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Ducey says lessons on evolution to remain in public schools

Man evolution. Silhouette progress growth development. Neanderthal and monkey, homo-sapiens or hominid, primate or ape with weapon spear or stick or stone. Vector illustration

Gov. Doug Ducey said Monday he believes evolution should remain part of the science standards for public high schools, despite what is being proposed by the state’s top school official.

“I believe in God,” the governor said.

“I believe God created humanity,” he continued. “And I believe there are evolutionary forces at work in nature.”

More to the point, Ducey said he does not see religion and evolution as mutually exclusive.

“So evolution will remain part of the education curriculum,” he said, with schools free to teach various religious theories elsewhere of how life on earth developed, like courses on literature or history of religion.

Ducey’s comments come as Diane Douglas, the state superintendent of public instruction, is proposing to eliminate multiple references to evolution entirely from existing high school science standards, replacing them with terms like “biological diversity” and phrases like “how traits within populations change over time.”

Where Douglas has left the term “evolution,” she wants to add the words “theory of.” And she also seeks to eliminate any reference to the “Big Bang” theory of formation of the universe.

Douglas has admitted she supports the teaching of “intelligent design,” a concept that life forms have developed in such a complex way to essentially require planning by a higher power, presumably a diety.

But she has insisted that her personal beliefs have nothing to do with the changes. And Douglas pointed out that her proposed standards make no specific mention of intelligent design.

Ducey said as far as he’s concerned, the concept of intelligent design or any sort of biblical concept of creation has no place in science classes.

“Where I’ve seen it done well is where schools work on the story of creation in some type of literature that they’re teaching,” he said. “And evolution will be part of the science curriculum.”

Ducey’s remarks Monday came on the last day of public comment about Douglas’ proposed revisions to the science standards.

It turns out, however, that anyone who waited until the last minute could be out of luck.

The web site where comments were being solicited crashed some time on Sunday, leaving those hoping to leave some thoughts with a page saying only, “Service Unavailable.” Ditto for those who sought to review the comments already submitted.

But a review of the comment synopsis page by Capitol Media Services on Sunday, before it crashed, showed no lack of interest in the issue.

In fact, there were close to 700 responses dealing specifically with the changes Douglas wants to make in teaching evolution. And virtually all of them were opposed to removing references to evolution, with several people commenting that they see the move as an effort to blend religious beliefs with science.

Whether they will still be able to add their views remains unknown.

Douglas said the Memorial Day holiday on Monday meant no one was working at her office who could fix the issue ahead of the deadline for comments.

“We’ll most likely extend through the end of the week,” she told Capitol Media Services on Monday. But Douglas said she will need to consult with her staff before making any decisions.

It will then be up to Douglas and her senior staff to decide whether to rescind any of the changes she wants to make or keep them as is when she forwards the plan to the state Board of Education, which will make the final call.

Ducey said he went to Catholic schools at least part of the time he was growing up.

” ‘Intelligent design’ wouldn’t have been words that were used when I was in school,” he noted. That phrase only became more popular among proponents in the debate over science in the 1980s.

“It would have been the story of creation,” said Ducey, born in 1964. But he said that religious doctrine was kept separate.

“Evolution would have been part of the science curriculum,” he said.

“And they’re not mutually exclusive,” the governor said. “And I think that’s the same way it’s taught in Catholic schools today.”

While Ducey has no formal say over the final standards, his views could make a difference. That is because he appoints all but one of the members of the state Board of Education who do have the last word, with the lone exception being Douglas herself.

Douglas has said there are parts of evolution that are proven science while other elements are “very theoretical.”

“And if we’re going to educate our children instead of just indoctrinate them to one way of thinking, we have to be able to allow them to explore all types of areas,” she said.

Douglas also said while there may be no scientific basis behind intelligent design, that does not mean there will not be proof “someday.”

“Once up a time people said the earth was flat and it couldn’t possibly be round,” Douglas said. “I don’t know.”

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