Randy McClay, a nationally recognized science teacher in the public schools of Ohio, USA, was invited to review the state’s controversial new science standards. He also served on a state-sponsored focus group that discussed the pro-evolutionary standards. Drawing on his years of experience in the classroom, Mr McClay has written a commentary on the serious drawbacks of the proposed standards.
The curriculum debate first flared up in late 2001, when the Ohio board of education released a draft of its new science standards (see Creationism battle heats up again in US schools). The draft caused an uproar in the state because of its evolutionary tilt. In response, the standards committee decided to host a forum on 11 March, consisting of two evolutionists and two advocates of “intelligent design” (ID) (see Eyes of the Science World Turn to Columbus, Ohio, USA).
The standards writers have now released their revised standards, and, as expected, they have utterly ignored ID or any aspect of the controversy about evolution in their revision. In fact, the new draft is even more dogmatic about evolution. The standards committee is accepting comments on its revision until 27 May (and anyone can submit comments—see details at http://webapp1.ode.state.oh.us/content_standards/standards/).1 The future of the standards will then rest with the state Board of Education (and the state General Assembly, if it chooses to intervene).
At long last some voices in Ohio are questioning the way teachers present origins “science” to our students. These dissenting voices may well reflect the majority view in Ohio,2 although most laypersons have felt powerless to effect change. Their feeling of impotence may be due to strong propaganda put forth by the pro-evolutionary academic “elite,” as well as the popular media. Based on my own experience in the classroom, it is my view that an evolutionary-biased curriculum is harmful to authentic and ethical teaching of science and leads to misconceptions and confusion among students. There are also much larger issues at stake for those of us who see the effects of this bias every day.
Faced with mounting criticism, evolutionists attempt to paint a picture of a backward belief system that is placing a stranglehold on “real” science. I have seen this argument made time and again. But such a view is misleading at best. Many highly trained professionals can attest to the irrelevance of evolutionary theory in the testable and observable science that they do and/or teach every day.3
I recently had an experience that underscores the real issue behind what we teach in science. A brilliant young student attended a talk I gave at a local church. Following the talk, he and some friends developed a habit of stopping by my classroom to debate some of the points I had made. It is interesting that this must be done after school has dismissed in order to avoid problems. One day the young man claimed to have evidence for evolution that I could not explain away. This evidence was the “vestigial” nature of the appendix. My only surprise was that it took several days before this outdated argument popped up.
As was often the case, I was working at my computer when the young man entered with his challenge. I proceeded to AiG’s web page and in seconds had an article explaining the modern view of the appendix. It pointed out that the appendix indeed had important functions, including a role in the lymphatic system.4 The young man looked carefully at the references in the article. He informed me that my Biblical Creation Web site must be mistaken because his teachers had emphatically insisted that the appendix was a useless leftover from our evolutionary history. I refrained from pointing out that the loss of a structure in the body has nothing to do with what he meant by “evolution.” Rather, seeing that he was skeptical of my sources, I did a quick search and produced an article from Scientific American5 that said exactly the same thing.
I could see this was provoking much thought in the young man. I felt the need to ask the question “What would be so terrible if I were correct about my assumptions that God tells the truth and the evolutionary assumptions were wrong?” The reply came, “It simply goes against everything I have been taught.” You see, this young man is involved with a religious organization that teaches that evolution is fact. What I was telling him indeed went against everything he has been taught both at school and elsewhere. This effect was so great that he was skeptical, until a “real” source confronted him. In a nation like the United States that was founded by Christians and deists, this is indeed a sad commentary, especially since what he had been taught was totally wrong in the first place.
This specific example is far from rare. It is a microcosm of science education today. Anything from a creationist source is suspect, but the outdated and downright wrong evolutionary interpretation must be correct simply because “everyone” accepts it and the textbooks say it. One text that I really admire states on page 4 that it is critical for a hypothesis to have a test for wrongness. This seems fair enough. However, on page 245 it shows a young lady holding an organic molecule model and tells the student factually that the “atoms that make up your body originated in the deep interior of ancient stars which have long since exploded.”6 Students are quick to see this inconsistency, and for that I am glad.
From the point of view of science and scientific ethics, where would you rate a set of educational standards that encourages misrepresentation of the nature of science and the teaching of outdated fallacy as fact?
