Teachers urged to put reason first

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 June, 2006, 12:00am

Leading scientists call on educators to teach evidence-based evolution rather than unscientific theories

The world's top scientists are urging schools to reject untestable theories about man's origins in favour of evidence-based evolution.

Sixty-seven science academies - two-thirds of the members of the global Interacademy Panel on International Issues - have signed a statement condemning the teaching of unscientific theories.

Co-chairman Yves Quere, of the French Academie des Sciences, was reported by the BBC as saying the panel was concerned about the lies being taught to some students.

'We know of schools in various parts of the world where the children are told that the Earth is about 8,000 years old,' he said. 'So in this statement we say you cannot teach this to children, it is wrong. In some countries, the simple theory of evolution is denied in the teaching of children in schools.'

The panel, with the primary goal of helping member academies work together to advise citizens and public officials on the scientific aspects of critical global issues, said in the statement:

'We urge decision makers, teachers and parents to educate all children about the methods and discoveries of science and to foster an understanding of the science of nature.

'Knowledge of the natural world in which they live empowers people to meet human needs and protect the planet.

'We agree that the following evidence-based facts about the origins and evolution of the Earth and of life on this planet have been established by numerous observations and independently derived experimental results from a multitude of scientific disciplines.

'Even if there are still many open questions about the precise details of evolutionary change, scientific evidence has never contradicted these results.'

The panel, set up in 1993 and co-chaired by vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chen Zhu, went on to outline the four areas of scientific thought about origins and evolution it said had satisfied scientific criteria.

In a universe that has evolved towards its present configuration for some 11 to 15 billion years, our Earth formed approximately 4.5 billion years ago.

Since its formation, the Earth - its geology and its environments - has changed under the effect of numerous physical and chemical forces and continues to do so.

Life appeared on Earth at least 2.5 billion years ago. The evolution, soon after, of photosynthetic organisms enabled, from at least two billion years ago, the slow transformation of the atmosphere to one containing substantial quantities of oxygen. In addition to the release of the oxygen that we breathe, the process of photosynthesis is the ultimate source of fixed energy and food upon which human life on the planet depends.

Since its first appearance on Earth, life has taken many forms, all of which continue to evolve, in ways which palaeontology and the modern biological and biochemical sciences are describing and independently confirming with increasing precision. Commonalities in the structure of the genetic code of all organisms living today, including humans, clearly indicate their common primordial origin.

The statement follows hard on the heels of a fierce debate in the US and some British schools about whether 'intelligent design' should be on the curriculum.

Supporters of the theory say the universe and life are too complex to have been the result of chance or natural selection and that there must have been a designer.

The dispute led to a group of parents successfully taking a school board in Dover, Pennsylvania, to court to prevent the teaching of intelligent design in science classes.

Signatories included academies from Australia, Japan, China, Taiwan, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Indonesia, The Philippines, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.