Evolving Education: "Teach the Controversy"

When the orthodoxy of America's science classrooms - namely, Neo-Darwinism - meets even the hint of a challenge, be assured of a firestorm. That's exactly what occurred in an Atlanta suburb recently - reminiscent of similar cases in Alabama, California, Kansas and, most recently, Ohio. The issue: school boards (or in some cases, textbook committees) show the temerity to bring Darwinian naturalism onto the academic "table" for scrutiny, and in some cases, to give option to its competitors, such as Intelligent Design.

In September, 2002, the school board in Cobb County, the second largest school district in Georgia, was considering the adoption of a new science education policy. The policy, while not restricting the teaching of evolution, would allow the teaching of other "disputed" views on science. If alternative views have scientific merit, they can enter Cobb's classrooms. This could include Intelligent Design theory and overt Creationism.

Many concerned parents, family groups, and churches urged the policy's enactment. Others were quite opposed to the policy, including the ACLU and the National Academy of Science, whose members comprise 96% atheists and agnostics, according to recent research done for Oxford University. The whole story was drawing national attention and, true to form, the media painted proponents with a Scopes-trial, backwoods-religionist brush. However, that party line hit some real static when 28 scholars from public and private universities all over the state signed a statement expressing reservations about Darwinism's ability to explain life as seen both from a life sciences and paleaontological perspective. When 130 other credentialed professors from around the nation - a significant number from top universities - joined in the signing of the admittedly minimal statement, the stage was set for a fight which detractors felt was fair for once. The Cobb County board unanimously approved the policy, which for all intents and purposes simply opened up classrooms to the kind of fair-minded scrutiny and discourse taken for granted in academic circles, but so assiduously curtailed by much of the established science education elite.

Why the brouhaha and the newsworthiness of such a seemingly simple step? According to evolution's (that is, macroevolution's) detractors, much has to do with the predisposition of scientists and science educators not only to close off debate, but to place themselves and their views above the review even of other disciplines - much less the public. Time and time again, the issue of whether or not the problems with evolutionary theory and alternative explanations are presented becomes clouded by ad hominem attacks of skeptics' motives and straw-man accusations of "importing religion into science." A recent debate on a National Public Radio talk show hosted by Ira Flatow - weighted toward the pro-Darwinism-only side - was typical: a representative of The Discovery Institute, a pro-Intelligent Design public policy think tank in Seattle, was attacked and verbally run over by Darwinist spokesmen (transcript here).

In this Special Focus, we look back at similar instances of controversy regarding Darwinism, its competitors and public science education, as well as essays and articles by those who present alternatives to naturalistic views and challenge popularly held notions of science and religion. Seeing that every view is colored inexorably by one's worldview - the framework one adopts through which to view reality - we call into question some of the most accepted norms of our day regarding how to teach one of life's most important lessons: where did that life come from? Your comments and questions are welcome.


—Byron Barlowe, Editor/Webmaster, Leadership University

Featured Articles on Science Education:

The Alabama Insert: A Call for Impartial Science
Access Research Network

"Most Alabamians know by now that the State Board of Education voted last month to paste a warning label inside biology texts used in public schools...The push to adopt this label was provided by religious fundamentalists whose fear of science is rooted in a poor understanding of the methods of science... Must we now portray Alabama as a state that mocks science, confuses its children, insults its teachers and trivializes religious faith?" (From December 8, 1995, editorial in the Mobile Press Register.)

This quote is an example of a highly emotional reaction to the Alabama State Board of Education's decision to place an educational aid at the beginning of all high school biology texts. Is this reaction warranted? The purpose of this paper is to present the data upon which the State Board of Education's decision was based, and to allow the readers to make up their own minds.

Darwinism Takes a Step Back in Kansas
Probe Ministries

"In August [2000], the Kansas State Board of Education voted to remove references to macroevolution from state science testing standards." Dr. Ray Bohlin dissipates the rhetorical fog surrounding the recent decision by the Kansas State Board of Education, revealing the core issues and discovering some surprising support for Intelligent Design.

Dealing with the Media in the Science Textbook Controversy
Judith Anderson

Practical introduction and guide to common misconceptions regarding instruction of Darwinism in public schools. Makes important distinctions between microevolution, macroevolution and Darwinism. Although written in response to the Alabama science textbook controversy in the mid-90s, this quick read is a good resource for current similar controversies, especially in dealing with news reporters.

Teaching Intelligent Design as Religion or Science?
William A. Dembski

It is a mistake to teach Intelligent design as religion. Intelligent Design is properly a scientific research program. To teach it as religion is not only to confuse what it is, but also to give up an incredible advantage in the culture wars. Intelligent Design is the key to dislodging the materialism in our culture. It needs to be taught correctly and in the correct context, namely, in a science classroom.

The California Science Framework: How Firm a Foundation? (A Call for Impartial Science)
Access Research Network

Editorial on the 1989 California Science Framework and its shortcomings. Although dated (LeaderU.com makes no claim as to the current position of the State of California), it displays a very common but erroneous notion held still at every level: that science is, unlike other disciplines, singularly logical and above review. Many school systems and the National Center for Science Education tend toward this damaging view.

Articles on Darwinism by Its Critics:

Darwinism: Science or Philosophy?
Foundation for Thought and Ethics

Editors Jon Buell and Virginia Hearn
The proceedings of a highly academic symposium, including introductory remarks by well-known representatives of the Darwinian naturalism - theism debate, a watermark debate between Darwinian spokesman Michael Ruse and theistic philosopher and author Philip E. Johnson and general papers and discussions (in debate format) on related topics. Provides a one-stop resource for a balanced view of the discussion on whether Neo-Darwinian naturalism - with its privileged and, as Johnson and others claim, usurper's place in academia - suffices to explain the world in which we live (especially the world of living things). See Table of Contents here for links to all portions.

