While in the U.S. there’s a passionate debate over the teaching of evolution versus creationism, it might be surprising to learn that evolution has not officially been taught to elementary or middle school-aged students in Israel.
That’s now changing with a decision by the Education Ministry, which sets national policy over what is taught in Israeli schools, to begin teaching Darwin’s theory to eighth- and ninth-grade classes beginning this fall.
However, the Israeli news site Ynet reported Tuesday, the most controversial part of the topic – the assertion that humans originated from apes — will be left out of the curriculum.
The focus will instead be on heredity, natural selection and survival of the fittest.
Currently, the theory of evolution is taught only in advanced high school biology classes, which are elective courses taken by pupils preparing for matriculation exams in the sciences, Ynet reported.
According to Education Ministry statistics, only 15,000 Israeli students take the biology matriculation exam, suggesting that until now, most students likely never had a formal lesson at school on the theory of evolution.
The biblical account of creation depicted in the book of Genesis is taught in Israeli schools starting in elementary school.
An Education Ministry committee deliberated for months over the issue, trying to navigate between the appeals from scientific advisers and the needs of religious schools serving the devout Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths in Israel.
An unnamed education policymaker told Ynet: "The teacher in class will explain the survival chances of individuals in their environment when those adapted better to their environment will pass on these traits to their descendants, allowing them better chances to survive."
Dr. Ariel Chipman of the Hebrew University’s Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior said that introducing the new course curriculum was made possible only as a result of omitting the issue of human evolution.
"There isn't too much difference between the evolution of humans to that of animals, but if taking out humans from the theory is what it takes to incorporate Darwin's theory -- one of the most important scientific theories of our time -- to the education system, than it is fine by me," Chipman told Ynet.
"I honestly don't think that the evolution of humans is the most important issue in Darwin's theory; once we understood the evolutionary principles, we have no other choice but to conclude that humans have undergone a process of evolution as well," he added.
In the U.S., a new Gallup poll showed that 42 percent of Americans said believe that God created humans in their current form, while 19 percent said that humans evolved without divine guidance. Thirty-one percent said they believe mankind evolved, but with God guiding the process.