Friday, January 4, 2008

Arguments IX - Should students learn arguments for and against Evolution?

Should students learn arguments for and against Evolution? Interesting question, and as much as I hate equivocating on any issue, I think the answer is maybe! Let me explain myself and 'maybe' by the end you'll see what I mean.

Right now there is a push to teach the weaknesses in the theory of evolution. The people behind the push are painting it in all kinds of "fairness", "free speech", and "academic freedom" words but their rationale has little to nothing to do with improving the science education of our young. There is where I feel it would be wrong to put in a curriculum standard requiring the teaching of weaknesses to evolution! The object here isn't better science, but an effort to undermine the theory and open the door for non-scientific alternatives. Hiding behind words such as fairness and free speech is the exact opposite. The groups calling for teaching the weaknesses are the same ones, or newer versions of them, who failed to outlaw the teaching of Evolution! They have no interest in free speech or academic freedom, but an effort to push their own very personal and very religious agenda. If you don't believe me, look a the Discovery Institute and it's Center for Science and Culture, the Thomas More Law Center, South Carolina's Parents Involved in Education and see what they stand for. Read their sites and examine the underlying purpose. They have no interest in science except as a way into the educational system of this country! The fact is there are many more like them, not only formal organizations, but people who think they can use their personal belief systems to push their agenda. The former school board members of Dover PA who were not only voted out of office for their actions, but lied under oath as to their reasoning and purpose. How about Sharon Lemburg, a high school soccer coach and wife of a Christian fundamentalist minister who lied to her school board about presenting a philosophy class on design, when she was really teaching an Intelligent Design class. Ms. Kristin Maguire, the president elect of the South Carolina School Board who is using her position to question science textbooks, and creationist Don McLeroy, chairman of the Texas State School Board, who is apparently mum of the firing of the State Science Curriculum Director for FYI'ing an email on a presentation by an anti-Intelligent Design scientist. These people are neighbors and possibly friends but they have had no issue with lying, misrepresenting their position, and using their authority to push their personal agenda.

From that point of view I question the motives of anyone who says we must teach the weaknesses in Evolution -- I say don't do it! Do not fall into the trap of presenting the weaknesses in Evolution not matter what words they use to disguise what they are really after!

Rather the entire science curriculum should offer critical thinking in all aspects of science. Since all science is theory-based, offer strengths and weaknesses in every course of science study. Study some of the history that brought about the development of the theories and be honest about things like gaps in the fossil record or the failure of Newton to account for some planetary body motions. These are not actual weaknesses, as some would say, but gaps in science that science is looking to fill! No science teacher should be covering a subject as if it was the absolutely only way for it to be examined, but by the same token a science teacher should be required to focus only on science! Keep the intent of science one of education and a good education should include critical thinking. Let students see how theories have evolved over time. Use evolution as an example, but don't limit it to be your only example. Geology's tectonic plate theory, gravity and planetary bodies, even atomic and light theories have evolved over time and it would be a good educational experience for students to study them. Use powered flight as another example! The road of the Wright Brothers was not paved with smooth stones and easy turns. It was rough and rocky and many times because of people who refused to believe it was possible to fly.

From this point of view I think most state science standards already meet the requirement of critical thinking and scientific method. Don't allow a misguided idea of fairness or free speech allow you to think it would be fine to allow special critical analysis of just one subject area. It does more to undermine the subject rather than present a "fair and balanced" view.

Can you see why I answered first as a 'Maybe'! I truly think it should be taught, but not aimed at one theory but as part of the entire curriculum! You should also question the motives when someone pushed for teaching both the strengths and weaknesses of Evolution. Many are people who have been fooled into believing it's a fairness or free speech issue. Educate them rather than attack them. But when groups like the Discovery Institute call for it, hide the silverware! If they had their way they would outlaw evolution and only their failures in the past have forced them to adopt the appearance of fairness. They have even come out and say they recommended against the Dover School Board from taking their stand. While the cover it now is sweet sounded words, the reality is they knew there wasn't a chance in hell of winning once the suit was filed. Remember one of their fellows, Michael Behe did testify and another fellow, William Dembski chickened out. After the lawyer took apart Michael Behe, Dembski's pseudo-mathematics didn't stand a chance, and the Discovery Institute knew it!

So a good science curriculum wouldn't need to have a special "critical analysis of Evolution" built into it. So my advice is to make sure your school system has a good science curriculum which focuses on actual science, not pseudo-science, includes theory history and development, is honest about the strengths and gaps in all theories, and includes critical thinking and analysis of all theories. If anyone is pushing you to highlight any one theory for special critical analysis, tell them it's not needed and send them off to the next state to peddle their 'wares'.


  1. I don't know. Why aren't the motives of those who refuse to allow the teaching of any weaknesses equally suspicious?

  2. Before you ask that question, ask another, who is refusing to allow teaching of gaps in Evolution? No school system I know of! Weaknesses can be presented and frequently are. Multiple scientific papers exploring these gaps are published every year. Scientists are encouraged to explore weaknesses! In the past many unpopular theories have become stronger because of science's approach to allowing and encouraging such work!

    Look at the response to Michael Behe's book "Darwin's Black Box". His examples of Irreducible Complexity were actually areas of biology that hadn't received a great deal of study. His idea, while dismissed, did cause further work in those areas and the weaknesses were filled. Of course he doesn't agree, as he said during the Dover Trial, but the rest of the scientific community seems to find no fault in the multiple publications, over 50 presenting to Behe during the trial. These were actual science papers exploring some apparent weaknesses in Evolution and each one came back making Evolution stronger. If the evidence came back in support of Behe's claims, he would be standing on the top of the Discovery Institute facility celebrating at the top of his lungs? Anyone seen him celebrating?

    Now when a group like the Discovery Institute makes cries of persecution and claiming they cannot get published because the whole rest of the scientific community is picking on them, they are doing nothing more than using another tactic to defend the indefensible! If they had real science to back up their ideas, they might have a point. But when a scientific journal refuses to publish an unscientific paper, that's not persecution! It would be like asking a Mathematics Journal from publishing a paper on Numerology! The author of the paper can whine, but Numerology isn't Mathematics! Intelligent Design isn't Biology! When a school board outlaws Intelligent Design because it is not science, that's not persecution, but a reflection of reality.

    My final point is the State of Ohio. In 2002 they added to the state science standards a line that required Evolution come under a special level of scrutiny and even mandated that the new standard didn't mean to teach Intelligent Design. This was done at the urging of an avowed Creationist who subsequently lost her bid to remain on the school board. In 2004 they removed the language recognizing that the previously existing standards allowed science teachers plenty of leeway in exploring weaknesses and gaps. They rejected a call for Evolution to be treated differently than the rest of the science curriculum, and I was proud of them!

    So when you come across anyone who refuses to allow any theory to be examined for gaps and weaknesses, you should question their motives. It's against science to not allow such. But when they are calling for specific examination of weaknesses of a certain theory, you should look for ulterior motives!