Education Icon Education
Evolution Icon Evolution

NSF Spends Almost $2 Million Of Taxpayer Money Crafting Darwin-Only Lessons

Casey Luskin

As discussed in my previous post, it’s best to just lay all the cards on the table: The goal of the Evolution Readiness Project is to get “young children” to “believe in” evolution. According to the National Science Foundation’s website, they’ve spent $1,990,459 of taxpayer-funded National Science Foundation (NSF) dollars to bankroll this project. Welcome back to school.

The agenda of the project is further clarified in the NSF Grant Award Abstract which states that it aims “to support a learning progression leading to an appreciation of the theory of evolution and evidence that supports it.” That’s fine, but why only the evidence that supports evolution?

Before I say anything else, let me state that I am a firm advocate of teaching evolution. The scientific evidence that “supports” evolution should be taught. But that’s not all that should be taught. In fact, a paper in Science from earlier this year found that students learn science best when they learn both the “evidence that supports … or does not support” a given concept. Clearly that beneficial pedagogical philosophy has been rejected by the Evolution Readiness Project.

The project justifies its dogmatic approach by promoting the myth that there is no scientific dissent from the consensus view on natural selection:

Yet, essentially there is universal agreement among scientists that evolution by natural selection is the fundamental model that explains the extraordinary complexity and interdependence of the living world. Moreover, evolution by natural selection is a quintessential scientific theory, explaining an extraordinary collection of data, including much that Darwin himself was unaware of, with a small collection of powerful ideas.

Of course, it is not true that “essentially there is universal agreement among scientists” about evolution by natural selection. Over 850 Ph.D. scientists have now signed a statement expressing their skepticism of modern evolutionary theory’s “claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life,” and urge that “[c]areful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”

Moreover, there is much scientific evidence that challenges neo-Darwinian evolution. An article in Trends in Ecology and Evolution from 2008 acknowledged that there exists a “healthy debate concerning the sufficiency of neo-Darwinian theory to explain macroevolution.”1 In 2009, Günter Theißen of the Department of Genetics at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany wrote in the journal Theory in Biosciences that modern Darwinian theory has not fully explained biological complexity:

[W]hile we already have a quite good understanding of how organisms adapt to the environment, much less is known about the mechanisms behind the origin of evolutionary novelties, a process that is arguably different from adaptation. Despite Darwin’s undeniable merits, explaining how the enormous complexity and diversity of living beings on our planet originated remains one of the greatest challenges of biology.2

Theißen is by no means the only mainstream evolutionary biologist who has leveled core criticisms against the prevailing neo-Darwinian paradigm. U.S. National Academy of Sciences member biologist Lynn Margulis writes that “Mutations, in summary, tend to induce sickness, death, or deficiencies. No evidence in the vast literature of heredity changes shows unambigious evidence that random mutation itself, even with geographical isolation of populations, leads to speciation.”3

Susan Mazur gained notoriety for reporting on the 2008 Altenberg 16 conference where critics of neo-Darwinism gathered in Altenberg, Austria to discuss insufficiencies of the modern synthesis of evolution. According to Mazur, there are “hundreds of other evolutionary scientists (non-creationists) who contend that natural selection is politics, not science, and that we are in a quagmire because of staggering commercial investment in a Darwinian industry built on an inadequate theory.”4

Nature also published an article covering the Altenberg 16 conference,5 quoting biologist Scott Gilbert stating that “[t]he modern synthesis is remarkably good at modeling the survival of the fittest, but not good at modeling the arrival of the fittest.” Evolutionary paleobiologist Graham Budd was similarly open in the article saying, “When the public thinks about evolution, they think about the origin of wings and the invasion of the land . . . [b]ut these are things that evolutionary theory has told us little about.”

Also in 2008, William Provine, a Cornell University historian of science and evolutionary biologist, gave a talk before the History of Science Society titled “Random Drift and the Evolutionary Synthesis.” An abstract of his talk argues “[e]very assertion of the evolutionary synthesis below is false”:

Natural selection was the primary mechanism at every level of the evolutionary process. Natural selection caused genetic adaptation . . . Macroevolution was a simple extension of microevolution. … Evolution is a process of sharing common ancestors back to the origin of life, or in other words, evolution produces a tree of … The evolutionary synthesis was actually a synthesis.6

Last year, Eugene Koonin stated in Trends in Genetics that breakdowns in core neo-Darwinian tenets such as the “traditional concept of the tree of life” or “natural selection is the main driving force of evolution” indicate that “the modern synthesis has crumbled, apparently, beyond repair.” Koonin believes that “all major tenets of the modern synthesis have been, if not outright overturned, replaced by a new and incomparably more complex vision of the key aspects of evolution.”7 Koonin concludes, “not to mince words, the modern synthesis is gone.”

As we have seen, many of the core claims of the modern synthesis are being called into question. However, the “Evolution Readiness Project” justifies its dogmatic approach by claiming that these dissenting views essentially don’t exist. They give students a nice, neat, dumbed-down version of evolution biology that is being utterly rejected by increasing numbers of scientists.

As we will see in the next installment, the “Evolution Readiness Project” presents the standard neo-Darwinian view as if it is unadulterated fact, without any scientific dissent. We’ll review some of the teaching tools that the “Evolution Readiness Project” and the dumbed-down version of evolution they promote.

References Cited
[1.] Michael A. Bell, Gould’s Most Cherished Concept, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Vol. 23:121, 121-22 (2008) (reviewing Stephen Jay Gould, Punctuated Equilibrium (2007)).
[2.] Günter Theißen, “Saltational Evolution: Hopeful Monsters are Here to Stay,” Theory in Biosciences, Vol. 128: 43, 44 (2009) (internal citations omitted).
[3.] Lynn Margulis & Dorion Sagan, Acquiring Genomes: A Theory of the Origins of the Species, p. 29 (2002).
[5.] John Whitfield, “Biological Theory: Postmodern Evolution?,” Nature, Vol. 455:281, 282 (2008) (quoting Scott Gilbert).
[6.] William Provine, Random Drift and the Evolutionary Synthesis, History of Science Society HSS Abstracts.
[7.] Eugene V. Koonin, “The Origin at 150: Is a New Evolutionary Synthesis in Sight?,” Trends in Genetics Vol. 25:473, 474 (2009) (internal citations omitted).


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



Evolution Readiness Project