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Did I miss the memo on the sanctity of Darwinism?

The New York Times lead editorial Sunday, Jan 23, avoided addressing in any detail the scientific issues in the national debate over how to teach evolution and instead tried to equate the scientific theory of intelligent design with creationism, and proclaimed all critics of Darwinian evolution are Biblical creationists. It reads like a briefing paper from the ACLU, and probably was inspired by one.

Critics of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution become more wily with each passing year. Creationists who believe that God made the world and everything in it pretty much as described in the Bible were frustrated when their efforts to ban the teaching of evolution in the public schools or inject the teaching of creationism were judged unconstitutional by the courts. But over the past decade or more a new generation of critics has emerged with a softer, more roundabout approach that they hope can pass constitutional muster.

It is often mistakenly asserted that design theory is merely a recasting of creation science that came about because creationism was tossed out of schools in the late eighties. Actually, the theory of intelligent design finds it starting points well before the famous 1987 supreme court case that banned creation science from public schools. For example, biologist Michael Denton published his famous book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis in 1986, and even before that Walter Bradley and others had published works challenging Darwinian evolution and presenting the foundations of intelligent design theory in the early eighties. And, then there is the case of Dean Kenyon, professor emeritus of biology at San Francisco state who in the sixties was one of the world’s leading chemical evolutionists. By the late seventies he was disavowing his own previous evolution textbooks and discussing intelligent design theories in his university courses.

Continuing its dogmatic toeing of the Darwinian line the Times says this about the textbook disclaimer sticker recently struck down in Cobb Co., Georgia:

Every subject in the curriculum should be studied carefully and critically. Indeed, the interpretations taught in history, economics, sociology, political science, literature and other fields of study are far less grounded in fact and professional consensus than is evolutionary biology.

Every subject in the curriculum should be studied carefully and critically, including evolution. But the Times doesn’t really mean that, they mean the exact opposite. Evolution apparently is the only subject that cannot be studied carefully and critically. That raises a few questions. When did evolution become sacrosanct — completely above criticism? There is no questioning of Darwinian evolution allowed? Because of consensus agreement, and that is a contentious claim itself, we must now stop critically examining evolution? Does science now run on mob rule alone? What about the evidence?

The reason no one puts disclaimer stickers in history or economics textbooks is because diversity of thought is already allowed in those areas (at least more so than biology), and the proclamations of economic institutions are not treated with divine reverence.

Textbook disclaimers are not the most appropriate way to teach evolution, and neither is mandating theories like intelligent design such as was done so gracelessly by the Dover, PA school board recently. (Discovery Institute disagrees with this approach and we have stated our concerns with the Dover efforts here, here and here.)

The Times writes:

In particular, the textbook sticker’s assertion that “evolution is a theory, not a fact” adopted the latest tactical language used by anti-evolutionists to dilute Darwinism, thereby putting the school board on the side of religious critics of evolution.

I wish the Times’ editors had read the recent op-ed from CSC Fellow Mark Hartwig about this very debate. Hartwig wrote:

If you look in the science journals, you’ll see that the use of the word theory often diverges from this definition. There, you can read of such things as tentative theories, failed theories, controversial theories, promising theories, and unconfirmed new theories.

Thus, contrary to the definition championed by Darwin’s defenders, scientific theories vary greatly in their trustworthiness. And a school district is fully warranted in singling out such theories, especially when they have been a source of widespread, ongoing controversy – like Darwinism.

Amazingly, the Times wraps up by seeming to call for a breach of the wall between church and state:

. . . in districts where evolution is a burning issue, there ought to be some place in school where the religious and cultural criticisms of evolution can be discussed, perhaps in a comparative religion class or a history or current events course.

If the Times editorial board believes design theory to be religion, why would they accept its inclusion in any class in a public school?

Robert Crowther, II

Robert Crowther holds a BA in Journalism with an emphasis in public affairs and 20 years experience as a journalist, publisher, and brand marketing and media relations specialist. From 1994-2000 he was the Director of Public and Media Relations for Discovery Institute overseeing most aspects of communications for each of the Institute's major programs. In addition to handling public and media relations he managed the Institute's first three books to press, Justice Matters by Roberta Katz, Speaking of George Gilder edited by Frank Gregorsky, and The End of Money by Richard Rahn.