Wilson: don’t dilute Arizona Science Standards

Why in the world are we discussing the validity of biological evolution in 2018?

Tom Wilson

Because Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas seeks to weaken science standards in Arizona schools by removing direct reference to biological evolution in favor of language that suggests alternative possibilities.

What might these alternatives be? Not in the language of the standards, but in her campaign, she apparently thinks Creationism, or its more recent moniker, Intelligent Design, is a possibility. Apparently, the new lax language is to encourage science teachers to explore alternatives to biological evolution under the fog of calling it critical thinking.

The idea of biological evolution, of descent from a common ancestor by means of natural selection, was first introduced to the broader world with publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859. Possibly biological evolution was a theory in 1859, although Mr. Darwin makes a good case that evolution is in fact — fact.

A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. Such fact-supported theories are not “guesses” but reliable accounts of the real world.

By the mid-20th Century if not earlier biological evolution was established as scientific certainty beyond a shadow of a doubt, whether based upon genetics or the fossil record. Multiple increasingly refined dating methods, such as genetic sequencing, geological contexts, radiometric dating and other techniques now offer increasing precision regarding the timing of evolutionary change.

Modern biology is evolutionary biology. There is no non-evolutionary biology as an explanatory theory. The scientific method allows hypotheses to be tested, retested, refined or rejected and replaced, and there is no process comparable to the scientific method for alternatives to biological evolution.

Indeed, in the last 50 years, when states have attempted to insert alternatives to biological evolution into school curricula with ideas such as Creationism, Scientific Creationism and Intelligent Design, in every case, Federal District Courts, Federal Appellate Courts, and the United States Supreme Court have found that biological evolution is science and alternative theories generally fall within the scope of religion, and usually thus contrary to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Arizona’s children deserve the very best scientific education that we can provide to prepare them for the world of the 21st Century, where scientific literacy will be a requirement for many jobs and just to function effectively in the modern world.

Already we know that a skilled and intelligent workforce is a major factor in attracting companies with high-paying jobs to Arizona. In the modern world, Arizona is competing with other states and nations for these companies and jobs.

A robust economy benefits all Arizonans. We must offer our children the best possible educational opportunities for them and for our state. Diluting the standards for science education does them, and Arizona, a great disservice.

Editor’s note: Mr. Wilson is director of the Arizona Museum of Natural History

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