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Minnesota Science Standards Leave Door Open for Creationism

January 26, 2010 By John Fitzgerald, Education Policy Fellow

Science standards for Minnesota schools are about to be set for the next six years. Is the battle to keep pseudoscience out of our classrooms over? Sadly the door has been cracked open for intelligent design, an idea with no real scientific basis cooked up by creationists, to remain in Minnesota's classrooms.

The same vague science benchmark that was a compromise in the intelligent design controversy early in the Pawlenty administration still exists, unchanged, in this round of science standards. These standards will begin next school year and be in effect until 2017.

When teachers and scientists gathered to begin the process of updating Minnesota's K-12 science standards, they were told to include evolution in the standards. This statement was made in the first document handed to group members:
 

"Science Standards will reflect the scientific facts, laws, and theories of the natural and engineered world and will not include supernatural, occult or religious ideas. In addition, the following benchmark from the 2004 standards will be included in the revised standards for grades 9-12:

"The student will be able to explain how scientific and technological innovations as well as new evidence can challenge portions of or entire accepted theories and models including but not limited to cell theory, atomic theory, theory of evolution, plate tectonic theory, germ theory of disease and big bang theory."

While seemingly innocuous, this requirement does allow some teachers to teach intelligent design or creationism, under the guise of challenging scientifically proven evolution theory.

Theories are meant to be tested and face adaptation to new evidence, but the science that frames these challenges needs to be sound. While it is conceivable some new fact could change our thinking behind plate tectonics or atomics, cell theory or germ theory, such has not been the case for many years.

While it is true that new supercolliders could offer greater insight into the big bang theory, such insight will be based on rigorous science - well documented and vetted by scientists of impeccable repute.

This is not the case with intelligent design. The terms apply to the belief that an intelligent, supernatural being created humankind in its current form sometime in the last 10,000 years.

Evidence counteracting intelligent design and bolstering the theory of evolution emerges almost every year as human fossils millions of years old are found throughout the globe.

A fascinating article in the October National Geographic discusses Ardipithecus ramidus, a 4.4 million year old progenitor of the human race.

The National Geographic article reports that the fossil, called Ardi, challenges portions of the theory of evolution that say the missing link between humans and apes would look something like a chimpanzee. For example, Ardi is changing our way of thinking about how hominids moved about. Its big toe splays out from the foot to better to grasp tree limbs. However, its foot contains an extra bone that keeps the toe rigid to help the hominid walk bipedally on the ground. The extra bone is not found in the lineages of chimps and gorillas. Also, the upper pelvis is "positioned so that Ardi could walk on two legs without lurching from side to side like a chimp," researchers say, while the lower pelvis was built like an ape's to accommodate huge hind limb muscles used in climbing.

"What Ardi tells us is there was this vast intermediate stage in our evolution that nobody knew about," Owen Lovejoy, an anatomist at Kent State University in Ohio, told National Geographic. "It changes everything."

What Ardi also tells us is that the theory of evolution is alive and open to, well, evolution.

It's also important to note that Ardi's fossils were first uncovered in 1992. It took 17 years of painstaking research to reach the above conclusions. Scientists are ready to back up their claims about Ardi with solid fact, and ready to adapt the theory of evolution when further solid facts become known.

Intelligent design proponents try to match evolution with statements do not match facts. Until they do, intelligent design has no place in Minnesota schools.

Since scientific theories are open to change when new facts present themselves, why is it bad for Minnesota to have a standard that allows for challenges? Because even though the standard may seem innocuous enough, it opens the door for individual teachers to teach invalid concepts like intelligent design under the guise of challenging the status quo. Since intelligent design is scientifically inaccurate, this would mean that teacher's students will have a perverted idea of science. Since Minnesota's future depends on a populace armed with quality information about the world around us, such an occurrence would be very unfortunate.

A better solution would be to eliminate the provision entirely.

The standards are now ready to be adopted unless 25 or more people provide a written request for a hearing on the rules by Feb. 19. If so, a hearing on the rules will be held on March 10. If no hearing is required, the agency may adopt the rules after the end of the comment period. If a hearing is held, an Administrative Law Judge will issue a judgment regarding the standards at a date decided at the hearing.

State science experts have said they believe the intelligent design community will produce at least 25 written requests for a hearing to change the proposed standards. To request a hearing, contact Kerstin Forsythe Hahn at the Minnesota Department of Education, 1500 Hwy 36 W., Roseville, MN 55113-4266, 651-582-8583 (phone), 651-582-8725 (fax), .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Minnesotans must remain vigilant that inaccuracies and ideas with no scientific basis don't creep into our education system.


 

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