The Blind Leading the Blind

Teaching Alternatives to Evolution

Public school officials in Louisville, Ohio, have decided that students will no longer be taught critical thinking in the classroom.

At least not when the topic is evolution.

It was not always this way. Several years ago the Louisville School Board recommended teaching both the pros and cons of evolutionary theory. Teachers were directed to “contrast, compare, and discuss alternatives to the evolutionary theory.”

This, by the way, is excellent teaching methodology. Students learn better when they’re taught to evaluate arguments on both sides of a controversy, instead of being force-fed a single, dogmatic view.

But when it comes to evolution, teaching “alternatives” means telling students that some scientists actually believe in divine creation. And that prospect apparently struck fear into the hearts of ACLU attorneys. They threatened to sue, and the Louisville School Board capitulated. Teachers are now forbidden to teach anything but a strictly naturalistic account of life’s origin.

But when science is taught dogmatically, it is no longer scientific. In a recent issue of the Quarterly Review of Biology, a biologist named Benno Muller-Hill tells a story from his own childhood. One day the teacher set up a telescope to show students a planet and its moons. One by one the students looked through the telescope and said, yes, they could see the planet. Finally, one student said, I can’t see anything.

The teacher angrily told him to adjust the lenses. Still the student saw nothing. Finally, the teacher himself leaned over and looked. When he stood up, he had a strange expression on his face. He glanced at the end of the telescope and saw that the lens cap was still on.

The power of suggestion was so strong that the other students actually thought they did see something in the darkness.

Something similar is happening in biology today. Many scientists are so committed to naturalistic evolution that they think they do see evidence for the theory in the most unlikely places. Take the famous example of the peppered moths in Britain. Peppered moths come in light and dark varieties. When factory smoke darkened the tree trunks, birds could see the light-colored moths better and ate more of them, leaving a predominance of dark-colored moths.

This is held up as a classic demonstration of the power of natural selection.

But anyone who thinks about it knows that a shift in color is an extremely minor change. It tells us nothing about where moths came from in the first place. It certainly does not prove that they evolved from an original one-celled organism.

In fact, the change in color can be explained just as well in theistic terms: A wise creator would surely endow organisms with the ability to adapt to a changing environment; otherwise they would soon die out.

You and I need to check what our own children are being taught in science courses. We need to help school boards see that naturalistic evolution is only one philosophy among many. The scientific evidence itself is equally compatible with divine creation.

Public schools ought to be places that teach students to evaluate all alternatives, to think critically . . . and, yes, to take off the lens cap.


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