The National Science Teachers
Association supports the position that evolution is a major unifying concept of
science and should be included as part of K–College science frameworks and
curricula. NSTA recognizes that evolution has not been emphasized in science
curricula in a manner commensurate to its importance because of official
policies, intimidation of science teachers, the general public's misunderstanding
of evolutionary theory, and a century of controversy.
Furthermore, teachers are being
pressured to introduce creationism, creation "science," and other
nonscientific views, which are intended to weaken or eliminate the teaching of
Within this context, NSTA recommends that:
- Science curricula and teachers should emphasize
evolution in a manner commensurate with its importance as a unifying concept in
science, and its overall explanatory power.
- Policy makers and administrators should not mandate
policies requiring the teaching of creation science, or related concepts such
as so-called "intelligent design," "abrupt appearance," and
"arguments against evolution."
- Science teachers should not advocate any religious view
about creation, nor advocate the converse: that there is no possibility of
supernatural influence in bringing about the universe as we know it. Teachers
should be nonjudgmental about the personal beliefs of students.
- Administrators should provide support to teachers as
they design and implement curricula that emphasize evolution. This should
include inservice education to assist teachers to teach evolution in a
comprehensive and professional manner. Administrators also should support
teachers against pressure to promote nonscientific views or to diminish or
eliminate the study of evolution.
- Parental and community involvement in establishing the
goals of science education and the curriculum development process should be
encouraged and nurtured in our democratic society. However, the professional
responsibility of science teachers and curriculum specialists to provide
students with quality science education should not be bound by censorship,
pseudoscience, inconsistencies, faulty scholarship, or unconstitutional mandates.
- Science textbooks shall emphasize evolution as a
unifying concept. Publishers should not be required or volunteer to include
disclaimers in textbooks concerning the nature and study of evolution.
NSTA offers the following background information:
The Nature of Science, and
Science is a method of explaining
the natural world. It assumes the universe operates according to regularities
and that through systematic investigation we can understand these regularities.
The methodology of science emphasizes the logical testing of alternate
explanations of natural phenomena against empirical data. Because science is
limited to explaining the natural world by means of natural processes, it
cannot use supernatural causation in its explanations. Similarly, science is
precluded from making statements about supernatural forces, because these are
outside its provenance. Science has increased our knowledge because of this
insistence on the search for natural causes.
The most important scientific explanations
are called "theories." In ordinary speech, "theory" is
often used to mean "guess," or "hunch," whereas in
scientific terminology, a theory is a set of universal statements that explain
the natural world. Theories are powerful tools. Scientists seek to develop
- are internally consistent and compatible with the
- are firmly grounded in and based upon evidence
- have been tested against a diverse range of phenomena
- possess broad and demonstrable effectiveness in
- explain a wide variety of phenomena.
The body of scientific knowledge
changes as new observations and discoveries are made. Theories and other
explanations change. New theories emerge and other theories are modified or
discarded. Throughout this process, theories are formulated and tested on the
basis of evidence, internal consistency, and their explanatory power.
Evolution as a Unifying
Evolution in the broadest sense
can be defined as the idea that the universe has a history: that change through
time has taken place. If we look today at the galaxies, stars, the planet
Earth, and the life on planet Earth, we see that things today are different
from what they were in the past: galaxies, stars, planets, and life forms have
evolved. Biological evolution refers to the scientific theory that living
things share ancestors from which they have diverged: Darwin called it
"descent with modification." There is abundant and consistent
evidence from astronomy, physics, biochemistry, geochronology, geology,
biology, anthropology and other sciences that evolution has taken place.
As such, evolution is a unifying
concept for science. The National Science Education Standards recognizes that
conceptual schemes such as evolution "unify science disciplines and
provide students with powerful ideas to help them understand the natural
world," and recommends evolution as one such scheme. In addition, the
Benchmarks for Science Literacy from the American Association for the
Advancement of Science's Project 2061, and the NSTA s Scope, Sequence, and
Coordination Project as well as other national calls for science reform, all
name evolution as a unifying concept because of its importance across the
discipline of science. Scientific disciplines with a historical component such
as astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology, cannot be taught with
integrity if evolution is not emphasized.
There is no longer a debate among
scientists over whether evolution has taken place. There is considerable debate
about how evolution has taken place: the processes and mechanisms producing
change, and what has happened during the history of the universe. Scientists
often disagree about their explanations. In any science, disagreements are
subject to rules of evaluation. Errors and false conclusions are confronted by
experiment and observation, and evolution, as in any aspect of science, is
continually open to and subject to experimentation and questioning.
