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Did Kansas Ban Evolution?

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By Nancy Pearcey

Listening to the Chicken Littles in the press, youd think the sky had fallen in Kansas. Ever since the Board of Education voted to exclude evolution from state guidelines, handwringing articles have decried the "gutting" of education by "enemies of science." The governor is threatening to disband the democratically elected board; lawsuits are in the works.

But lets sort out the facts. What did the board actually do? The controversy began when Kansas rejected sections of a national standard issued by the National Academy of Sciences. Contrary to hysterical reports, the board did not ban evolution from the classroom. In fact, the new guidelines substantially increase coverage of the topic. The board merely decided not to include evolution in state competency tests, by implication, not treating it as a fact beyond dispute.

The vote is best understood as a courageous stand for academic freedom -- for giving students the right to examine all the evidence on a contested issue.

Christians everywhere need to make it clear that we want more taught in the classroom, not less. Of course students should learn about Darwinian theory and the evidence supporting it. But they should also learn the evidence against it, the problems and controversies.

Lets teach students about the Cambrian explosion, when all the basic blueprints for animal life appeared suddenly in the fossil record, contradicting the theory of slow, gradual evolution. Lets teach about the "gaps" in the fossil record, the pervasive pattern of the sudden appearance of new life forms followed by stasis -- contradicting the theory of continuous evolutionary change. Lets teach what the discovery of DNA implies: that at the core of life is a language, a message, and that messages are not created by physicalchemical forces, any more than this article was created by chemical forces in the paper and ink.

Lets teach students to decipher conflicting uses of the term "evolution." No one denies the fact of limited, cyclical variation, represented by dog breeds, crop varieties, and insect resistance to pesticides, which is sometimes called "microevolution." What is problematic is "macroevolution," the conjecture that these minor variations are unlimited and directional, capable of producing dogs and corn and insects in the first place.

Lets tell students how textbooks often misrepresent evidence for evolution, like the "evidence" of the peppered moths. The standard theory is that as the tree trunks were darkened by industrial pollution, lighter moths were picked off by birds, while darker forms proliferated -- a showcase example of natural selection. But a startling article in The Scientist (May 1999) reveals that peppered moths dont even rest on tree trunks and that the photos were staged. Scientists glued dead moths onto the trees.

Or consider the Galapagos finches that greatly influenced Darwins own thinking. In the Wall Street Journal (August 16, 1999), Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson notes that a 1977 drought killed most of the finches, leaving survivors whose average beak size was slightly larger (presumably they could eat the tough seeds that remained). A few years later, after a flood, beak sizes returned to normal -- a clear case of limited, cyclical change. Yet, astonishingly, a 1998 publication of the Natonal Academy of Sciences fails to mention the return to normal, and even encourages teachers to speculate what might happen should the trend toward larger beaks continue for centuries: "Would a new species of finch arise?"

"When our leading scientists have to resort to the sort of distortion that would land a stock promoter in jail," Johnson comments, "you know they are in trouble."

Given the paucity of evidence, one suspects that the underlying reason many scientists cling so tenaciously to Darwinism is philosophical. If one could explain the physical universe by completely material, purposeless causes, that would support the metaphysical claim that there is no overarching purpose or design. Its this metaphysical claim that makes Darwinism so unpalatable to the public.

For it is not only fundamentalist "extremists" who say Darwinism has atheistic implications. Many respected Darwinists agree. Francisco Ayala of the University of California says Darwinism is controversial precisely because it "exclude[s] God as the explanation accounting for the obvious design of organisms." Tufts philosopher Daniel Dennett praises Darwinism as a "universal acid" that dissolves away traditional religion and morality. Cornell biologist William Provine says consistent Darwinism means "no ultimate foundation for ethics; no ultimate meaning for life; no free will."

Precisely right. Creation is the foundation of the Christian worldview; if it falls, so does everything else. If God created us for a purpose, then morality is the guidebook telling us how to fit in to that purpose. But if we are products of mindless, material forces, then there is no purpose, no basis for morality. Religion and morality are merely ideas that appear in the human mind once it has evolved to a certain level. So the fundamental question is stark and simple: Did God create us, or did we create the idea of God?

Contrary to what critics say, protesters of Darwinism are not trying to inject religion into the classroom. Instead, theyre trying to get people to see that Darwinism already injects a religious message into the classroom, and theyre asking that those atheistic implications be discussed openly, and that alternative scientific theories be considered, such as intelligent design.

Invoking design is not just shorthand for saying, "God did it." Design is a testable concept. Consider an illustration: If you are vacationing and see the faces of four presidents carved into Mt. Rushmore, you dont say, "Look what interesting shapes can be created by water and wind erosion." Instead, you recognize evidence of a predetermined pattern. Similarly, archeologists run tests to determine whether what theyve unearthed is just a rock or a tool chipped by an ancient hunter. Police run tests to determine whether a person died of natural causes or an intentional act (murder).

Likewise, in the study of living things, design can be empirically detected. In fact, evidence for design is so ubiquitous that Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins defines biology itself as "the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose." Like all Darwinists, Dawkins tries to explain away that "appearance" as really the result of purposeless, natural forces. But why not take the evidence at face value and conclude there is real design?

Phillip Johnson cites a Chinese paleontologist who commented, "In China, we can criticize Darwin, but not the government. In America, you can criticize the government, but not Darwin." Allowing students to grapple with the whole range of theories, along with their philosophical implications, is simply good pedagogy. It would train students in critical thinking and thaw the icy grip of dogmatism on the biology classroom -- injecting science education with a new sense of intellectual adventure.

Nancy Pearcey is co-author, with Chuck Colson, of How Now Shall We Live? just out from Tyndale. She is managing editor of Origins and Design, and co-author, with Charles Thaxton, of The Soul of Science.

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