Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Teaching Evolution

One of the most controversial issues in public education is the question of whether or not to teach evolution in public schools. There are many who believe that evolution is only a theory, and that students should be exposed to all points of views and permitted to make their own decisions. Some of these people do not want evolution taught at all, others want equal time given to the intelligent design theory, and others want only a brief mention of intelligent design included in school textbooks. According to a 2005 Pew Research Center pollwatch, over two thirds of Americans want creationism taught in one form or another.

These partisans have been surprisingly effective. In the past decade, at least eight states have permitted the teaching of what is known as “intelligent design” in one form or another. (Exactly what “intelligent design” is is difficult to pin down, but it usually maintains that at least some natural processes are explainable only by the intervention of some supernatural agency). Intelligent design proponents (or creationists—there is a slight difference between the two groups, but it is negligible) have taken their effort to the state and local levels, which lets them fly under the radar until they actually achieve results, which sometimes get wider attention. The creationist movement has gotten significant support, both from common citizens and from such eminent individuals as Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Bobby Jindal. Most conservatives seem to agree that teaching intelligent design in schools is usually a good idea.

It isn’t. Creationism has no place in classrooms. One of the most common arguments for it goes something like this: evolution is just a theory, and we should present both sides to students and let them judge for themselves. This is based on two unbelievably wrong assumptions.

First, most people seem to think that a scientific theory is just a rough assumption that hasn’t been proven. It doesn’t work that way. Evolution is a theory, putting it in the same category as number theory, or atomic theory, or the theory of relativity. A theory is an “organized set of related ideas.” The fact that a scientific concept is considered a theory has nothing to do with whether or not it is true or false. Evolution is a theory, but has been tested experimentally and has not yet been found wanting.

Even if we assume that evolution is nothing more than a theory, does anyone think it makes sense to let high schoolers judge its validity? Teens are not allowed to drink, smoke, or (until sixteen) drive, but they are qualified to make judgments about evolution? What other scientific debates should we hand over to high schoolers? Quantum physics? Dark matter? Wormholes? The idea that students can “decide for themselves” is utterly absurd.

Anyhow, there is no scientific debate about evolution. There is literally not one reputable biologist who rejects the theory of natural selection. In fact, it is considered it so pivotal to our understanding of biology that some scientists believe that it should be considered a scientific principle; a law so pivotal that it is considered a cornerstone of biology.

If there were any biologists who believed that creationism was something more than pseudoscience, they could publish their thoughts in scientific journals. But they don’t—because there is no scientific basis for them.

There are some in the intelligent design fold who believe that there is some conspiracy within the scientific community to shut out creationists. This is nonsense, and unjust nonsense at that. There is absolutely no reason to assume that that the scientific community would deliberately cover up the truth. It is possible that occasionally intelligent design proponents are discriminated against by their peers. However, that is because they are often eccentric cranks, not because their colleagues are afraid that they will reveal some hidden truth.

Teaching evolution in public schools is a bad idea—not because it somehow violated the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, but because creationism is a stupid and unscientific idea. It has no business being taught in our public schools—or in schools of any kind. Conservatives should distance themselves from those who oppose the teaching of evolution.


At June 11, 2008 at 8:34 PM , Blogger michael.dufel said...

The theory of evolution should not be mentioned alongside the theory of relativity. Relativity is testable and observable while evolution from one species to another has not been observed. Not to say that it didn't or doesn't happen, just that the evidence really isn't there.

I would agree that creationism doesn't belong in the classroom, and neither does evolution. These opposing views have very little practical application in and of themselves and do now enhance the ability of students to think critically or their ability to do science. A much better approach would be a science/religion class which discusses the roles that each play in society.

At June 12, 2008 at 6:05 AM , Blogger Name: Soapboxgod said...

The purpose of education is to expand the mind and foster an environment where the mind will grow by way of exposing it to a myriad of things. Of course we can debate what "things" the students ought to be taught and which things the students can even be exposed to. However, what they are taught and what they are exposed to is not necessarily the same thing.

Evolution/natural selection should be tought in the sciences because there is ample evidence to show its process. Evolution is not exclusively the process of one species to another. It too encompasses the evolution of single species (i.e., the process of natural selection).

And, while I'm not opposed to having students be exposed to the Intelligent Design theory, I'm a bit reserved as to how such a theory might be "taught". I'm a bit perplexed as to how one might teach an unknown which is precisely where intelligent design comes to play.

However, even allowing students to be exposed to such a theory has not gained traction as was most recently observed in the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District.

I followed this case extensively from beginning to end.

The court, in this case, held that "teaching intelligent design in public school biology classes violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (and Article I, Section 3 of the Pennsylvania State Constitution) because intelligent design is not science and "cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."

The problem with the court's finding however is that the while the school district did make a concerted effort to put forth a statement to the children with respect to Intelligent Design, there was no intention or effort on the part of the school district to actually teach it.

What is more, there was no intention to test the students on the material therein.

In actuality, their intention was to house a book on intelligent design (Of Pandas and People) in the school's library and then (by way of this statement) direct the students to that book if they so desired to learn about that theory.

Apparently, even this is met with resistance.

At December 16, 2011 at 9:27 AM , Anonymous turk said...

Start by reading Darwin's Black Box to get a feel for the mechanisms involved. Sorry, you can't vote science into truth. I'll do a series of blogs on this...eventually.

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