It’s been 155 years since Charles Darwin first published his theory of evolution. After considerable debate, the government of Israel announced its decision to begin incorporating evolution into its public school curriculum next year, according to an article written by Lidar Grave-Lazi and Jeremy Sharon of The Jerusalem Post.
The theory of evolution will be introduced to seventh, eighth and ninth graders across all schools – secular, state-religious and Arab. One notable exception: the part of the theory regarding common ancestry of humans and other primates will be omitted, according to an article in The Times of Israel by Ilan Ben Zion:
The ministry’s decision to omit mention of human evolution was made out of concern about potential criticism from the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox populations in Israel. Strict Orthodox Judaism interprets the Bible’s account of creation as literal, thus precluding the possibility of human evolution from a common ancestor with modern apes such as chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans.
Prior to the decision, only secondary students pursuing a teaching certificate in sciences were exposed to the theory of evolution, and then only in one specific class.
Reaction from Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox leaders in the country varied following the information’s release.
Dr. Ari Levi, president of the Hemdat Hadarom College, was firmly against the decision:
“It’s a mistake to teach evolution in the current format in grades eight and nine because of the complexity of the subject and the lack of consensus between scientists in Israel and around the world on the validity of many different aspects of evolution.”
Meanwhile, Professor Hagai Netzer from Tel Aviv University, part of the committee responsible for the decision, said a balance must be struck.
“I think that all the subjects of the theory of evolution need to be there, but the question is how to present them in every stream of education. We need to understand that with certain subjects we must allow the teacher freedom to emphasize.”
The comittee’s chairwoman, Professor Nava Ben-Zvi, said that learning about evolution is not the primary function of the decision, but rather to use it as a building block for students to learn more about their ecology.
The teaching of the theory of evolution has been a source of debate and controversy in nearly every civilized nation on the planet. In the United States, refusing to let teachers talk about the theory of evolution was found to be a violation of the First Amendment by the Supreme Court in 1968.
Even then, it was not until the 1980s when the subject was discussed by a majority of American schools. The prevailing opinion in the US according to a poll by Zogby International, revealed that 69% surveyed believe schools should teach Darwin’s theory, but also evidence that is critical of it.