IAP Statement on the teaching of evolution

The Interacademy Panel on International Issues has issued a statement on evolution:

IAP STATEMENT ON THE TEACHING OF EVOLUTION

We, the undersigned Academies of Sciences, have learned that in various parts of the world, within science courses taught in certain public systems of education, scientific evidence, data, and testable theories about the origins and evolution of life on Earth are being concealed, denied, or confused with theories not testable by science. 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:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. Life appeared on Earth at least 2.5 billion years ago. The evolution, soon after, of photosynthetic organisms enabled, from at least 2 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.

4. 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.

We also subscribe to the following statement regarding the nature of science in relation to the teaching of evolution and, more generally, of any field of scientific knowledge :

Scientific knowledge derives from a mode of inquiry into the nature of the universe that has been successful and of great consequence. Science focuses on (i) observing the natural world and (ii) formulating testable and refutable hypotheses to derive deeper explanations for observable phenomena. When evidence is sufficiently compelling, scientific theories are developed that account for and explain that evidence, and predict the likely structure or process of still unobserved phenomena.

Human understanding of value and purpose are outside of natural science's scope. However, a number of components - scientific, social, philosophical, religious, cultural and political - contribute to it. These different fields owe each other mutual consideration, while being fully aware of their own areas of action and their limitations.

While acknowledging current limitations, science is open ended, and subject to correction and expansion as new theoretical and empirical understanding emerges.

The signatories are pretty extensive:

1. Albanian Academy of Sciences

2. National Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences, Argentina

3. Australian Academy of Science

4. Austrian Academy of Sciences

5. Bangladesh Academy of Sciences

6. The Royal Academies for Science and the Arts of Belgium

7. Academy of Sciences and Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina

8. Brazilian Academy of Sciences

9. Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

10. RSC: The Academies of Arts, Humanities and Sciences of Canada

11. Academia Chilena de Ciencias

12. Chinese Academy of Sciences

13. Academia Sinica, China, Taiwan

14. Colombian Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences

15. Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences

16. Cuban Academy of Sciences

17. Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic

18. Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters

19. Academy of Scientific Research and Technology, Egypt

20. Académie des Sciences, France

21. Union of German Academies of Sciences and Humanities

22. The Academy of Athens, Greece

23. Hungarian Academy of Sciences

24. Indian National Science Academy

25. Indonesian Academy of Sciences

26. Academy of Sciences of the Islamic Republic of Iran

27. Royal Irish Academy

28. Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities

29. Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Italy

30. Science Council of Japan

31. Kenya National Academy of Sciences

32. National Academy of Sciences of the Kyrgyz Republic

33. Latvian Academy of Sciences

34. Lithuanian Academy of Sciences

35. Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts

36. Academia Mexicana de Ciencias

37. Mongolian Academy of Sciences

38. Academy of the Kingdom of Morocco

39. The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences

40. Academy Council of the Royal Society of New Zealand

41. Nigerian Academy of Sciences

42. Pakistan Academy of Sciences

43. Palestine Academy for Science and Technology

44. Academia Nacional de Ciencias del Peru

45. National Academy of Science and Technology, The Philippines

46. Polish Academy of Sciences

47. Académie des Sciences et Techniques du Sénégal

48. Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts

49. Singapore National Academy of Sciences

50. Slovak Academy of Sciences

51. Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts

52. Academy of Science of South Africa

53. Royal Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences of Spain

54. National Academy of Sciences, Sri Lanka

55. Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

56. Council of the Swiss Scientific Academies

57. Academy of Sciences, Republic of Tajikistan

58. The Caribbean Academy of Sciences

59. Turkish Academy of Sciences

60. The Uganda National Academy of Sciences

61. The Royal Society, UK

62. US National Academy of Sciences

63. Uzbekistan Academy of Sciences

64. Academia de Ciencias FÃsicas, Matemáticas y Naturales de Venezuela

65. Zimbabwe Academy of Sciences

66. African Academy of Sciences

67. The Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS)

68. The Executive Board of the International Council for Science (ICSU)

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Oh dear oh dear. What a silly overreaction this statement is. E.g.,

"scientific evidence has never contradicted these results:
1. 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."

So all scientists before say 1960 were idiots?

I wouldn't blame any individual scientist for failing to distinguish between "evidence has never been thought to conclusively contradict these results, on the whole" and "evidence has never contradicted these results". But I'd have expected these committees to find someone more thoughtful to draft their statement for them.

Well, you can't contradict the results before they were results, now, can you?

By John Wilkins (not verified) on 22 Jun 2006 #permalink

So, you'd be the same Jason-troll who infests Pharyngula?

FWIW, I also picked up on the "never contradicted" phrasing. Given that scientific consensus on the age of the universe (and other assertions in the list) has changed over the last 50 to 100 years, and that presumably each idea advanced was based on some sort of evidence at the time, one could make the quibble that the earlier-available evidence (before it was properly understood in the light of later results) did contradict some item on the list. (And whether even that much of the argument is valid depends on the detailed history of the claim and relevant evidence on that point).

So, being generous, I'll grant that you have a valid semantic quibble. Congratulations. Now: do you have any substantive criticism of any of the claims made on the list? Do you know of any current evidence that contradicts any item there?

I wouldn't give the troll even that much wiggle room. If the earlier data contradicted the newer theory, then the newer theory wouldn't have been formulated, since it wouldn't be compatible with known data. At worst, the earlier data may have _suggested_ a slightly different theory, but was not incompatible with the more recent one.

By Graham Douglas (not verified) on 22 Jun 2006 #permalink

What disturbs me most about this situation is how the freaking IDers have forced scientists to give into their game of politicizing science. It makes me so mad.

I don't see the IAP statement as "politicizing science". Politicizing science is when the merit of a scientific idea is judged on whether it is "liberal" or "conservative" (or: "Jewish", "bourgeois", "Marxist-Leninist", etc), or when "allowed" science is determined by whether it makes the PTB look good or bad (but no democratic country would ever do that, right?)

Scientists will always be obliged to engage the wider world, whether the implications of their work be philosophical, commercial or political. In this case, external political forces are intruding on science's domain, and the world's scientists are pushing back (and good on them for issuing a blunt, no-nonsense repudiation of politically-motivated pseudo-science).