By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent WASHINGTON, 4/9/98 (Reuters) - America's schoolchildren are missing out on one of the most fundamental concepts of science -- evolution theory, the National Academy of Sciences said on Thursday.
It fought back against a growing religious attack on evolution with the release of a new book telling teachers how best to teach evolution and science.
``Many students receive little or no exposure to the most important concept in modern biology, a concept essential to understanding key aspects of living things -- biological evolution,'' the book, compiled by a panel of teachers and other experts, says in its preface.
``People and groups opposed to the teaching of evolution in the public schools have pressed teachers and administrators to present ideas that conflict with evolution or to teach evolution as a 'theory, not a fact'.''
The result, the book said, was that teachers are afraid to teach evolution and many Americans now misunderstand science.
``Fewer than one-half of American adults believe that humans evolved from earlier species. More than one half of Americans say they would like to have creationism taught in public school classrooms -- even though the Supreme Court has ruled that 'creation science' is a religious idea and that its teaching cannot be mandated in the public schools.''
It was time to change this, the Academy, which represents 1,800 scientists, said.
``What the book is trying to do is look at evolution from the point of view of the nature of science,'' said Danine Ezell, a junior high school biology teacher in San Diego who helped write the new handbook.
``There has always been a portion of society that is opposed to evolution,'' she added in a telephone interview.
``Most religions don't place a literal interpretation on the bible,'' Ezell, who is now helping San Diego develop a new science curriculum, said. But that was not really the point.
``There are different ways of understanding about the world. They each answer different questions. The book doesn't compel belief, only asks that teachers ask for understanding.''
Creation theory should be taught, if at all, in a comparative religion class, she said. ``Supernatural or religious matters, they are not part of science.''
The book also explains the use of the phrase ``evolution theory'' and says that in this sense, ``theory'' does not mean ``hypothesis.'' It defines a scientific theory as ``a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences and tested hypotheses.''
``Scientists might wish they had a word other than 'theory' to apply to such enduring explanation of the natural world, but the term is too deeply engrained in science to be discarded,'' it says.
Evolution theory has a place in modern life, the Academy says. For instance, evolution is vital to understanding how antibiotic-resistant bacteria have arisen.
According to the religious view of creation, a supernatural god created
humanity in the form of Adam and Eve, and the animals and plants as well.
According to science, humans and all other creatures evolved from earlier
forms through natural selection.