One might say that the state’s standards did not cause my young friend’s teachers to be out-of-date in regard to the appendix, but I would differ. Evolution is something that can’t even be tested experimentally (see It’s not science ). Nevertheless, it has become such a part of the curriculum that evolution is mentioned by name in the Ohio standards to the exclusion of every other viewpoint. Teachers are intimidated into taking every claim the standards make at face value. Exactly who in this situation is encouraging dogmatism and unscientific acceptance of an unproven belief?
National and state standards agree that an important part of science education is teaching students how the process works. Holding onto untestable assumptions and outdated “evidence” hardly qualifies as a good example of the process of science. Even many evolutionists are calling attention to the seemly insurmountable problems with “molecules to man” evolution.7 Unfortunately this controversy is rarely (if ever) disclosed to students.
Having taught the physical sciences for eleven years, I have many former students who hold multiple degrees, work for large corporations, and have earned many academic honors. There is not one portion of a course that I have ever taught to those students which depends upon believing the evolutionary assumption.
As a teacher, I encourage you to do some research on your own. I would challenge every teacher and student to take a good look at the logic and arguments made by creation scientists. If one is willing to look take time to explore the Web page and other resources available from AiG, it is possible to find excellent articles on every topic from the “big bang” to cloning. The arguments made by these writers cannot be easily dismissed, in spite of much wishful thinking on the part of the humanists.
The course that most students and parents associate with evolution is biology. Natural selection—a key element in understanding biology—is taught as a synonym for evolution, but this equivalence is fallacious to anyone who knows how natural selection works. It can only act on living and reproducing organisms. Natural selection never acts to produce new information, only to sort and eliminate it. I would argue that we need more emphasis on this point in the curriculum. I often encounter students who give natural selection almost magical abilities to shape an organism into whatever is needed. In fact, the diversity and adaptability of life is amazing (and important to a creationist’s understanding of biology), but they do not explain where life came from in the first place.
The current practice of switching definitions of “evolution” and “natural selection” is causing many students to believe that natural selection can actually create new genes. This view resembles Lamarck’s discredited belief that acquired characteristics, such as the stretching of a giraffe’s neck, can be passed on to offspring. Textbooks normally introduce this “inherited traits” concept as a failed precursor to Darwinism. Yet modern students seem to envision the struggle for survival causing significant changes in DNA structure that are then passed to the offspring. In my training as a teacher, I have been encouraged to identify and address student misconceptions. I contend that this particular misconception persists due to the dogmatic manner in which evolution is presented in most texts. If students were freed from the false assumption that natural selection creates new information, this misconception would not persist.
To be fair, many teachers do not have the training to address such issues, and no resources are made available to them. Textbook publishers are in similar positions and work in a market-driven industry. They are not capable of bringing about curricular changes. And so we find ourselves in Ohio with people like Kenneth Miller and Stephen Jay Gould saying that the public should trust them when they say that evolution is the key to all science. They believe that it is a proven fact that is beyond question and is completely compatible with religion (which it is, if you are a secular humanist who maintains that religion is something “inside your head” which doesn’t have anything to say about the real world of rocks, fossils, living things and actual history). Sadly, as I speak in more and more churches, I find that many Christians don’t have enough Bible knowledge to realize the problems (see Q&A: Why it matters).
In conclusion, let me first say that the current controversy in Ohio is not attempting to see Biblical doctrines taught in schools, which is not possible for public schools anyway. I would not support legislation to compel the teaching of Biblical creation in public schools, because making a non-believer teach things from the Bible that they do not believe would be as bad as what is being done now—forcing Christians to teach humanism and its scientific counterpart of evolution (see Q&A: Religion). Make no mistake about it, public school teachers are teaching a religious philosophy when they teach origins from an evolutionary bias.
As a Christian, my heart aches for young people who seek everywhere and find no peace in the places where humanism tells them to look. By permitting only the presentation of evolution as fact, we are currently pushing young people toward the kind of philosophy that leads logically to destructive behaviors we wish to see them avoid. We need to allow young people access to all the information and arguments in order to be able to make what may turn out to be the most important decision of their lives.8 This decision is choosing how they will view this world and who is ultimately in charge of it. What they decide makes all the difference. At the very least, teachers should be free to present the evidence both for and against evolution.
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