The effort by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas to remove evolution, both the word and its explanations, from parts of the state K-12 science standards must be called out for what it is: A move to replace scientific fact with religious belief in Arizona public schools.
Do not be fooled when Douglas states, as she did to Capitol Media Services, “We have absolutely nothing in these standards in reference to intelligent design.” She is seeking plausible deniability, and we shouldn’t play along.
The proposed science standards do not need to explicitly use the words “intelligent design” or “creationism” to be an assault on the teaching of evolution and the Big Bang theory as established scientific facts. But it makes it no less an attempt to blur the line between science and religion in what Arizona students are taught in public schools.
The changes include replacing “evolution” with “biological diversity” in some passages, and removing language that students develop the understanding of how “adaptations contribute to the process of biological evolution” with “how traits within populations change over time.”
A reference to the “mechanism of biological evolution” would be replaced with “change in genetic composition of a population over successive generations.” And instead of requiring that students be able to interpret “supporting evidence for the Big Bang theory and the scale of the universe,” it would refer to “theories related to the scale and expansion of the universe.”
If, as Douglas told Capitol Media Services, she is not trying to shape academic standards to reflect her own beliefs about evolution and intelligent design — she told a friendly GOP audience last November that she thinks intelligent design should be taught along with the theory of evolution — the next question is simple:
Why make the change? Why try to dilute the teaching of evolution and create wiggle room that would allow schools to promote the religious beliefs of creationism or intelligent design?
Douglas says students should understand that, “Evolution is a theory in many ways,” and that, “If we’re going to educate our children instead of just indoctrinate them into one way of thinking, we have to be able to allow them to explore all types of areas.”
Douglas is misusing the scientific usage of “theory” to mean a hypothetical, or a guess. The non-partisan National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, explains it this way: “The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence. …
“In science, a ‘fact’ typically refers to an observation, measurement, or other form of evidence that can be expected to occur the same way under similar circumstances. However, scientists also use the term ‘fact’ to refer to a scientific explanation that has been tested and confirmed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing it or looking for additional examples. In that respect, the past and continuing occurrence of evolution is a scientific fact.”
Douglas’s use of “indoctrination” is also troubling, as it suggests she sees evolution as a belief, rather than a fact to know and understand.
After all, are students “indoctrinated” into believing that 2+2=4? No, they’re taught arithmetic as fact — because it is.
Other states and school districts have been more forthright in their quest to inject religion into education by forbidding the teaching of evolution and by replacing it with creationism or so-called “intelligent design,” where the explanation for complex biodiversity is credited to a supreme being, in other words, the Christian God.
Douglas’ effort to weaken what Arizona students learn about science is more covert, but no less dangerous.
The State Board of Education has the final say on these changes to the state science standards, and it should insist that Arizona teachers stick to the facts and leave religious beliefs outside the school house doors.