Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

Israeli Schools say Darwin In, Human Evolution Out

Natural selection now included in core curriculum, but no mention of human-primate relation

By: J.S. Côté

Published: June 3rd, 2014 in News » Israel

Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, which is considered the foundation of evolutionary biology, was published over 150 years ago, yet his theory is only now making its way into Israeli classrooms.

Israel’s Education Ministry announced Sunday that while Darwin’s scientific theory of evolution is to be part of a revamped curriculum, all mention of a connection between humans and apes will be omitted out of concern for the country’s Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox citizens.

Strict Orthodox Judaism interprets the Bible’s account of creation literally, therefore eliminating the possibility of humans sharing common ancestors with modern apes such as chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans.

Before this decision, only the biblical origins of humanity were taught to students, with only those opting to take advanced biology classes encountering Darwin’s theory in school. Now, 8th and 9th graders will be presented with the theory of evolution by natural selection as part of the new core curriculum.

Only by withholding human evolution was the Ministry’s professional committee able to introduce natural selection, explained Dr. Ariel Chipman, a lecturer in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.

Chipman believes that human evolution itself is not especially critical, and that the principles of Darwinian evolution by natural selection are what’s important.

“There is not too much difference between the two [animals and Man],” he said. “But if this is what allows [the government] to insert the theory of evolution—such an important subject—into the education system, then as far as I’m concerned, it’s fine and welcome.”

While the Ministry admitted that the omission of the study of human evolution is less than ideal, they feel it was a necessary compromise to appease the beliefs of its more religious population.

Tel Aviv University’s professor Hagai Netzer, also a member of the committee responsible for the decision, called human evolution “a very sensitive subject in the state of Israel” and stated it was intentionally avoided to quell any possible controversy.

“I think that all the subjects of the theory of evolution need to be there,” Netzer said, “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.”

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