taught to students of all grade levels as a unifying concept without distraction of non-scientific or anti-scientific influence.

Published and reaffirmed position statements on the scientific validity of evolution by all of the scientific societies clearly demonstrate that the modern scientific community no longer debates whether evolution has occurred. Scientific investigation of the mechanisms of evolution and the interconnected “details” of mechanism, process, history, and outcome remain at the current scientific forefront of evolutionary studies. This is the nature of scientific inquiry itself: to continually evaluate scientific theories with an eye towards improving our scientific models and adding more details to our understanding of the natural world. Scientists often disagree about explanations of how evolution works, the importance of specific evolutionary processes, or the patterns that are observed, but all agree that evolution has occurred and is occurring now. Global change will be the future projection of past and ongoing evolutionary processes. While evolution is factual, evolution is also a “scientific theory”, which is an explanation for the observed changes. This usage of theory should not be confused with the non-scientific usage of theory as an ad-hoc idea unsupported by testing or evidence.

In science, disagreements are subject to rules of scientific evaluation, and this includes the methodologies of teaching scientific concepts. Scientific conclusions are tested by experiment, observation, and evaluation. Sound practices of scientific education are tested and evaluated much the same way. NAGT recognizes that invoking non-naturalistic or supernatural events or beings, often guised as “creation science,” “scientific creationism,” or “intelligent design theory,” are not scientific in character, do not conform to the scientific usage of the word theory, and should not be part of valid science curricula.

As stated in NAGT’s Constitution, the purpose of the NAGT is to foster improvements in the teaching of the earth sciences at all levels of formal and informal instruction, to emphasize the relevance and cultural significance of the earth sciences, and to disseminate knowledge in this field to educators and the general public. The NAGT fully accepts its role in the evaluation and betterment of the teaching of scientific evolution in formal and informal educational settings, with the explicit goal of helping everyone to understand the scientific merit this fundamental concept has in modern science. The Journal of Geoscience Education publishes papers related to research concerning the pedagogy, assessment, history, philosophy and culture of teaching and learning about the geosciences, especially of fundamental concepts like geologic time and faunal and stratigraphic succession, all aspects of evolution.

http://www.nagt.org/files/nagt/evolutiongibson.v2.pdf

 

NATIONAL SCIENCE TEACHERS ASSOCIATION - NSTA
Adopted by the NSTA Board of Directors July 2003

The Teaching of Evolution

Introduction

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) strongly supports the position that evolution is a major unifying concept in science and should be included in the K–12 science education frameworks and curricula. Furthermore, if evolution is not taught, students will not achieve the level of scientific literacy they need. This position is consistent with that of the National Academies, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and many other scientific and educational organizations.

NSTA also recognizes that evolution has not been emphasized in science curricula in a manner commensurate to its importance because of official policies, intimidation of science teachers, the general public's misunderstanding of evolutionary theory, and a century of controversy. In addition, teachers are being pressured to introduce creationism, “creation science,” and other nonscientific views, which are intended to weaken or eliminate the teaching of evolution.

Declarations

Within this context, NSTA recommends that

  • Science curricula, state science standards, and teachers should emphasize evolution in a manner commensurate with its importance as a unifying concept in science and its overall explanatory power.
  • Science teachers should not advocate any religious interpretations of nature and should be nonjudgmental about the personal beliefs of students.
  • Policy makers and administrators should not mandate policies requiring the teaching of “creation science” or related concepts, such as so-called “intelligent design,” “abrupt appearance,” and “arguments against evolution.” Administrators also should support teachers against pressure to promote nonscientific views or to diminish or eliminate the study of evolution.
  • Administrators and school boards should provide support to teachers as they review, adopt, and implement curricula that emphasize evolution. This should include professional development to assist teachers in teaching evolution in a comprehensive and professional manner.
  • Parental and community involvement in establishing the goals of science education and the curriculum development process should be encouraged and nurtured in our democratic society. However, the professional responsibility of science teachers and curriculum specialists to provide students with quality science education should not be compromised by censorship, pseudoscience, inconsistencies, faulty scholarship, or unconstitutional mandates.
  • Science textbooks shall emphasize evolution as a unifying concept. Publishers should not be required or volunteer to include disclaimers in textbooks that distort or misrepresent the methodology of science and the current body of knowledge concerning the nature and study of evolution.

http://www.nsta.org/159&psid=10

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