The National Research Council, a division of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS), has a new book out titled Thinking Evolutionarily. Aimed at teachers, the book is surprisingly candid about what “thinking evolutionarily” means.
In the Introduction and Overview, it offers typical overstatements of the importance of Darwinian evolution — familiar creedal declarations like “Evolution is the central unifying theme of biology,” and “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,” as well as new formulations like “Everything in biology makes more sense in the light of evolution” and “Evolution — say it every day.”
But judged for candor, most striking of all is this from Susan Kassouf, who represents one of the main backers of the project:
Getting one’s head, heart, and soul around the scientific theory of evolution and its implications is daunting … While our awe and wonder about the world may deepen in light of evolutionary theory — indeed, evolution does seem miraculous — our minds may also boggle and buckle when coming to terms with a certain fundamental randomness and unpredictability, a lack of a grand design, a perception that the theory portends a loss of meaning and purpose in our lives.
Yes, that’s right: the National Academy of Sciences just published a book stating that “thinking evolutionarily” means “coming to terms with a certain fundamental randomness and unpredictability, a lack of a grand design.” Is this what the NAS wants teachers telling students are the “implications” of evolution?
Of course, this contradicts prior statements from the NAS that have tried to portray evolution and religion as the very best of friends. In 1984, the NAS published a booklet on evolution stating, “It is false…to think that the theory of evolution represents an irreconcilable conflict between religion and science.” In 1999, the NAS published a second booklet preaching that “many scientists are deeply religious,” and “science and religion occupy two separate realms of human experience.”
The next, and most recent official NAS statement was issued in 2008 when a third booklet emphatically declared “the evidence for evolution can be fully compatible with religious faith.”
In admitting that Darwinian evolution means embracing “fundamental randomness and unpredictability” and a “lack of a grand design” — the NAS has gone fundamentally off-message. It will be time soon for a new booklet reemphasizing the party line.