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Psychology Today: There’s No Controversy over Evolution and Besides, We Shouldn’t Teach It in Science Classes

James Madison University psychologist Gregg Henriques has a long article in Psychology Today titled “Teaching the Controversy.” It claims to agree with Rick Santorum’s views on teaching the controversy over evolution:

Although I myself am an academic and a humanist, I actually agree with Rick Santorum on this issue. The controversy should be taught and understood by all educated Americans because it lies at the very heart of the deepest ideological disagreements of our nation.

This sounds very liberal (in the classical sense) and quite reasonable. However, Henriques then explains what he really means is that we shouldn’t teach the controversy, at least not in science classrooms:

An important point of difference I have with Santorum is that I think the controversy should be taught in social studies and political science classes, rather than biology. This is because the real controversy is in the domain of politics and the ideological direction of the country, not in biological science.

Though at first blush Henriques’s position might sound fair, there’s hardly anything praiseworthy about it. When a Darwin lobbyist says “Teach the controversy, but only in social studies or political science class,” that’s usually just a polite academic way of saying ‘the only people with fundamental objections to evolution are anti-science religious fanatics, and we must warn students about the sociology underlying these wacky beliefs.’ Yes, Henriques’s article is more respectful than the usual anti-ID material, but its arguments are little better: Despite how Henriques frames his position, the article holds that there is no real scientific controversy over evolution, and we shouldn’t be teaching it.

The article improves as it goes along, at least temporarily. Henriques offers a fairly accurate description of some common viewpoints in the debate over origins, as well as a somewhat accurate description of what ID proponents think is right, and wrong, with Darwinian evolution. He explains:

In its broadest, most generic sense, evolution means change, growth and development. Everyone agrees that there has been some changes across the across the (recent) generations. That bacteria become more resistant to antibiotics over time is not disputed by anyone. In the political debates about evolution, anti-evolutionists often refer to this as “micro-evolution”, to separate it from “macro-evolution”. The second meaning of the term evolution refers to decent with modification, which refers to the belief that all the life on earth emerged from a common ancestor. This is what anti-evolutionists sometimes refer to as ‘macro-evolution’ (or molecules-to-man evolution) and dispute that this has happened at all. The third meaning of the term evolution refers more directly to Darwin’s theory of natural selection.


[T]hose who support Intelligent Design (ID), generally are not opposed to an ancient earth. Instead, they largely make two claims. First, IDers argue that Darwin’s theory of natural selection cannot account for all biological complexity and go to great lengths to argue that Darwin’s theory of natural selection has been oversold…. The second claim they make is that there is evidence for an intelligent designer. Michael Behe, for example, argued that there was irreducible complexity in the mechanisms of the cell that could only have arisen via a purposeful designer (most but not all IDers believe the designer is a Christian God).

With the exception of the following, everything Henrique just said is more-or-less correct: It’s inappropriate to call someone “anti-evolution” if they accept microevolution, and those he calls “anti-evolutionists” are not the only ones who use terms like “micro-evolution” or “macro-evolution”. Terms like “microevolution” and “macroevolution” are used regularly in the mainstream technical scientific literature, and were not invented by Darwin-skeptics.

Unfortunately, the article then goes back downhill again:

  • Henriques puts in all-caps the statement “CHILDREN SHOULD BE TAUGHT WHY THERE IS SO MUCH CONSENSUS AMONG MAINSTREAM BIOLOGISTS ABOUT EVOLUTION,” as if somehow that’s the end of the conversation. In fact, we would agree with that statement. But when scientists are publishing scientific critiques of core tenets of Darwinian evolution, especially as they are taught in textbooks, good pedagogy dictates that students should be taught about those arguments as well. In fact, if Henriques’s goal is to help students better understand evolution, then he should be aware that students learn science best when taught both the evidence for and against a particular idea.
  • He claims, “ardent supporters of ID do not think ID has reached the status of legitimacy that would result in it being taught in high school classrooms.” He’s right that leading supporters of ID like those associated with Discovery Institute do not advocate pushing ID into public schools, but he’s wrong about our reason for that position. Discovery Institute opposes mandating ID in public schools not because of some deficiency in ID arguments. We think ID has plenty of scientific merit. Rather, the priority of Discovery Institute is to see ID develop as a scientific theory, and forcing ID into public schools would take the debate out of the scientific realm and force it into the political realm.
  • At one point, he writes that the Santorum Amendment “was originally attached to the No Child Left Behind bill, but subsequently was removed.” As explained here and here, that is not exactly correct, and in fact language from the Santorum Amendment was adopted by both Houses of Congress into the conference report of the final N Child Left Behind Act.

Ultimately, Henriques acknowledges that “the completeness of natural selection for explaining evolution is more debated” and “there currently are a number of different elements that are emerging that are causing biologists to question the completeness of the modern synthesis, with some arguing that major, foundational revisions are in order.” But then he also claims “the complications do not challenge the basic outline of ‘molecules to man’ evolution, nor do they point to the existence of an intelligent designer.”

That last statement does not follow.

The “complications” in neo-Darwinism point to the inadequacy of unguided material mechanisms to build new complex biological features. An abundance of scientific papers talk about this, but these problems are hinted at by comments in Nature like “[t]he modern synthesis is remarkably good at modeling the survival of the fittest, but not good at modeling the arrival of the fittest” or “the origin of wings and the invasion of the land … are things that evolutionary theory has told us little about.” In fact, in our experience, the only known cause that builds the kind of specified complexity we see in life is intelligence.

There is plenty of evidence for intelligent design in nature, and Henriques cannot dispose of the argument for design so easily.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, 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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