American scientists have denounced the so-called "intelligent design" movement and are urging mainstream religious groups to help promote the teaching of the Darwinian theory of evolution in the country's schools.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest general science organisation, has issued its statement in rebuke to 14 states that are considering legislation that would undermine evolution teaching.
The various bills, before legislatures in states including New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas, either highlight alleged "disagreements" within the scientific community or encourage non-scientific alternatives to Darwin, such as intelligent design.
"There is no significant controversy about the validity of the theory of evolution," the AAAS said at its annual meeting in St Louis, which ended yesterday. "The current controversy about the teaching of evolution is not a scientific one."
Instead the group appealed for the help of mainstream religion in its quest, arguing that religion and science were not incompatible. Many religious leaders had stated they saw no conflict between evolution and religion, noted the AAAS. "We and the overwhelming majority of scientists share this view."
This latest attack on intelligent design comes months after a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled in favour of a group of parents who argued that Darwinian evolution must be taught as fact. School administrators had earlier sought to have intelligent design, which argues that nature is so complex that a creator must have had a hand in designing it, inserted into science curriculums. But Judge John Jones ruled that would have violated the constitutional separation between church and state.
His decision has spurred supporters of intelligent design. The state initiatives, said the AAAS, would weaken science education across the US. They threatened not just the teaching of evolution, but "a student's understanding of the biological, physical and geological sciences".
Gilbert Omenn, the group's president, went further. Teachers might be tempted to tell pupils that evolution was only a theory. "But evolution is a theory in the same sense that gravity is a theory." It was "a robust organising principle" and supported by "a large body of evidence from many converging fields." At a time when fewer American students were choosing science, "baby-boomer scientists are retiring in growing numbers and international students are returning home to work", Mr Omenn said. "America can ill afford the time and tax-payer dollars debating the facts of evolution."
But even George Bush has spoken out in favour of teaching intelligent design. But he did not specify whether it should be included in science or religion classes. AAAS and other groups reject the first, but have little problem with the second.
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited