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How the Science Teachers’ Lobby Keeps Its Constituents in the Dark on Evolution

One of the most powerful education organizations in the country is the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), which stands alongside the rest of the Darwin lobby in holding that neo-Darwinian evolution should be taught in a one-sided, pro-evolution-only fashion.

This is an extreme position, as it seeks to ban scientific criticisms of evolution. Due to its exclusive and dogmatic nature, the NSTA’s position is analogous to the extreme position advocated by some religious fundamentalists who would seek to ban teaching about evolution in public schools.

But the Darwin lobby is smart. While it is trying to ban and censor the views of its opponents, the Darwin lobby has a particular narrative which tries to paint its opponents as the censors and the extremists. The narrative goes something like this (my paraphrase): ‘Dark forces of intelligent design and creationism are seeking to ban evolution from public schools and then force their religious beliefs into the science classroom. We must stand against censorship and religious agendas, so we must fight their agenda at any cost. Stand with us, the guardians of freedom of thought and the First Amendment.’

The January, 2011 issue of NSTA Reports, a newsletter which goes out to thousands of science teachers around the country, provides a good example of how this narrative gets pushed on teachers:

“I could never teach that. I would get into trouble,” commented a student teacher as a retired NSTA member led a science seminar that included the topic of evolution.

Depending on where she teaches, it’s quite possible that she might need to defend content referring to evolution, as well as other science disciplines such as life science, astronomy, and geology. Groups concerned that creationism or intelligent design is not part of the public school curriculum often target these subjects.

(Judy McKee, “Preparing for Controversy,” NSTA Reports, Vol. 22(5):17 (January,2011).)

The article goes on to cover recent debates in Texas over teaching evolution. The reality, of course, is that NO leading Darwin-critics in Texas sought try to censor evolution. Evolution is still a required part of the curriculum in Texas, and the new TEKS that continue to teach evolution were eagerly adopted by the Texas State Board of Education members who were skeptics of neo-Darwinian evolution.
McKee’s strategy is thus one of the oldest in the books: deflect away from the fact that she herself advocates an extreme position by painting her opponents as extremists.

The reality is that leading groups that doubt neo-Darwinian evolution (like Discovery Institute) strongly oppose any attempts to ban evolution or remove it from the curriculum in schools. We also oppose teaching creationism in the science classroom because it’s a religious viewpoint. As for ID, we feel it’s science and constitutional to teach, but we want the debate over ID to be a scientific one and not a political one, so we oppose attempts to push ID into public schools. Instead, we think that public schools should simply teach the scientific evidence both for and against neo-Darwinian evolution.

So where does that leave us? Leading Darwin-critics aren’t seeking to introduce creationism or ID into public schools, and they would vehemently oppose attempts to ban evolution. Rather, they seek to increase coverage of evolution by teaching both the evidence for and against neo-Darwinism.

The Darwin lobby wants only the pro-Darwin-only viewpoint taught. They want to censor any science that challenges neo-Darwinian evolution. As I explained in a recent article in Christian Science Monitor, they do this by labeling opposing viewpoints as religion:

Courts have uniformly found that creationism is a religious viewpoint and thus illegal to teach in public school science classes. By branding scientific views they dislike as “religion” or “creationism,” the Darwin lobby scares educators from presenting contrary evidence or posing critical questions – a subtle but effective form of censorship.

The media fall prey to this tactic, resulting in articles that confuse those asking for scientific debate with those asking for the teaching of religion. And Darwin’s defenders come off looking like heroes, not censors.

Those who love the First Amendment should be outraged. In essence, the Darwin lobby is taking the separation of church and state – a good thing – and abusing it to promote censorship.

(“Religion doesn’t belong in public schools, but debate over Darwinian evolution does“)

In the end, the positions of the two groups basically look like this:

Comparison of Evolution Education Positions of the Darwin Lobby and Darwin Skeptics Like Discovery Institute
(To see a poll backing the numbers in the final column, please click here.)

So what exactly is wrong with the NSTA’s article? It tells teachers that proponents of “creationism or intelligent design” are seeking to prevent teachers from teaching evolution. But that’s not true. If anyone is seeking to censor scientific information from students, it’s the Darwin lobby. And the vast majority of the public disagrees with the NSTAs approach. But teachers who don’t know better and buy the NSTA’s skewed version of reality will think they are supporting freedom of speech when they’re actually supporting censorship of dissenting scientific views.


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.



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