Many conservative and fundamentalist Christian groups in the United States have consistently opposed the teaching of biological evolution since the 1920s, when states such as Tennessee (Butler Act of 1925) and Arkansas (statute in 1928) passed legislation prohibiting the teaching of human evolution in public schools (Larson, 1997). Arguments over the legality of such a prohibition were settled in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1968 ruling in Epperson v. Arkansas (1968). Laws prohibiting teachers from teaching biological evolution are unconstitutional (Bowman, 2008; Epperson v. Arkansas, 1968; Matsumura & Mead, 2007; Wexler, 2006). In response, biological evolution opponents attempted to “balance” the teaching of evolution in schools with Bible study, “creation science,” and “intelligent design” (Baker, 2013). U.S. federal courts have ruled these attempts unconstitutional. Despite these court decisions, opponents persist in their efforts to undermine the teaching of biological evolution by characterizing it as “controversial” or “only a theory” (Miller, 2008; Scott, 2007). The public controversy regarding the teaching of biological evolution is a reflection of the extensive diversity in society. However, no controversy exists in the scientific community regarding the fundamental claims of biological evolution. Scientists are in near unanimous agreement that biological evolution provides a strong explanatory and predictive foundation for the entire landscape of modern biology (National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine, 2008; Thagard & Findlay, 2010; Wiles & Alters, 2011). While opposition toward teaching biological evolution is particularly pervasive in the United States, ASTE recognizes that this problem is global in scope and concern.
The Association for Science Teacher Education (ASTE) strongly supports the position that biological evolution provides the theoretical foundation for all modern biology. Biological evolution (hereafter referred to as evolution) states that “all living things have arisen from common ancestors. Some lineages diverge while others go extinct as a result of natural selection, mutation, genetic drift and other well-studied mechanisms” (NABT, 2011). The rapid advances made by science and engineering in areas such as life science, medicine, and agriculture have produced immense benefits for society. Such societal benefits can be directly attributed to scientific understanding and application of evolution (National Academy of Science and Institute of Medicine, 2008). The teaching of evolution is prominently advocated in recent and current U.S. national science education frameworks and standards, in several international standards documents, and is supported by more than 50 Academies of Science throughout the world (AAAS, 1989, 1993 & 2007; Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2012; InterAcademy Panel, 2006; NRC, 2012 & 2013; Waddington, Nentwig, & Schanze, 2007). Preservice and inservice teachers must possess a clear understanding of evolution and how to effectively teach it, an appreciation of the importance of evolution to science and society, and an awareness of actions and organizations that seek to undermine the teaching of evolution in formal and informal science learning environments.
In order to clearly state ASTE’s position about the fundamental importance of teaching evolution in all science learning environments, the Association for Science Teacher Education makes the following declarations:
- ASTE supports and advocates the effective teaching of evolution in primary, secondary, and post-secondary science classrooms, and informal science learning environments, on the grounds that the science of biological evolution provides the foundation for all modern biology.
- ASTE supports educational research that fosters a greater understanding of how to effectively teach evolution.
- ASTE affirms the responsibility of all current and future science educators to teach scientific concepts, laws, and theories accepted by the scientific community as the best scientific explanation based on evidence.
- ASTE denounces any effort to undermine the teaching of evolution at the local, state, or federal level, as these efforts seek to confuse teachers, students, and members of the community at large about the validity of key scientific theories, the nature of science, and the integrity of scientists.
- ASTE urges science teacher preparation programs to educate preservice teacher candidates about modern evolutionary concepts.
- ASTE encourages science teacher preparation programs to educate preservice teacher candidates about the strategies used by, and how to respond to, individuals and organizations seeking to undermine the teaching of evolution.
- ASTE supports organizations, such as the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), that work to defend the teaching of evolution.
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Bowman, K. L. (2008). The evolution battles in high school science classes: Who is teaching what? Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 6(2), 69-74.
Baker, J. O. (2013). Acceptance of evolution and support for teaching creationism in public schools: The conditional impact of educational attainment. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 52(1), 216-228.
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Epperson v. State of Arkansas, Supreme Court of the United States (1968). 393 U.S. 97, 89 S. Ct 266. https://bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/c/US/393/393.US.97.7.html.
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Scott, E. C. (2007). What’s wrong with the “teach the controversy” slogan? McGill Journal of Education, 42(2), 307-315.
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Wiles, J. R. & Alters, B. (2011). Effects of an educational experience incorporating an inventory of factors potentially influencing student acceptance of biological evolution. International Journal of Science Education, 33(8), 2559-85.