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Creationism Should Be Taught Alongside Evolution
Patrick Glynn, "Monkey on Our Backs," National Review, vol. 51, September 13, 1999, p. 42. Copyright © 1999 by National Review, Inc., 215 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10016. Reproduced by permission.

Patrick Glynn is associate director of the George Washington University for Communitarian Policy Studies and the author of God: The Evidence.

When science teachers refuse to teach creationism alongside evolution, they are doing students a disservice. By keeping creationism out of schools, educators have stifled critical thinking. Moreover, although much of creationism has been debunked by science, the idea that evolution is directed by an intelligent being is worth considering.

Critics have decried the Kansas Board of Education's [1999] vote against evolution1 as a throwback to the 19th century. In truth, though, both sides of the evolution-creationism debate are locked in a 19th-century quarrel, seemingly oblivious to 20th-century scientific developments that have rendered much of their argument obsolete. While the "ol' time religion" and Biblical literalism of Kansas board members have invited great scorn, many of their opponents in the evolution camp share a naively positivistic view of science, nearly as fundamentalist, in its own way, as the beliefs of creationists.

Not that anyone is likely to construe the Kansas board's decision to strike evolution from the state's required curriculum as a public-relations victory for evangelicalism. By allying themselves with so-called "scientific creationists" or "young-earth theorists," the board members did much to discredit more legitimate critiques of Darwin. While one can respect the piety of a person whose literal understanding of the Book of Genesis leads him to claim that the earth is no more than 10,000 years old, that individual should hardly be surprised if the world at large fails to regard his views as scientific. No less an authority than St. Augustine cautioned Christians against quoting the Bible as a science text and warned that by doing so they would tend to render their religion laughable in the eyes of more knowledgeable people. The Kansas board members fell into this trap.

Assumptions Not Conclusions

But if the Kansans allowed religion to encroach all too clumsily on science, they were reacting in part to an evolutionary science that has too often encroached on religion. In 1997, Phillip Johnson, the University of California law professor and outspoken critic of Darwin, drew attention to the then-official definition of "evolution" promulgated by the National Association of Biology Teachers:

The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.

Modern geology has established persuasively that the earth is a good deal older than 10,000 years (the current estimate is 4.5 billion). Most scientists accept that the fossil record shows evidence of macroevolution—i.e., the emergence of new species—and common descent. But the evidence is a long way from supporting the claim that the process was "unsupervised, impersonal" or even based solely on "chance." That is not a conclusion based on data. It is rather the assumption of most biologists going in.

The board of the biology teachers' association reluctantly agreed to drop the words "unsupervised" and "impersonal" from their definition after receiving a letter of protest from the eminent religion scholar Huston Smith and Notre Dame philosopher Alvin Plantinga, who pointed out that while the fossil record may provide evidence for evolution, it fails to establish whether evolution "is or isn't directed by God." But the underlying logic of the teachers' definition—the implication that all life and species can be explained solely by chance mechanisms—remains the official position of the profession, indeed its central tenet.

Lack of Debate

All of which helps to explain why a middle ground in this controversy, while seemingly available in theory, has proved so elusive in practice. The Washington Post editorialized evenhandedly enough about the Kansas decision, noting that evolution is a "reality," "no matter how inconvenient," and adding: "This is not to say that there is no significant debate over its mode and character. There is, in fact, a rich and wonderful one." This rich and wonderful debate, however, does not take place, by and large, among biology teachers in K-12 classrooms.

The draft science requirements rejected by the Kansas board had two striking features. First, the draft contained a remarkably heavy dose of evolution, more than most of us middle-aged folks remember from our own school days. Second, it presented evolutionary biology in a manner suggesting an utter absence of controversy within or about the field. The document included a footnote to the effect that students were required to "understand" rather than profess "belief" in evolutionary theory. But the curriculum made no provision for the presentation of dissenting views. The notion that there exists legitimate disagreement, scientific or even philosophical, about evolution was nowhere suggested.

Indeed, experience has shown that it can be risky for a high-school instructor to explore what the Post calls this "rich and wonderful" debate. Recently the Christian Science Monitor carried a story about a Minnesota biology teacher, Rodney LeVake, who raised questions about the validity of natural selection and introduced his class to "intelligent design theory"—the position advocated by some scientists that the order intrinsic in the universe provides empirical evidence of design or creation. For his troubles LeVake was barred by the local school board from teaching biology the next year.

Interestingly, the rejected Kansas curriculum also featured a component on cosmic evolution, including the big-bang theory. But nowhere did it mention an issue that has generated a vast literature in cosmology—the anthropic principle, or the mystery of the "cosmic coincidences" in the universe, which a number of scientists argue strongly suggest the existence of design. (Unfortunately, the majority of the Kansas board discarded the cosmic-evolution component of the curriculum as well.)

A Disservice to Students

Part of the difficulty here is legal and constitutional. The Supreme Court has ruled against the teaching of creationism in public schools, and any discussion of intelligent design in a public-school classroom might border dangerously on teaching religion. But as a result of these legal restrictions, supposed or real, and the conventional mindset of the biology profession, students are missing out on a major revolution in the sciences, which may, ironically enough, hold a solution to the evolution-creationism deadlock.

The most interesting challenges to the 19th-century Darwinian understanding of evolution have come not from biology, but from new 20th-century disciplines—in particular, astrophysics and information theory. In reconstructing the evolution of the cosmos, astrophysicists have discovered a universe that seems mysteriously and intricately preprogrammed for life. Regardless of how life originated, this preprogramming seems almost incompatible with mere chance.

In addition, information theory, in combination with molecular biology, has revolutionized our idea of life. In particular, it has led to the insight that life is not simply matter, but matter plus information. DNA is in effect a "message" coded in matter. Matter can carry information; it cannot, so far as we know, create information. The question therefore arises, Where does the information come from?

In Darwin's day it was commonly believed that the laws of biology would eventually be reduced to the laws of chemistry, and the laws of chemistry in turn to the laws of physics. But now it has been established that the simplest version of DNA contains more information than is contained in all the laws of chemistry and physics. So such reductionism—a goal at the heart of the Darwinian project—is no longer conceivable.

These are the issues that would light a fire in students and open minds. But thanks to a legacy of bitter legal and constitutional conflict, and to the doctrinal rigidities of the biology profession, students may be exposed to "current events" in every field but the life sciences, as our schools remain locked in a war between two 19th-century fundamentalisms, one religious, the other scientific.

Source Citation:

Glynn, Patrick. "Creationism Should Be Taught Alongside Evolution." At Issue: Religion and Education. Ed. Tom Head. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2005. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. Hopewell Valley Central High School. 24 Sep. 2009

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