Evolution education now added to state high school standards

State Press

The Arizona State Board of Education voted, 6-3, Monday to accept a special panel’s recommendation that the word “evolution” be included in high school science standards.

References to entropy, the big-bang theory and ancient fossils also were included.

The vote came after six months of debate over what Arizona students should be taught regarding the origin of life on Earth. One solution that was dismissed included the possibility of teaching evolution along with alternative theories.

Steve Rissing, professor of biology at ASU, was a member of the panel appointed to address the omission of evolution in the 1997 state science standards. He prepared a line-by-line comparison of science education standards, showing that while references to evolution were included in the national standards, they were not in the Arizona standards.

For example, the national standards said “species evolve over time” and that “the great diversity of organisms is the result of more that 3.5 billion years of evolution.”

In contrast, the Arizona standards require students only to be able to “describe and explain how the environment can affect the number of species and the diversity of species in an environment.”

Semantics? Rissing doesn’t think so.

“What was done to the standards from the National Research Council to generate the state standards was done quite explicitly and very much with the goal in mind of censoring the concept of evolution out of the standards,” he said.

Jane Maienschein, a philosophy professor at ASU who also served on the panel, said teaching alternatives to evolution would be a disservice to students because there are no other logical explanations. That means, without including evolutionary theory, students wouldn’t receive the tools to function in the modern world.

“Each of the changes is important and necessary,” she said.

Maienschein called evolution, as well as the concepts of entropy, gravity and the big-bang theory, “central and accepted concepts in science.”

Walt Brown, director of the Center for Scientific Creation was one of three panel members supporting the instruction of creation in conjunction with evolution. He declined comment, but presented a video outlining his arguments.

He argued that students should “certainly learn the evidences (sic) that oppose” evolution theory, and that “we are made of the wrong stuff if you accept (big-bang) theory.”

Dana Womack, a member of the committee who voted with Brown, said “the words evolution and gravity need to be included in the standards,” although she also said adjustments were needed.

“Opinions must not be censored from the debate because it frightens the evolutionists. I stand by the minority,” she said.

Rissing said he was troubled by the omission of evolution from the standards in the first place.

“I can’t sit by and watch cohort after cohort of students come into my introductory biology course,” Rissing said, “having spent all of this time doing something in grade school and high school to learn science, and be so completely unaware of this organizing principle.”

He compared the significance of evolution to that of Copernicus’ heliocentric model, which places the sun at the solar system’s center.

“Today we’ve got so many things around us that depend on (the heliocentric model) that we don’t even think about it. You can’t send people and machinery to the moon or Mars under the old, geocentric view of the world,” he said.

“Copernicus offended a lot of beliefs. It’s the exact same tension that we had back in the 15- and 1600s.”

(Photo) Brad Lang of the State Press

Harold Bates of the Soldiers of the Cross of Jesus Christ of Nazareth demonstrates his feelings on the theories of evolution versus that of creation. The state Board of Education voted Monday to include the word “evolution” in high school science standards.