Executive Director's Column

Teaching the Science of the Origins of Life

Evolutionary theory provides tremendous value to our efforts to better understand mind, emotion, and action.

By Steven Breckler, PhD

This issue of Psychological Science Agenda includes a special section on evolutionary theory and psychology.  These reflections, from many of the leading researchers in the field, remind us of the tremendous value that evolutionary theory provides in our efforts to better understand mind, emotion, and action.

It also reminds us of an ongoing battle taking place in school districts and state legislatures around the country.  Evolutionary theory is taught as a regular part of the science curriculum.  In some places, proponents of “intelligent design” would like their favored “theory” to be taught side-by-side or in place of evolutionary theory in the science classroom.

The science classroom is not where the concept of “intelligent design” belongs.  This is not to say that it be omitted from the curriculum entirely, only that it be placed more properly in other courses.

APA, along with dozens of other scientific and professional societies, has been clear in articulating this position.  In February, 2007 our Council of Representatives adopted a resolution rejecting intelligent design as scientific and reaffirming support for evolutionary theory.  The 2007 statement reaffirmed earlier APA statements, and echoed the positions of other leading scholarly organizations including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Astronomical Society, the American Society of Agronomy, the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology, and the National Association of Biology Teachers.  All of us, among many others, have gone on record in opposing the teaching of Intelligent Design as a scientific theory.

For some of us, it seems like this battle has been going on for many years.  Indeed, it has.  But let’s not assume that the matter has been resolved.  Just this year, the Texas State Board of Education has been considering revisions to its science standards.  Some members of the Texas Board have been persistent in trying to change the language of the science standards to discredit evolutionary theory in favor of intelligent design.

At APA, our science advocacy focuses at the national and federal level.  When it comes to issues such as this one, we develop basic positions for psychological science.  It is tricky business, however, to move this effort down to the state or local school district level.

That’s where each of us, as scientists and as citizens, has an important role to play.  APA, along with other scientific societies, can develop the talking points and articulate the position.  It is then up to each of us, acting locally, to make the message known.

As the APA resolution put it, “the teaching of [intelligent design] as science seriously undermine[s] both the vitality of psychological science and the science literacy so essential to an informed, responsible citizenry.”  Spread the word!