This is big.

The world’s leading scientists yesterday urged schools to stop denying the facts of evolution amid controversy over the teaching of creationism.

The national science academies of 67 countries – including the UK’s Royal Society – issued a joint statement warning that scientific evidence about the origins of life was being “concealed, denied, or confused”. It urged parents and teachers to provide children with the facts about the origins and evolution of life on Earth.

This is a nice foil to a recent post on the Discovery Institute’s “Evolution News and Views blog,” noting that their list of “dissenting scientists” has now exceeded 600 individuals, and touting that more international scientists are signing on:

“Dissent from Darwinism has gone global,” said Discovery Institute President Bruce Chapman, former US Ambassador to the United Nations in Vienna. “Darwinists used to claim that virtually every scientist in the world held that Darwinian evolution was true, but we quickly started finding US scientists that disproved that statement. Now we’re finding that there are hundreds, and probably thousands, of scientists all over the world that don’t subscribe to Darwin’s theory.”

600 individuals versus the national science academies of 67 countries. How seriously pathetic.

The statement itself was drafted by the Interacademy Panel on International Issues and can be found here. Note that it’s not only in support of evolution, but also touches on the nature of science itself:

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.

Contributing countries include Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, India, the UK, United States, Denmark (sorry, Bill) and many others. These academies represent millions of working scientists around the globe–while the DI finds it impressive that “…hundreds, and probably thousands, of scientists all over the world…don’t subscribe to Darwin’s theory,” the rest of the reality-based community is again showing their support for both evolutionary theory, and the scientific method as the way to undertake research.

One comment on the new statement: while I find the statement and its signatories impressive, but is there a “statement burnout?” As Nick at the Scientific Activist states:

Of course the world’s preeminent scientific organizations should be pushing the teaching of evolution, and they should be doing a lot more than just putting out weak press releases. It’s no wonder that intelligent design, despite its complete lack of anything even resembling scientific validity, has made such an impact, since its proponents have been so proactive and so much more media savvy than the scientific community.

Instead of just drafting a statement, the IAP’s resources could be better put to use by directly engaging the public on the issue or by putting together useful resources for the scientific and educational communities.

Statements are certainly popping up everywhere. The DI has theirs, and I blogged previously on another anti-evolution statement (“Physicians and Surgeons for Scientific Integrity”) here. Conservatives have their own statement against intelligent design, and I was part of a group to circulate a petition supporting evolution (mentioned here). I agree that, alone, the statements aren’t enough, and I agree with Nick that we need to directly engage the public and create useful resources. It’s simply not an either-or thing. The resources he links are from the US National Academy of Sciences, one of the signatories on the current statement. Additionally, the IAP is more of a facilitator between the various science academies worldwide, so putting together a piece like this is right up their alley–and, IMO, a component of the “media savvy” that Nick mentions our opponents possess (and scientists lack). The DI knows that numbers sell–and while theirs are absolutely pathetic by comparison, they can point to their list and say, “see, we have scientists who support us.” The IAP statement is a nice collection where evolution supporters can point and say, “yeah, but how do they compare to this list?” Kudos to them for pulling it all together.

Comments

  1. #1 Doc Bill
    June 26, 2006

    Ha! The Disco Inst would simply reply that they have 600 signatures on their list and you have a mere 67 on yours!

    So there!

  2. #2 Sam
    June 26, 2006

    I noticed that the linked Guardian article states that “rather than 4,600 million years ago as scientists believe.” As if it is a battle of ‘beliefs’ rather than evidence. They should state “rather than 4,600 million years that is supported by all scientific evidence.” When will journalists become scientifically literate enough to do science justice?

  3. #3 Dave S.
    June 26, 2006

    Not even they are that dense Doc, or at least I don’t think so. Although we should note that their statement is so wishy-washy and vague (and in fact does not even mention intelligent design) that anyone could truthfully sign it. Even Richard Dawkins.

    I wish some day they’d produce more than PR releases. Not much hope of that without a major re-tooling though.

  4. #4 bob
    June 26, 2006

    Does this list mean its the end of the world? Both Isreal’s and Palestine’s scientific organizations have signed this.

  5. #5 Kristjan Wager
    June 26, 2006

    Denmark (sorry, Bill) and many others.

    Interesting enough, the Danish proponent for Intelligent Design, argues that it’s not appropriate for teaching as science. Rather, he sees it as a philosophical argument, that should be regarded as such.

    His arguments are more in line with guided evolution than with the intelligent design of the Discovery Institute.

    Of course, he’s not taken seriously by most people.

    Also, the airing of Dawkin’s shows might have lead to a sourge in googling for ‘intelligent design’.

