- about origins
In early September 2004, the media carried a remarkable story about educational decisions in Serbia. The Daily Telegraph (9 September) had the dramatic line: "Serbia has suspended the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution for the current school year." The person behind this was Ljiljana Colic, the education minister and a member of the Orthodox Christian community. She said: "Darwinism is a theory as dogmatic as the one which says God created the first man." Only the following day, the decision was reversed by the Prime Minister and later the unfortunate Colic resigned. "I have come here to confirm Charles Darwin is still alive," a pained deputy education minister, Milan Brdar, told a news conference in Belgrade. The government "has decided to return the theory of evolution to the curriculum of the eighth grade", he added.
What should be made of this fiasco? What is the take-home message for us? These are important questions, because the media have consistently implied that the goal of any creationist group is to put a stop to the teaching of evolution in schools and replace it with creation. This message seems to be reinforced by the stance taken by Ljiljana Colic. The fact is that most creation-oriented educators are arguing for more teaching of evolution! That is, students should be exposed to the evidences against evolution, alongside evidences for the theory. We are suggesting that students be made more aware of some of the difficulties with evolutionary theory and some of the alternative explanations of the data.
This is not an argument from ignorance. In 1960, Professor G. A. Kerkut (of Southampton University, England) published an interesting little book with the title Implications of Evolution. (Pergamon Press, London.). An excerpt from this is given here. In Kerkut's testimony, he asked students to:
go away and read the evidence for and against Evolution and present it as an essay. A week would pass and the same student would appear armed with an essay on the evidence for Evolution. When the essay had been read and the question concerning the evidence against Evolution came up, the student would give a rather pained smile. "Well, sir, I looked up various books but could not find anything in the scientific books against Evolution. I did not think you would want a religious argument." "No, you were quite correct. I want a scientific argument against evolution." "Well, sir, there does not seem to be one and that in itself is a piece of evidence in favor of the Evolutionary Theory."
Kerkut was absolutely right! Very few textbooks have grappled with the evidences against the theory of evolution. One excellent modern study is by Jonathan Wells in his book "Icons of Evolution". This reviews the scientific data and shows that it cannot bear the weight that evolutionary theorists place on it. This is the emphasis that is greatly needed in education.
The issue has received attention previously on the BCS web site, such as
on the Ohio Department of Education's proposal to "teach the controversy".
A group of academics and professional people in the UK have written to the Secretary of State for Education to affirm something similar. The letter includes:
The National Curriculum requires that Darwinian evolution is put across as the dominant scientific theory but also requires that pupils are taught "how scientific controversies can result from different ways of interpreting empirical data". Science should be taught with the critical appraisal of alternative theories. Such debate concerning opposing theories provides rigour in scientific method and contributes to the development of critical thinking by pupils.
When the state superintendent of schools in Georgia proposed eliminating
evolution from the curriculum earlier this year, the Discovery Institute
in the US issued
a statement criticizing her.
This educational approach is not surprising. Christians seek to interact rationally with contemporary culture. It is all part of having a presence in the marketplace of ideas. We recognize the value of knowing what others think - so those of us who see evolutionary theory as a form of scientific naturalism want to see it studied and analysed in more detail. We want the theory to be understood and critiqued rigorously. We do not want to push the controversy out of our mind and pretend that it does not exist.
With this in mind, we can reappraise the incident recounted by Professor Kerkut. The conclusion must be that evolution is not being taught very well at present! Students are getting a filtered version, something that does not do justice to the theory as it really is. This effectively means that we are witnessing a form of propaganda. Our response is not to stop the subject being taught, but to teach it properly.
Stephen C. Meyer, of the Discovery Institute, argues that teaching the controversy is good teaching practice. He writes:
Teaching the controversy will engage student interest. It will motivate students to learn more about the biological evidence as they see why it matters to a big question. This is not only good teaching; it is good science. As Darwin wrote in the Origin of Species, 'A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.' (Source: Stephen C. Meyer, Teach the Controversy, Cincinnati Enquirer, March 30, 2002.)
Meyer has co-edited a book specifically on the subject: Darwinism, design and public education. This widely acclaimed book provides a coherent and clear platform for moving the whole discussion forward.
It is also relevant that when a radical challenge to evolutionary theory, namely one coming from Intelligent Design, gets into the refereed scientific literature, the result is the antithesis of education! This incident also concerns Stephen Meyer. Under a hail of polemical comments and allegations of incompetence, the journal that published his paper has retreated. This is a notable case of the scientific establishment behaving badly! Web links are as follows:
We have a long way to go with getting this message across. Educationalists need delivering from a straightjacket that inhibits the critical appraisal of evolutionary theories. It will be a major step forward when alternatives can be considered rationally and without polemics.
David J. Tyler,