Religion doesn't belong in public schools, but debate over Darwinian evolution does
Students need to learn about Darwinian evolution. But they also deserve to hear countervailing scientific evidence – evidence that is censored in many current textbooks.
Critical inquiry and freedom for credible dissent are vital to good science. Sadly, when it comes to biology textbooks, American high school students are learning that stubborn groupthink can suppress responsible debate.Skip to next paragraph
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In recent weeks, the media have been buzzing over a decision by the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to adopt biology textbooks. A Fox News summary read “Louisiana committee rejects calls to include debate over creationism in state-approved biology textbooks....” There was one problem with the story. Leading critics of evolution in Louisiana were not asking that public schools debate creationism, or even that they teach intelligent design. Rather, they wanted schools to simply teach the scientific debate over Darwinian evolution.
The controversy began because the biology textbooks up for adoption in Louisiana teach the neo-Darwinian model as settled fact, giving students no opportunity to weigh the pros and cons and consider evidence on both sides.
So much for critical thinking
One textbook under review (“Biology: Concepts and Connections”) offers this faux critical thinking exercise: “Write a paragraph briefly describing the kinds of evidence for evolution.” No questions ask students to identify evidence that counters evolutionary biology, because no such evidence is presented in the text. If the modern version of Charles Darwin’s theory is as solid as most scientists say, textbooks shouldn’t be afraid to teach countervailing evidence as part of a comprehensive approach. Yet students hear only the prevailing view.
Is this the best way to teach science? Earlier this year a paper in the journal Science tried to answer that question, and found that students learn science best when they are asked “to discriminate between evidence that supports … or does not support” a given scientific concept. Unfortunately, the Darwin camp ignores these pedagogical findings and singles out evolution as the only topic where dissenting scientific viewpoints are not allowed.
Courts have uniformly found that creationism is a religious viewpoint and thus illegal to teach in public school science classes. By branding scientific views they dislike as “religion” or “creationism,” the Darwin lobby scares educators from presenting contrary evidence or posing critical questions – a subtle but effective form of censorship.
The media fall prey to this tactic, resulting in articles that confuse those asking for scientific debate with those asking for the teaching of religion. And Darwin’s defenders come off looking like heroes, not censors.