Evolution's Big Bang
Dr. Ray Bohlin

The Cambrian explosion of life has long befuddled evolutionists. New data have only deepened the mystery and caused a critical rethinking of cherished evolutionary concepts.

Is God Unconstitutional?
Phillip E. Johnson

Dr. Phillip E. Johnson, author of Darwin on Trial and Reason in the Balance, brings his acute legal mind to the many issues surrounding Darwinism. He exposes the deeply philosophical bias for faith in evolution held by the theory's advocates.

Defeating Darwinism: Phillip Johnson Steals the Microphone
Book review by Rick Wade

Phillip Johnson's important book, Defeating Darwinism, explains how evolution gained dominance as a theory of origins, and exposes its unscientific foundations.

How to Talk to Your Kids About Evolution
Dr. Ray and Sue Bohlin

If parents have a basic understanding of creation and evolution issues with some helpful answers, it will be a lot easier to answer their children's questions and lead them into discussion about these important subjects. Dr. Ray Bohlin discusses with his wife Sue some of the questions kids and parents ask.

Second Thoughts About Peppered Moths
Jonathan Wells

"Every student of biological evolution learns about peppered moths. The dramatic increase in dark forms of this species during the industrial revolution, and experiments pointing to differential bird predation as the cause, have become the classical story of evolution by natural selection. The same careful scientific approach which established the classical story in the first place, however, has now revealed major flaws in it. It... should no longer be presented as a textbook example of evolution in action. If the purpose of science education is to teach students how to do good science, then instead of retelling the classical story textbooks would do better to focus on how science revealed its flaws."

Designer Genes
Patricia A. Mondore, M.A. and Robert J. Mondore

The discovery of a city clearly points to the blueprints and design of its architects. Similar logic was used by William Paley, author of "Natural Theology" who used the illustration of finding a watch in the road as proof of a watchmaker. Scientists have now discovered a similar evidence of design within the microscopic world. When one discovers the complexity of the cell world, and the encoded language of DNA there is only one logical explanation for its existence; God is the Builder of everything.

Related Past Special Focus Collections:

Science and Religion: Oil & Water?
We are led to see science and religion as mortal enemies or at least as incompatible means to explain the universe. But is this popular notion just a myth? Get viewpoints from scientists and theologians themselves in our Special Focus.

The Church of Darwin
The Kansas Board of Education recently ignited a firestorm when they removed macroevolution from state testing requirements. Is this primarily a science issue or are there other, deeper considerations? See our Special Focus.

Designer Universe: Intelligent Design Theory of Origins
Intelligent Design (ID) is an alternative theory to Darwinian evolution receiving frontpage prominence in papers like the New York Times. It's also turning heads in academia and science, but not without stirring hot debate. Discover more in our Special Focus.

Our Universe: Fine-Tuned for Life?
Science has recently discovered just how finely tuned the universe must be to accommodate us and the rest of carbon-based life on our planet. Many believe the best explanation is a Creator. We examine the arguments in our Special Focus.

On Worldview, Religion and Science:

Science-Threat or Help?
J.P. Moreland, Ph. D.

Dr. J.P. Moreland, Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, responds to the question "How are we to understand the relationship between science and Christianity?" He concludes, "There is nothing wrong in principle, however, with bringing one's theology into the practice of science.... It is time for Christians to rethink these matters and allow theistic science to be a part of how they love God with their minds."

Science, Metaphysics, and Worldviews
James Stump, Boston University

One's worldview and the presuppositions supporting it have much to do with one's response to the issues of science's relationship to religion (metaphysics) and how science is presented. This essay addresses the roots of how one's worldview affects and is affected by its intercourse (dialectic) with other ideas. Stump writes, "Using the case of Copernicus as my paradigm, I will first argue for the premise that the picture one has of his world, the weltanshauen or worldview, is the final controlling factor for thought.... Then at a second level, I will argue that all beliefs - whether scientific, metaphysical, political, religious, etc. - are interconnected in a web of beliefs which provides the context for the first-level dialectic between them. It is this context that I call a worldview."

Stump concludes, "...Our Christianity does come to bear in our thought processes. It forms a central part of our worldview and is an organizing principle of experience. But again, this commitment is not free from critical examination or development itself. Indeed it is a task of the utmost importance for the intellectual Christian to develop and to show the consistency of a Christian worldview which can dialogue with modern science and which reflects the timeless, absolute truths of the Gospel in our unique culture and generation."

Scientific Facts and Christian Faith: How Are They Compatible?
Dr. Otto J. Helweg

The causes of the science versus Christianity battle may be traced to three errors. First, the proponents on both sides often fail to define the term, "evolution." Second, both sides have failed to see science as a product of a Christian worldview. And, finally, both sides confuse the realms (limits) of science and theology.

Resource for Further Study:

Mere Creation: Science, Faith & Intelligent Design
William A. Dembski, Editor

The publication of Mere Creation - containing the proceedings from the 1996 Christian Leadership Ministries-sponsored conference by the same name - signaled a broadening, multidisciplinary movement of scholars who challenge naturalistic evolution on scientific and philosophical grounds. Scientifically, specialists in the relevant fields show that the evidence points to intelligence which fine-tuned the universe and designed complex organisms. Philosophically, the authors insist that origins science must be separated from the naturalism which excludes design or a Designer by definition. Abstracts of the essays and information on the authors are available here.

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