Evolution rules in public schools today, and school instructors teach uncritical acceptance, not critical examination. A CNAV contributor suggests an alternative, one that challenges evolution on scientific grounds, not theological ones.
Evolution and Academic Freedom
by David Buckna
(submitted as a Letter to the Editor to Conservative News and Views and also to The Denver Post.)
In China we can criticize Darwin but not the government. In America you can criticize the government but not Darwin.
Chinese paleontologist, quoted in Johnson PE, “The Church of Darwin,” The Wall Street Journal, 16 August 1999)
Last Thursday (May 12), mayoral candidates Chris Romer and Michael Hancock were asked at the East High forum whether creationism or intelligent design should be taught in public schools. Hancock answered “yes,” while Romer responded “no.” Later, Hancock clarified his position and said [that] creationism and intelligent design are religious beliefs that have no place in a public school curriculum. (“Denver mayoral candidates face off at pair of forums,” The Denver Post May 13)
Still, I wonder how many students would say they have the academic freedom to critique evolution in their science classes? There should be school district and state polls of high-school and college/university students studying evolution, asking two questions:
In this class:
- Is evolution taught as fact, theory, or both fact and theory?
- Do you have the academic freedom to critique evolution?
[Students should be asked anonymously]
The same two questions could be asked of their instructors.
The article, “Valley of the Whales”, in the August 2010 issue of National Geographic, is a good example of an evolutionary article. It’s typical of readings given to students studying evolution:
Thirty-seven million years ago, in the waters of the prehistoric Tethys Ocean, a sinuous, 50-foot-long beast with gaping jaws and jagged teeth died and sank to the seafloor.
Over thousands of millennia a mantle of sediment built up over its bones. The sea receded, and as the former seabed became a desert, the wind began to plane away the sandstone and shale above the bones. Slowly the world changed. Shifts in the Earth’s crust pushed India into Asia, heaving up the Himalaya. In Africa, the first human ancestors stood up on their hind legs to walk. The pharaohs built their pyramids. Rome rose, Rome fell. And all the while the wind continued its patient excavation. Then one day Philip Gingerich showed up to finish the job.
Teachers should be encouraged to distribute such articles and three different colored markers to each student, then ask them to mark the verified facts with one color, the opinions with another, and the suppositions with another. Students should be taught to weigh the factual evidence, evaluate statements and recognize the writer’s purpose and point of view.
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The following suggested Origins of Life policy, is a realistic, practical and legal way for local and state school boards to achieve a win-win with regard to evolution teaching. Even the ACLU, the NCSE, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State should find the policy acceptable:
As no theory in science is immune from critical examination and evaluation, and recognizing that evolutionary theory is the only approved theory of origins that can be taught in the [school district/state] science curriculum: whenever evolutionary theory is taught, students and teachers are encouraged to discuss the scientific information that supports and questions evolution and its underlying assumptions, in order to promote the development of critical thinking skills. This discussion would include only the scientific evidence/information for and against evolutionary theory, as it seeks to explain the origin of the universe and the diversity of life on our planet.
What follows is a partial list of questions that could be used to critically examine and evaluate evolution. They would make good classroom discussions, initiated by either teacher or student, or research assignments.
- Edward Blyth, English chemist/zoologist (and creationist), wrote his first of three major articles on natural selection in The Magazine of Natural History, 24 years before Darwin’s “Origin of Species” was published. Why then, do evolutionists think of natural selection as Darwin’s idea?
- On page one of Richard Dawkins’ 1986 book, The Blind Watchmaker, he writes: “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”
- If living things look designed—if the empirical evidence suggests purpose—then how do evolutionists know they weren’t designed?
- What [are] the criteria for “apparent” design?
- How does evolution explain the Cambrian explosion of new life? Stephen Jay Gould noted that the Burgess Shale fossils turn the cone of increasing species diversity predicted by neo-Darwinian theory virtually upside down. Do you agree with Gould’s assessment: that the disparity of the phyla precedes the diversity of species? Isn’t this, in fact, backwards from Darwinian predictions?
- How does geology explain dinosaur bones with soft tissue, supposedly dated at “80 million years”? (Schweitzer et al, Science 324:626-631). Watch: 60 Minutes Presents: B-RexARVE Error: need id and provider
- Most geologists believe diamonds formed deep below the earth’s surface, 1 to 3 billion years ago. How do these geologists explain the presence of carbon-14 in a number of diamond samples?
- All radiometric dating methods assume that:
- No decay product was present initially or that initial quantities can be accurately estimated,
- the decay system was closed through the years, and
- the decay rate was constant over time.
What conditions could invalidate these assumptions?
- Regarding vertical evolution (information-enhancing evolution), can you give an example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome?
If science is a search for truth, no scientific theory should be allowed to freeze into dogma, immune from critical examination and evaluation.
For further reference:
Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.
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