Darwin enters Israeli schools, but humans left out

Darwin enters Israeli schools, but humans left out

Education Ministry introduces theory of evolution to core curricula, but human-ape connection omitted out of concern for Orthodox

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

A chimpanzee at the Ramat Gan zoo. (photo credit: Shay Levy/Flash 90)
A chimpanzee at the Ramat Gan zoo. (photo credit: Shay Levy/Flash 90)

Finches, doves, snails and tortoises will be on the agenda when evolution enters Israeli schools for the first time next year, but humans’ common ancestry with primates will be left off the curriculum, the Education Ministry announced Sunday.

Until now evolution wasn’t part of the Israeli middle school core curriculum, and only the biblical account of the origins of humanity were taught in schools.

Only those students who opted to take advanced biology classes encountered Darwin’s theory during their education.

The Education Ministry’s new plan announced Sunday revamps the 8th and 9th grade curricula in all public schools to include the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection — bar mention of mankind’s common origins with primates.

According to Channel 2 news, 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.

Dr. Ariel Chipman, a lecturer in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, told Ynet news that only by withholding human evolution was the professional committee able to introduce natural selection to the curriculum.

He said that human evolution in particular 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.”

The Education Ministry acknowledged that the omission of human evolution from public education was not ideal, but was rather a compromise to appease the religious population’s beliefs.

Professor Hagai Netzer of Tel Aviv University, a member of the professional committee responsible for the decision, told Ynet that the issue of human evolution is “a very sensitive subject in the state of Israel” and there was an intentional avoidance of subjects that “arouse controversy in particular streams” of society.

“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,” Netzer said. “We need to understand that with certain subjects we must allow the teacher freedom to emphasize.”

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