The word "creationism"
has many meanings. In its broadest meaning, creationism is the idea that a
supernatural power or powers created. Thus to Christians, Jews, and Muslims,
God created; to the Navajo, the Hero Twins created. In a narrower sense, "creationism"
has come to mean "special creation": the doctrine that the universe
and all that is in it was created by God in essentially its present form, at
one time. The most common variety of special creationism asserts that
- the Earth is very young
- life was originated by a creator
- life appeared suddenly
- kinds of organisms have not changed
- all life was designed for certain functions and
This version of special creation
is derived from a literal interpretation of Biblical Genesis. It is a specific,
sectarian religious belief that is not held by all religious people. Many
Christians and Jews believe that God created through the process of evolution.
Pope John Paul II, for example, issued a statement in 1996 that reiterated the
Catholic position that God created, but that the scientific evidence for
evolution is strong.
"Creation science" is
an effort to support special creationism through methods of science. Teachers
are often pressured to include it or synonyms such as "intelligent design
theory," "abrupt appearance theory," "initial complexity
theory," or "arguments against evolution" when they teach
evolution. Special creationist claims have been discredited by the available
evidence. They have no power to explain the natural world and its diverse
phenomena. Instead, creationists seek out supposed anomalies among many
existing theories and accepted facts. Furthermore, creation science claims do
not provide a basis for solving old or new problems or for acquiring new
Nevertheless, as noted in the
National Science Education Standards "Explanations on how the natural
world changed based on myths, personal beliefs, religious values, mystical
inspiration, superstition, or authority may be personally useful and socially
relevant, but they are not scientific." Because science can only use
natural explanations and not supernatural ones, science teachers should not
advocate any religious view about creation, nor advocate the converse: that
there is no possibility of supernatural influence in bringing about the
universe as we know it.
Several judicial rulings have
clarified issues surrounding the teaching of evolution and the imposition of
mandates that creation science be taught when evolution is taught. Th First Amendment
of the Constitution requires that public institutions such as schools be
religiously neutral; because special creation is a specific, sectarian
religious view, it cannot be advocated as "true," accurate
scholarship in the public schools. When Arkansas passed a law requiring
"equal time" for creationism and evolution, the law was challenged in
Federal District Court. Opponents of the bill included the religious leaders of
the United Methodist, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, African Methodist Episcopal,
Presbyterian, and Southern Baptist churches, and several educational
organizations. After a full trial, the judge ruled that creation science did
not qualify as a scientific theory (McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, 529
F. Supp. 1255 (ED Ark. 1982)).
Louisiana's equal time law was
challenged in court, and eventually reached the Supreme Court. In Edwards v.
Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987) the court determined that creationism was
inherently a religious idea and to mandate or advocate it in the public schools
would be unconstitutional. Other court decisions have upheld the right of a
district to require that a teacher teach evolution and not to teach creation
science (Webster v. New Lennox School District #122, 917 F.2d 1003 (7th Cir.
1990); Peloza v. Capistrano Unified School District, 37 F.3d 517 (9th Cir.
legislatures and policy makers continue attempts to distort the teaching of
evolution through mandates that would require teachers to teach evolution as
"only a theory," or that require a textbook or lesson on evolution to
be preceded by a disclaimer. Regardless of the legal status of these mandates,
they are bad educational policy. Such policies have the effect of intimidating
teachers, which may result in the de-emphasis or omission of evolution. The
public will only be further confused about the special nature of scientific
theories, and if less evolution is learned by students, science literacy itself
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Sequence, and Coordination: A High School Framework for Science Education.
Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association (NSTA).
American Association for the
Advancement of Science (AAAS), Project 2061. (1993). Benchmarks for Science
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485 (6th Cir. 1975). Edwards v. Aguillard,
U.S. 578 (1987).Epperson v. Arkansas,
U.S. 97 (1968).
Laudan, Larry. (1996). Beyond
Positivism and Relativism: Theory, Method, and Evidence.
Westview Press. McLean v. Arkansas Board of
529 F. Supp. 1255 (ED Ark. 1982).
National Research Council.
(1996). The National Science Education Standards.
National Academy Press.
National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). (1993). Scope, Sequence, and Coordination of Secondary
School Science. Vol. 1. The Content Core: A Guide for Curriculum Designers
Arlington, VA: Author.Peloza v. Capistrano Unified
37 F.3d 517 (9th Cir. 1994).
Ruse, Michael. (1996). But Is
It Science: The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy.
Amherst, NY: Prometheus. Webster v. New Lennox School
917 F.2d 1003 (7th Cir. 1990).