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Now evolving in biology classes: a testier climate

Some science teachers say they're encountering fresh resistance to the topic of evolution - and it's coming from their students.

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As teachers struggle to fend off strategic questions - which some believe are intended to cloak evolution in a cloud of doubt - critics of Darwin's theory sense an irony of history. In their view, those who once championed teacher John Scopes's right to question religious dogma are now unwilling to let a new set of established ideas be challenged.

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"What you have is the Scopes trial turned on its head because you have school boards saying you can't say anything critical about Darwin," says Discovery Institute president Bruce Chapman on the "Icons of Evolution" DVD.

But to many teachers, "teaching the controversy" means letting ideologues manufacture controversy where there is none. And that, they say, could set a disastrous precedent in education.

"In some ways I think civilization is at stake because it's about how we view our world," Nimz says. The Salem Witch Trials of 1692, for example, were possible, she says, because evidence wasn't necessary to guide a course of action.

"When there's no empirical evidence, some very serious things can happen," she says. "If we can't look around at what is really there and try to put something logical and intelligent together from that without our fears getting in the way, then I think that we're doomed."

What some students are asking their biology teachers

Critics of evolution are supplying students with prepared questions on such topics as:

• The origins of life. Why do textbooks claim that the 1953 Miller-Urey experiment shows how life's building blocks may have formed on Earth - when conditions on the early Earth were probably nothing like those used in the experiment, and the origin of life remains a mystery?

• Darwin's tree of life. Why don't textbooks discuss the "Cambrian explosion," in which all major animal groups appear together in the fossil record fully formed instead of branching from a common ancestor - thus contradicting the evolutionary tree of life?

• Vertebrate embryos. Why do textbooks use drawings of similarities in vertebrate embryos as evidence for common ancestry - even though biologists have known for over a century that vertebrate embryos are not most similar in their early stages, and the drawings are faked?

• The archaeopteryx. Why do textbooks portray this fossil as the missing link between dinosaurs and modern birds - even though modern birds are probably not descended from it, and its supposed ancestors do not appear until millions of years after it?

• Peppered moths. Why do textbooks use pictures of peppered moths camouflaged on tree trunks as evidence for natural selection - when biologists have known since the 1980s that the moths don't normally rest on tree trunks, and all the pictures have been staged?

• Darwin's finches. Why do textbooks claim that beak changes in Galapagos finches during a severe drought can explain the origin of species by natural selection - even though the changes were reversed after the drought ended, and no net evolution occurred?

• Mutant fruit flies. Why do textbooks use fruit flies with an extra pair of wings as evidence that DNA mutations can supply raw materials for evolution - even though the extra wings have no muscles and these disabled mutants cannot survive outside the laboratory?

• Human origins. Why are artists' drawings of apelike humans used to justify materialistic claims that we are just animals and our existence is a mere accident - when fossil experts cannot even agree on who our supposed ancestors were or what they looked like?

• Evolution as a fact. Why are students told that Darwin's theory of evolution is a scientific fact - even though many of its claims are based on misrepresentations of the facts?

Source: Discovery Institute

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