  6. #6 Stephen Uitti
    June 26, 2006

    Evidence that 600 scientists can be found to be wrong. Perhaps we could find 600 scientists who are wrong about Gravity.

    “When i let go of this ball, it will rise into the air.”

    or

    “The force of gravity between two objects depends only on their mass, the distance between them, and their political parties.”

    Let the debates begin!

  7. #7 DK
    June 26, 2006

    Remember this guy who was “harrassed” by the Smithsonian for his views all the while he vehemently denied supporting creationism (ID)? Well, he’s noted on the DI’s site as a “prominent” supporter of ID now. Fancy that.

    Smithsonian Institution evolutionary biologist and a researcher at the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Biotechnology Information Richard von Sternberg

  8. #8 The Bog Nug
    June 26, 2006

    I don’t think it’s a lack of media savvy, or resources, or statements that hinders evolution’s position in the general public discussion, I think it’s the framing of the debate.

    For example, sure they only have 600 people, but they can comeback and say – Look, we are a dissenting view trying to get our point out, of course we have fewer scientist signing this, some of them are scared of retribution from the evil atheist camp. Or they can just say, it’s a “new” idea and that all new ideas start as the minority until people see how great it is, we just want our story to get out.

    So, the 600 doesn’t really hurt them at all in the public’s eye. They’ll see it as a potential idea that is being squashed by the larger side.

    Anybody remember the retired generals speaking out against Rumsfeld? Here are a few generals out of all of them, that spoke out against Rumsfeld’s bumbling of the invasion of Iraq. If you are a liberal, and against the war like me, you’d take that as evidence supporting your view. Interestingly, the Cheney/Rumsfeld administration used the “Look at the hundreds of generals we have that don’t agree with these statements” line, kind of similar to this.

    Of course there are some problems with this analogy, like the invasion really is a PR nightmare so they’ve stopped talking about it as much as possible and some of the generals actually were involved in the invasion where as many of these scientists don’t sound involved in biological sciences, but I think it does work to a certain extent to show that the numbers are meaningless in the media and the public’s eye, they just need a few to make the statement at least seem legitimate and to get it into circulation.

    You could have a million scientists support you and it won’t crush this statement in the public arena. Sad but true.

  9. #9 Clark Bartram
    June 26, 2006

    Last night’s Simpson focused on the Flanders, a fundamentally religious family. At one point the kids, Rod and Todd, were playing Christian Clue. The Secular Humanist did it in the classroom with misinformation was said by one of them while holding up a card with a dinosaur on it. I guess you had to be there.

  10. #10 John
    June 27, 2006

    Why do we not take advantage of our greatest strength – the teaching arena? Right now it is pretty much up to individual school boards to decide a) how MUCH evolution gets taught in biology classes (usually about a week) or b) if they want to either ignore it completely or, occasionally, challenge the Supreme Court on the issue in cases like Dover.

    Federal funding of local schools is dependant upon certain criteria of subjects taught. If we think the issue of evolution is important to the entire scope of science then let’s treat it that way. Let’s MANDATE the teaching of evolution. A full semester of it should be a requirement for any U.S. high school student to graduate. A certain amount of hours per year of science should be dedicated to evolution at the middle school level and similar primer hours for 4th and 5th graders.

    When people are taught these things IN DEPTH, it becomes obvious very quickly that a biblical explanation of the universe, the earth and life is a complete farce. Children will challenge their parents on it. Things won’t change overnight but in 30 years we will have a completely different playing field. Additionally, evolution is such a fascinating topic and has implications into so many other areas of science that, inevitably, more and more children will become interested in pursuing careers in science.

    I’m all for debates. I’m all for “statements”. I’m all for making information more accessible and presented in a more “down to earth” and interesting fashion. But we possess the knock-out punch and fail to use it when we don’t mandate the teaching of evolution in a similar way to what I suggest here.

  11. #11 Janne P.
    June 27, 2006

    When people are taught these things IN DEPTH, it becomes obvious very quickly that a biblical explanation of the universe, the earth and life is a complete farce. Children will challenge their parents on it. Things won’t change overnight but in 30 years we will have a completely different playing field. Additionally, evolution is such a fascinating topic and has implications into so many other areas of science that, inevitably, more and more children will become interested in pursuing careers in science.

    Please do note that a high school education is supposed to give people a comprehensive general education. Of course, being a biologist, you believe that more evolution should be taught. Teach vertebrate evolution, argue rigorously for the different evolutionary forces? Perhaps teach speciation and its impact on the fossil record?

    What would you say if I were a geologist who was disturbed by the fact that youngsters these days do not learn anything about the sediments of Triassic period? If you were a geologist, you’d understand what a necessity they were to understanding the geological composition of our planet today.

