Evolution eruption in Arizona schools

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Throughout the past century, teachings on the theory of evolution have made their way into every U.S. public school’s science curriculum. The Supreme Court has consistently rejected efforts to have creationism taught alongside Darwinian evolution.

NICK EICHER, HOST: That’s why evolutionists in Arizona are in an uproar after the state’s top education official suggested students should be taught the reality many scientists already acknowledge: that evolution is a theory, not settled science.

WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg has our report.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: The Arizona Department of Education is seeking to make changes to its science standards. The changes will affect K-through-12 public schools and include removing the word “evolution” in some places and describing it as a “theory” in others.

There are only 12 total instances in the 84-page draft where writers added “theory” before the word “evolution” or “evolution” was removed and replaced with a different phrase. But those small changes are causing an uproar.

AUDIO: News clips

Evolutionists are furious because the state’s science standards offer direction for what curriculums school districts choose and how teachers instruct their students.

Who is behind the changes? Many say its the state’s superintendent of public instruction, Diane Douglas.

Diane Douglas previously professed belief in what many science educators in the state consider to be a scandalous scientific theory: intelligent design.

DOUGLAS: Should the theory of intelligent design be taught along with the theory of evolution? Absolutely. I had a discussion with my staff because we are currently working on science standards to make sure that this issue was addressed in the standards we are working on.

Douglas made that statement during a political event last November. Amid the outcry, Douglas notes the proposed science standard changes never mention intelligent design. She also told an Arizona newspaper that while the ideas expressed in the recording are her personal beliefs, her beliefs are not included in the Arizona Science Standards.

Still, state Representative Athena Salman told AZFamily she and 19 other state lawmakers are calling for an investigation of Douglas’s role in the edits.

SALMAN: I think we need an investigation of how this has happened and what the superintendent’s role was in this matter.

Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, weighed in on the controversy last week. He told ABC 12 he does not see religion and evolution as mutually exclusive.

DUCEY: Where I’ve seen it done well is where schools work on the story of creation in some type of literature that they’re teaching. And evolution will be part of the science curriculum.

While some in the intelligent design camp are celebrating the proposed changes, not all of them are. Sarah Chaffee is with the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. She says removing the word “evolution” from curriculum is not a helpful strategy in the evolution vs. intelligent design debate.

CHAFFEE: We support critical analysis of evolution, so analyzing and evaluating the theory, um, but not trying to take words out of the curriculum.

Chaffee says the more students study evolution, the more they’ll realize the theory doesn’t hold up. Then students will ask for alternative origin ideas, without having those ideas forced on them.  

CHAFFEE: We are not looking to push intelligent design into any public school curriculum, period. We think that evolution shouldn’t be taught as dogma that it should be taught as a scientific topic open to scrutiny, that’s open to critical analysis.

But Georgia Purdom, a scientist at Answers in Genesis, approves of the proposed changes. She says they focus on observable science without linking those observations with any theory about the past.

PURDOM: They’re not trying to necessarily promote creation or intelligent design or anything like that. What they’re just trying to do is say, hey, you know what this is what we observe. Let’s make the textbooks consistent with what we actually observed rather than trying to make statements about the unobservable past.

Whether the changes will stick is another question. A public comment board on the science standards proposal got so much traffic over Memorial Day weekend—it crashed. Now it’s up to the state board of education to review those comments and take a final vote sometime later this year.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.

(Photo/Smithsonian) Charles Darwin

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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