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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.

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Those who love the First Amendment should be outraged. In essence, the Darwin lobby is taking the separation of church and state – a good thing – and abusing it to promote censorship. But one can be a critic of neo-Darwinism without advocating creationism.

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Valid doubts

Eugene Koonin is a senior research scientist at the National Institutes of Health and no friend of creationism or intelligent design. Last year, he stated in the journal Trends in Genetics that breakdowns in core neo-Darwinian tenets such as the “traditional concept of the tree of life” or “natural selection is the main driving force of evolution” indicate that the modern synthesis of evolution “has crumbled, apparently, beyond repair.”

Likewise, the late Phil Skell, a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, considered himself a skeptic of both intelligent design and neo-Darwinian evolution. He took issue with those who claim that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” because, according to Dr. Skell, in most biology research, “Darwin’s theory had provided no discernible guidance, but was brought in, after the breakthroughs, as an interesting narrative gloss.”

In a 2005 letter to an education committee in South Carolina, Skell wrote: “Evolution is an important theory and students need to know about it. But scientific journals now document many scientific problems and criticisms of evolutionary theory and students need to know about these as well.”

Skell was right, and polls show that more than 75 percent of Americans agree with him. The Louisiana textbook debate reflects the public’s gross dissatisfaction with the quality of evolution instruction in biology textbooks.

The Louisiana Board should be applauded for rejecting censorship and adopting the disputed textbooks despite their biased coverage of evolution. Students need to learn about the evidence supporting the evolutionary viewpoint, and the textbooks present that side of this debate. But the books themselves should not be praised because they censor from students valid scientific questions about neo-Darwinian concepts – concepts that are instead taught as unquestioned scientific fact.

Students are the real losers here, because they are not taught the critical thinking skills they need to evaluate questions about evolution and become good scientists. When we start using the First Amendment as it was intended – as a tool to increase freedom of inquiry and promote access to scientific information – then perhaps these divisive controversies will finally go away.

Casey Luskin, an attorney with a graduate science background, works at the Discovery Institute in public policy and legal affairs, and is co-founder of the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center. His writings can be found at