Jan
26
2009

Evolution: Under attack again.
Evolution: Under attack again.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Despite recent defeats in the courts, opponents of evolution continue to resort to some of their old tricks, namely attempting to add controversy to the theory where there really is none. It’s an old tactic used by the creationism movement since before the Scopes trial in the 1920’s.

Fortunately, not everyone is falling for it, and progress in the fight is being made. Last week in Texas, the state school board there eliminated restoration of a long-standing rule requiring high school science teachers to teach both “the weaknesses and strengths” of evolution to their pupils. This is good news for evolution, which despite some efforts to discredit it is a strong and well-documented scientific theory with - to date - no viable scientific alternatives.

Many people in Texas, including 800 scientists who signed a petition
against the wording’s inclusion, saw the rule as an attack against a well-founded scientific theory that would open the door for creationism to be taught in the public schools. The vote to restore the rule failed by a narrow 7-7 tie.

"Its removal is a huge step forward," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California, Scott leads the fight for teaching evolution in schools, and was present at the board meetings last week in Austin.

Proponents of the “weakness” language tried to make the best of its defeat by pointing to other amendments passed by the board later in the day. The creationist faction again hoped to stir up controversy where there was none by tacking on language that added doubt and debate to such subjects as transitional fossils and common descent, both of which have been well-documented in the fossil record and scientific literature. Hopefully, the additional amendments can be removed when the board meets to finalize the draft text in late March.

Next door, in Louisiana, the legislature enacted a new law for the state Board of Education to “assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories.” The language hints that it covers many scientific theories, but pointedly specifies evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning. Known as the Science Education Act, the measure was signed into law by Governor Bobby Jindal - a creationism supporter - last October.

Another state over, in Mississippi, new legislation introduced by representative Gary Chism uses a larger hammer to pound his anti-evolution point home. It would require textbooks that mention evolution to carry a 200-word disclaimer about the theory being controversial. Here’s some of the text:

"Scientific theories are based on both observations of the natural world and assumptions about the natural world. They are always subject to change in view of new and confirmed observations."

It also states:

"The word ‘theory’ has many meanings, including: systematically organized knowledge; abstract reasoning; a speculative idea or plan; or a systematic statement of principles,” the opening paragraph of the bill states.”

(Of course, Chism fails to point out which meaning is actually being used.)

"This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things. No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life’s origins should be considered a theory,"

Again, it’s the same old “add controversy where none exists” tactic. Presently, the bill is heading through two committees, and it’d be a shame if such an anti-science law gets passed, because it will only be detrimental to the development of any students who want to make science their career choice.

Back in 1973, evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky titled an essay “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution.”

I think he hit the nail right on the head.

LINKS
21st Century Science Coalition
”Eroding Evolution” in Louisiana at NCSE website
Mississippi legislation in Dispatches from the Culture Wars
Creationism defeated in Texas

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

iowaboy's picture
iowaboy says:

this is true- the debate over evolution vs. creationism has been raging for a while, i like the mention of the scopes monkey trial.
i just read the latest edition of smithsonian magazine that had articles about lincoln and darwin, born on the same day nearly 200 years ago and both changed the world as we know it.

posted on Wed, 01/28/2009 - 6:07pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I'm disappointed that our schools pretend to promote inquiry science yet refuse to let the science community/students question Darwin's theory. If there were weaknesses in a theory, why wouldn't we let students investigate it. Why don't we let students question and research the issue instead of just telling them that all the evidence points to it so you should believe it? Unfortunately, it seems that academic freedom and inquiry have lost their place in the system.

posted on Wed, 01/28/2009 - 9:53pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Well... I think that scientists all around the world are constantly questioning "Darwin's theory."

I mean, that's what science is all about. When a scientist is presented with an area of their discipline that's lacking in understanding (a weakness, you might say), they make observations until that gap in knowledge begins to be filled. Evolution ends up being the best scientific answer to the questions of biology.

Some people might have other answers that they favor, but, unfortunately, those answers are very often untestable—"inquiry science" directed in this way ultimately has to arrive at a solution that depends on faith, not verifiable scientific evidence. We would have to have faith-based science classes, and that's not the sort of thing you expect to find in government-funded schools.

posted on Thu, 01/29/2009 - 11:15am

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