    I believe you’d realize that such things do not belong in a general education given to all youth. Of course, teaching evolution in schools is vital to an all-round understanding of science and the current cultural debate on creationism/ID (whatever it happens to be called at the moment) and as such is a necessity in the national science curriculum. BUT.

    Most high school students dislike science because it’s too theoretical, too concentrated on scientific rigor like definitions or different theories which can only be understood through years of study (which evolution is rather fond of). Adding time for evolution/Triassic sediments/Earth’s precession/(insert specific topic here) means less time for giving a good all-round look at the science which explains our daily lives. That’s what should be taught in high school.

  12. #12 Rolf Manne
    June 27, 2006

    I saw the statement of the Academies at the NCSE website a few days ago and found that the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters was missing from the list of signatories. I therefore contacted the president of that academy who is a professor at my university (University of Bergen). His prompt reply was that they too support the evolution statement, but due to some administrative mixup their name was missing from the list. Thus there are really not 67 but at least 68 academies supporting the teaching of evolution.

  13. #13 King_Aardvark
    June 27, 2006

    Janne:
    I don’t know what it’s like in your region’s schools, but where I’m from, we take English literature FOUR TIMES in highschool, once per year. Seriously, we read four different Shakespeare plays (we know already… the central themes in most of them are “things are not always as they appear” and “don’t let your ambitions get out of control”, so stop making us read so many of them). We only have to take two sciences, both general at a low level. There is a serious lack of emphasis placed on science, and we can easily kill one or more english classes to make room for more science. (note: I’m not for getting rid of english classes, just having 1-2 madatory and making the rest electives)

  14. #14 Zach
    June 27, 2006

    I agree that more emphasis needs to be placed on the sciences as a whole and how they relate to everyday life. However, I disagree with the statement that, “a biblical explanation of the universe, the earth and life is a complete farce.” The Bible doesn’t actually say how life was created, just that God created life. For all we know God used evolution. The Bible has no say on how it happened, just that it did.

  15. #15 peter
    June 27, 2006

    The fundamentalists also have the idea that they are the Chosen Few, so it actually serves their purposes to be in the “scientific” minority. The fact that all real scientists support (i.e. understand) evolution & geology is just further proof to the fake IDs that some massive global anti-Jesus conspiracy is at work.

  16. #16 Salvador
    June 27, 2006

    You’ll see that these mugs will manage to be the new-cool-trendy-revolutionary-people against “these” stagnant-dogmatic-scientists. It takes only 600 to start a revolution… even if it is pathetic and senseless!

    While we do our research they plan new ways of self-publicity and subterfuge, that’s the main problem.

  17. #17 Jeff B.
    June 27, 2006

    Speaking of education, there is a truly terrific series of articles on evolution by Olivia Judson (the evolutionary biologist who wrote “Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex,”) being published as a blog by the NY Times in their Times Select section. Definitely worth reading. In my humble opinion, the series contains some of the best and most informative writing on evolution since Stephen Gould’s columns in Natural History.

  18. #18 David Harmon
    June 28, 2006

    The real point here is that this is essentially a statement by “the scientists of the world”. There may not be a single body “in charge” of science, but “we’ve” just demonstrated that there really is a single common position of “Science” on this topic. Has there ever been another public statement with this level and breadth of support?

  19. #19 Lamuella
    June 28, 2006

    For me the best, or weirdest, part of this is signatory number 26:

    “Academy of Sciences of the Islamic Republic of Iran”

    Iran. One of the most theistic countries in that part of the world can accept evolution as part of science, and yet somehow Big Bill and his cronies can’t.

    Does that boggle anyone else’s mind?

  20. #20 cengiz cebi
    July 2, 2006

    The difference between “dissent from darwinism” and “dissent from evolution” is being ignored here. Where comes the illfounded idea that design theorists deny evolution? The history of theory of evolution doesn’t start with Darwin or with darwinism. Darwinism is the claim that the theory of evolution makes (intelligent) design unnecessary. And this is the idea that cannot gain the support by all the scientists from these academies.

  21. #21 guthrie
    July 2, 2006

    The idea that ID’ists disagree with evolution comes from their very own words. I suggest you go and read them.

    http://www.uncommondescent.com/

    http://www.idthefuture.com/

  22. #22 cengiz cebi
    July 2, 2006

    Guthrie,

    I read their own words at the sites you’ve given but there is no such a denial. They criticize naturalism packed with evolutionary theory. They don’t say “There is/was no proccess we could call evolution”. But they say “There is no unguided natural proccess known that can produce the diversity and complexity of life”. There should be an intelligence at work. This intelligence could have guided evolution. But such a proccess couldn’t have taken place in purely natural laws. This is the critism of darwinism (evolutionary naturalism), not the theory of evolution.

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