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Redefining “Science Literacy” As “Acceptance of Evolution”

Casey Luskin

A recent news article in the journal Science asks the question “Can a person be scientifically literate without accepting the concepts of evolution and the big bang?” and makes the observation that “To many scientists and educators, the answer to that question is an unqualified ‘no.'”

Now I accept Big Bang cosmology, and “evolution” too when it is defined as “change over time.” But if one defines evolution as meaning “universal common ancestry” or the idea that “natural selection acting on random mutations is the driving force generating life’s diversity,” then on scientific grounds I reject evolution. If you too harbor scientific doubts about universal common ancestry or natural selection, then join the club of the apparently scientifically illiterate.

So who exactly are those “scientists and educators” who demand full acceptance of “evolution” if you want to qualify as being scientifically literate? One example given by the Science article is:

Joshua Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California, which has fought to keep creationism out of the science classroom, also finds the reports disheartening. “Whatever the cultural context or reasons for it, rejection of evolution has profound consequences for a person’s ability to fully integrate new and existing science into their own lives, to participate in their own medical care and in the 21st century economy,” he says. “If NSF’s surveys downplay that fundamental concept, they will be measuring science literacy in name only.”

(Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, “New NSF Survey Tries to Separate Knowledge and Belief,” Science, Vol. 333:394 (July 22, 2011).)

The problem with Mr. Rosenau’s argument is that there are plenty of highly scientifically trained people who doubt core aspects of modern evolutionary theory for scientific reasons. These scientists understand evolutionary theory perfectly well. They just don’t find it to be a persuasive account of the evidence. It’s pretty much impossible to argue with a straight face that they lack scientific literacy.

The good news is that some academics aren’t buying the Darwin lobby’s politically contrived definitions of “science literacy.” According to the Science article:

Bruce Lewenstein, a sociologist at Cornell University who was on the Toumey panel, thinks critics are overreacting. He says the distinction between knowledge and belief is important and must be understood to get a clearer picture of the public’s knowledge of science. “Knowledge and belief are not the same,” he says. “It might be politically useful for the scientific community to pretend that they are the same, but it would not be intellectually honest.”

Lewenstein is correct: science literacy requires an understanding and knowledge of the claims of evolutionary theory, not an unabashed capitulation to the whole story. One can have a perfectly competent scientific understanding of modern evolutionary theory and still not believe it’s a valid explanation of the evidence. Some politically motivated Darwin lobbyists like to pretend that such a position is not possible.

To maintain that pretension, they redefine “scientific literacy” from “an understanding of evolution” to “full-blown acceptance of evolution.”

Unfortunately, when Darwin activists redefine scientific literacy from an understanding of science into wholesale capitulation to the evolutionary “consensus,” true scientific literacy — including the right to debate and dissent — gets left in the dust.

(For a further discussion of this issue, see “Scientocracy Rules: Creating Consensus Is the PC Way to Get Smart.”)


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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