The Wrong Way to Approach the Evolution-Creationism Debate

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Amy Binder and John H. Evans, associate professors of Sociology at the University of California at San Diego, have written a piece on efforts to force religion in the guise of Intelligent Design and Creationism down the throats of children in Texas.

a repost

A proposal before the Texas Board of Education calls for including the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution in the state’s science curriculum. This initiative is understood by supporters and opponents to be a strategic effort to get around First Amendment restrictions on teaching religion in science class. The proposal is a new round in an old debate, and, if it fails, creationists will innovate once again, just as they have since the 1920s.

If they succeed, there could be national implications: Because of Texas’s sizable school population, the state curriculum can influence national standards. Book publishers don’t want to produce multiple versions of the same text for different states or regions, so ideas that work their way into Texas’s curriculum often end up shaping content in classrooms elsewhere. Check it out.

I’m afraid the authors of this commentary are making an error. Two errors, actually…

Check it out.

The article borders on suggesting an appeasement strategy (as in that aspect of the old framing debate), but stops short and suggests that science teachers compromise with the moralists who are pushing creationism in one area: Make a clear statement that Evolutionary Theory should not lead to social Darwinism and other icky stuff.

Binder and Evans, well meaning and essentially correct, must be new to this debate. What they are saying is, unfortunately, offensive and incorrect, for two reasons.

First, in order for their argument to have any traction whatsoever, it has to be acknowledged that the religion side of this debate is actually the moral side, the side that is trying to protect ethical and moral values and behavior. But this is not true at all. The religion side of this debate is simply trying to push their particular religion (one of hatred, fear mongering, and intolerance) on others. Binder and Evans have been fooled by the rhetoric of the religious right into thinking that the pro-morals side of their argument is fundamental to their motivation. It is not. It is added as part of their strategy (and this has been the case for a very long time). All Binder and Evans need to know to figure this out is to read about the actual events, look at the actual documents, learn something about the actual politics of the evolution vs. creationism ‘debate.’

Second, we do this already. We (science educators) have been doing this for decades and decades. We already ” … tell students that even though evolutionary science talks about the survival of the fittest organism (sic), it is not a model for how humans should treat each other…” We already “… explain that students should not make an “ought” about human behavior from an “is” of nature and that competition in contemporary society will not lead to increased survival rates. (sic)”.. We even “… explicitly note that just because mutations in organisms are random, it does not follow that human morality is random.”

I’m glad that part of the message is presented in this commentary. Science educators who do not to this are doing it wrong, and hopefully they will read the Washington Post and get this message. But the message we are given here smells to me like little more than an “aha” moment someone had while taking a shower presented to us in a naive, though potentially useful, way.

At the beginning of every school year, I try to post new and “the best of” blog posts specifically written for teachers. If you want to see this year’s “back to school special” posts in a list, click here. I’ll be posting these items through the month of September. There will likely be one or two items new every day.

Please feel free to send a link to all your teacher friends so they know about it!!!! And, if there is something you’d like to see discussed, let me know.

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5 thoughts on “The Wrong Way to Approach the Evolution-Creationism Debate

  1. I consider the creationist to be without morals because they are willing to pervert scientific interpretation and the use of the scientific method to fit a religious agenda rather than the truth. I want to hear no more bullshit from the creationists that they only want to protect society’s morals in view of the fact that they are without morals themselves.

  2. If you believe the stories in the Bible trump the facts of geology, paleontology, biology and physics, then you can believe:

    – Some people are less than human due to their religious beliefs;
    – That it is ok to treat your enemies the way Joshua treated the Canannites;
    – That slavery is fine so long as you follow the rules set forth in the Bible;
    – That we should welcome (and actively support) anything that might end human civilization so we can hurry up and have the Rapture party;
    – and so on…

    “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” — Voltaire

  3. It’s actually kind of ingenious when you really think about it. Studies have shown that if you deny that something is true, people only remember the thing that you denied and not the denial itself. By denying it, you end up reinforcing the belief that it’s true.

    By requiring educators to explicitly deny that evolution necessarily leads to such terrible things as eugenics, it ends up reinforcing the idea that in fact it does. Of course a good educator will make sure that it’s not just a flat denial by also teaching the reasons why, thereby negating the effect. But for anti-evolutionists, it’s an ingenious way to teach the evils of evolution while being able to claim that they were doing just the opposite.

  4. Biological evolution is a fact which is not disputed by any reputable scientist. The definition of biological evolution is, quite simply, “the occurrence of heritable changes in the gene pool of a population over time”. Facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty.

    Facts don’t go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein’s theory of gravitation replaced Newton’s, but apples didn’t suspend themselves in midair, pending the outcome. Humans evolved from ape-like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin’s proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered.

    Creationists and those who support Intelligent Design are doing nothing more than trying to advance religious dogma under the guise of scientific inquiry. They want to skip over the vetting process that gives theories their credibility and turn our high school classrooms into the new crucible of scientific truth. Their motives are plain to see, they have no evidence which can stand up to the rigor of peer review and they wish to gain a foothold in the lives of our children by teaching religious ideologies at the expense of good science.

    Please, do not permit this to happen, keep ideologies in the philosophy, comparative religions or sociology classes, but not in the science classroom.


    On science contributing to our morals…


  5. Greetings from the UK, where creationism/evolution is still argued but not as emotionally as in the States. I am a science teacher and committed evangelical Christian. I find the false science put out by creationists upsetting but I also find the attack on the existence of God by atheists using evolution to “prove” their point equally stupid. Richard Dawkins attacks a parody of the Biblical doctrine of God, not what the Bible actually teaches – hence fails completely. It’s worth considering that philosophical empiricism is a self-defeating argument. Creationists and atheists alike believe in the concept of the “God of the gaps” – creationists frantically trying to maintain the gaps and atheists trying to close them. I believe the whole Bible to be the “word of God”, but while it may be the truth, it doesn’t mean it is all scientifically true. Tennyson’s “Eagle” is scientific rubbish, but it still portrays something of the truth about an eagle. Jesus told the truth by means of parables, but they were made-up stories. Conversely, all that is scientifically true may not always portray the truth of existence and life. Science can never analyse the meaning of a poem or enable us to appreciate the beauty of a sunset, though it may enhance it through understanding. Science can only deal with that which can be measured, touched etc. – matter, space, time, energy, force etc. Faith takes us beyond all that to meaning. While it is arrogant of creationists to pontificate on science without knowledge, it is arrogant for atheists to think they can attack a concept they know nothing whatsoever about. The Biblical view of God is that He is totally “other than” the creation – so, scientists cannot consider Him within science – He should have no part of their scientific thinking/investigation, but that does NOT mean He does not exist. Creationists would do well to understand this Biblical concept of God as well and that, while God may have created everything, the Bible gives us no scientific explanation of how. Finding a “how” in no way cuts God out. Faith brings a wonderful dimension to life – I would say an essential dimension, but that’s opinion, but it’s beyond science. Science brings an amazing ability to look at things critically and objectively, removing the tendency for mere speculation and illogical thinking. Maybe it’s about time we started appreciating each other’s views and positions. We might find we add to each other’s appreciation of life!

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