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Science, Evolution, and Creationism

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Science, Evolution, and Creationism: A Welcome Defense of Evolution
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
NCSE Deputy Director
Volume: 
28
Issue: 
1
Year: 
2008
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
14
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

The National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine recently released Science, Evolution, and Creationism, a book designed to give the public a comprehensive and up-to-date picture of the current scientific understanding of evolution and its importance in the science classroom. In a January 4, 2008, press release, National Academy of Sciences President Ralph Cicerone was quoted as saying, "Science, Evolution, and Creationism provides the public with coherent explanations and concrete examples of the science of evolution. The study of evolution remains one of the most active, robust, and useful fields in science."

As its title suggests, the book also addresses creationism in its various forms, including young-earth, old-earth, and "intelligent design" creationism, and concludes, "No scientific evidence supports these viewpoints." Observing that "[c]reationism in its various forms is not the same thing as belief in God because ... many believers as well as many mainstream religious groups accept the findings of science, including evolution," Science, Evolution, and Creationism also quotes both leading scientists of faith (including Francis Collins and NCSE Supporter Kenneth R Miller) and religious leaders and groups (including the late Pope John Paul II and the over 10 000 signatories of the Clergy Letter Project), who see no conflict between their faith and science.

Science, Evolution, and Creationism takes a decidedly firm line on the necessity of including evolution in science education, warning, "Many teachers are under considerable pressure from policy makers, school administrators, parents, and students to downplay or eliminate the teaching of evolution. As a result, many US students lack access to information and ideas that are both integral to modern science and essential for making informed, evidence-based decisions about their own lives and our collective future. ... Given the importance of science in all aspects of modern life, the science curriculum should not be undermined with nonscientific material."

This third edition is twice as long as the second edition, issued in 1999. The current book was written by a committee including a number of NCSE Supporters and members and chaired by NCSE Supporter Francisco Ayala, the Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, and the author most recently of Darwin's Gift (Washington [DC]: Joseph Henry Press, 2007).

After its release, stories about Science, Evolution, and Creationism appeared in such major media outlets as The New York Times (2008 Jan 4), Reuters (2008 Jan 3), ScienceNOW (2008 Jan 4), United Press International (2008 Jan 4), and the Associated Press (2008 Jan 3), which noted, "Josh Rosenau, a spokesman for the California-based National Center for Science Education, which supports the teaching of evolution, said the new report is important because the debate over evolution in school is not going away."

Both NBC and ABC ran segments about the book on their nightly newscasts on January 3, 2008. Robert "Mac" West, a paleontologist and museum consultant who serves on NCSE's board of directors, told ABC's Dan Harris, "We don't want to be in the position of misleading our youngsters about what science is and what it can tell us about how the world works." NCSE's deputy director Glenn Branch told NBC's Pete Williams, "This is a definitive statement from a leading scientific authority about the scientific bankruptcy of intelligent design creationism."

The journal Nature offered three cheers on the publication of Science, Evolution, and Creationism in its January 10, 2008, editorial, remarking, "The document succinctly summarizes what is and isn't science, provides an overview of evidence for evolution by natural selection, and highlights how, time and again, leading religious figures have upheld evolution as consistent with their view of the world," and also citing Kevin Padian's testimony in Kitzmiller v Dover as "a more specific and also entertaining account of evolutionary knowledge."

In its January 12, 2008, editorial, New Scientist also praised the book, focusing on its avoidance of portraying science as opposed to religion ("The US is a religious country and, as Glenn Branch of the advocacy group National Center for Science Education points out, if the issue was 'God versus science' many Americans would choose God") and its emphasis on the practical applications of evolutionary theory ("understanding evolution is critical to agriculture, medicine and specifically to tackling viruses such as SARS and HIV").

Newspapers across the country took the opportunity presented by the publication of Science, Evolution, and Creationism to reaffirm their editorial commitment to the integrity of science education, including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (2008 Jan 6), the Tuscaloosa News (2008 Jan 6), the St Louis Post-Dispatch (2008 Jan 7), and the Toledo Blade (2008 Jan 9), which wrote, "Regrettably for American students caught in the middle, education on evolution could be watered down unless the National Academy of Sciences and others without a religious ax to grind get the last word."

Copies of Science, Evolution, and Creationism are available from the National Academies Press (call 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242; or visit the National Academies Press's website), for $12.95; a PDF version is also available for free download at the National Academies Press's website (http://www.nap.edu/sec).

About the Author(s): 

Glenn Branch
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
branch@ncseweb.org