On Understanding and Teaching Science

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Science is both a method to understand the natural universe and the knowledge that results. The method of science works by forming theories that can be tested by experiment and observation. Science restricts itself to the measurable, observable universe of matter and energy in their various forms.

The sciences of evolution and of cosmology, like other sciences including electricity and magnetism, quantum physics, general relativity, continental plate tectonics, natural selection, molecular biology, and genetics, make inter-related predictions that are subject to further testing. These and other scientific disciplines all support a coherent and consistent understanding of the history of life on our planet extending from the formation of the universe about 14 billion years ago, through the formation of galaxies, stars and planets, through the production of the elements necessary for life by thermonuclear reactions in stars, through the emergence of life on earth about 3.8 billion years ago, and through the shared history of evolution for all species, including our own, as recorded by fossils in the aged rocks of our planet and the features of organisms that are passed on, generation to generation. This understanding is continually tested and amended as required by new findings, and it stands as one of the most remarkable achievements of the human mind.

Intelligent design proposes to account for the diversity and complexity of life through the intervention of a supernatural entity. Supernatural forces cannot be systematically studied or tested, and this is why the intelligent design proposal is not scientific. To gain acceptance within the realm of science hypotheses must be positively supported by experiments and observation. Many experiments and observations do support the evolution of complex life forms. Since intelligent design is not science, it does not belong in science classes.

University students include future scientists, physicians, public policy planners, journalists and more. The health of the state and the nation depends on a scientifically literate citizenry. Confusing scientific and non-scientific explanations in schools is mistaken, and makes the University’s mission of science education much more difficult.

Statement endorsed unanimously by the Natural Sciences Department Chairs and Unit Directors in the University of Michigan College of Literature, Science and Arts November 2005, and joined by unit leaders in the Medical School, School of Public Health, Life Sciences Institute, and School of Natural Resources, as follows:

Applied Physics, LSA, Brad Orr, Director
Astronomy, LSA, Douglas Richstone, Chair
Biological Chemistry, Medical School, William L. Smith, Chair
Biostatistics, School of Public Health, Jack Kalbfleisch, Chair
Cell and Developmental Biology, Medical School, James D. Engel, Chair
Center for Computational Medicine and Biology, Medical School, Gilbert S. Omenn, Director (and President, AAAS)
Chemistry, LSA, Carol Fierke, Chair
Genomic Diversity Laboratory, LSA, David Mindell, Director
Geological Sciences, LSA, Joel Blum, Chair
Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, LSA, Deborah Goldberg, Chair
Herbarium, LSA, Paul Berry, Director
Life Sciences Institute, Alan Saltiel, Director
Math, LSA, Trevor Wooley, (former) Chair
Michigan Sea Grant, SNRE, Don Scavia, Director
Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, LSA, Rich Hume, Chair
Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics, LSA, Gordon Kane, Director
Museum of Paleontology, LSA, Philip Gingerich, Director
Museum of Zoology, LSA, William Fink, Director
Natural Resources and Environment, SNRE, James S. Diana, Associate Dean
Obstetrics and Gynecology, Medical School, Timothy R. B. Johnson, Chair
Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Medical School, Paul Lichter, Chair
Pediatrics, Medical School, Valerie P. Castle, Chair
Physics, LSA, Myron Campbell, Chair
Statistics, LSA, Vijay Nair, Chair

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