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NSTA-Endorsed Teaching Tool Says Darwinian Evolution “Is Mindless and Has No Purpose”

Casey Luskin

We recently saw that the U.S. National Academy of Sciences published a new guide for teacher teaching evolution, which explains that the “implications” of evolution include accepting “randomness and unpredictability, a lack of a grand design, a perception that the theory portends a loss of meaning and purpose in our lives.”

Now, the National Sciences Teachers Association (NSTA) — an ardently pro-evolution outfit — is promoting a new evolution teaching-tool, intended to be shown to students and highlighted by similarly materialistic language.

Using a title that sounds kind of like it was ripped off from Jonathan Wells’s “Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution,” the NSTA-endorsed curriculum consists of a DVD and booklet collectively titled Evo: Ten Questions Everyone Should Ask about Evolution. In the opening lesson, “What is Evolution?,” we’re told that the answer to any questions about how organisms arose is, naturally, “evolution.” Douglas Futuyma — a widely known evolution textbook author — makes the pitch:

That led me to be interested in learning how all these wonderful organisms had come to be, and the answer to that of course is evolution. (emphasis added)

The film then sets out to gain the trust of students, as a prelude to converting them from what it calls their “creationist” beliefs.

The video focuses on a meeting of evolutionary biologists who “agree about the basics of evolution.” It then says: “These scientists are our guides.” In other words, trust what the “scientists” say at every step. Just in case any doubt remains, the film later states, “there is no controversy within the scientific community about Darwin’s basic ideas.”

The next segment, “Who was Charles Darwin?,” continues in the same conversionary vein. It discusses the mockingbirds Darwin studied on the Galápagos islands, noting that isolated populations of birds on different islands evolved differently. According to the video, “Eventually, after a long time, they each became a different species.” The film then shows drawings of those three different “species” of mocking birds — which to my eyes look essentially identical. Not much evidence for evolution here.

If the film had its way, this extremely modest evidence for “evolution” would overturn the most cherished beliefs of its viewers. According to the video, Darwin reasoned that if the mockingbirds shared a common ancestry, then maybe “all organisms — all of life — had descended from one common ancestor.” It’s here that the film’s evangelizing efforts really get going. It notes that Darwin started off as a “creationist,” but then says: “While this conclusion went against Darwin’s basic beliefs, he didn’t turn away from the evidence.” The not-so-subtle message is that you too shouldn’t shy away from giving up your “creationist” beliefs, to become an evolutionist.

A later segment features Daniel Dennett, who wrote in his book Breaking the Spell that others may see him as “just another liberal professor trying to cajole them [his readers] out of some of their convictions, and they are dead right about that — that’s what I am, and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.” Dennett explains how natural selection works. He’s indeed not shy about driving home the materialist message:

I think that the idea of evolution by natural selection is first of all the best idea anybody ever had — I’d give it the prize if somebody would let me. But it’s also a very scary idea because it simply turns upside down a very traditional way of thinking. …

We look around the world and see that everything is wonderfully designed. The wing of the eagle, the human eye, the way flowering plants work. Everything we see in nature is magnificently designed — there’s no question about that. Where on earth did this design come from? The traditional answer is from something even more wonderful still — namely from God.

What Darwin showed is, there’s another answer. That design can percolate from the bottom up. We can have a process which is itself not designed, which is mindless and has no purpose. There’s a purely mechanical process that just grinds away for billions of years, and it produces things that are ever-more designed, so that it takes all that design work which traditionally was assigned to “the creator,” and it breaks it up into trillions of little pieces that are mindlessly accumulated by this process, this very abstract process of natural selection. (emphasis added)

Later, the film again features Douglas Futuyma claiming mutations are random, and that natural selection lacks purpose: “It’s very hard to predict what the next mutation would be … so that aspect of evolution is random. But the other aspect of evolution, the one that Darwin recognized and conceived of — namely natural selection, is not random. It doesn’t have a purpose…It’s predictable but it’s not random.” This comports with what Futuyma who wrote in one of his own biology textbooks:

By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of the life processes superfluous.

(Evolutionary Biology, p. 5 (3d ed., Sinaeur Associates, 1998).)

So there’s the message of this NSTA-endorsed curriculum in a nutshell: Darwinian evolution “is itself not designed” but “is mindless and has no purpose.” The booklet that comes with the video says much the same thing, stating that “natural selection lacks purpose.” (p. 52)

Using Inherit the Wind to Bully Students for Darwin
Natural selection may lack any purpose, but this film certainly doesn’t. The video sends the clear message that if students don’t surrender to Darwin they’ll get called names — such as “evolution denier” and “creationist.” In the segment, “What is the controversy?,” the video warns that “there are some people who deny evolution,” and says “most of these evolution deniers are creationists.”

It then shows clips from the fictional movie Inherit the Wind where the “John Scopes” character is placed under arrest for teaching evolution. The hymn “Give Me That Old-Time Religion” plays in the background throughout the segment, while the film shows newspaper clippings that try to paint Darwin-skeptics as censors.

The film then turns to intelligent design, and discusses the Dover case, asserting that “in this case, the evolution deniers argued that there is a legitimate science called intelligent design that should be taught in biology classes.” Of course, the film quotes Judge Jones saying ID is nothing more than a religious belief.

The message is that Darwin-skeptics are trying to censor Darwinism in the name of “old-time religion.” And if you agree with them, you’re a “denier” who promotes “censorship.” Of course, no mention is made of the fact that today it’s the Darwin lobby that aims to enforce censorship — trying to conceal from students any evidence that challenges Darwinian evolution.

This continues the NSTA’s longstanding clever scheme — which we’ve discussed before — of engaging in outright censorship directed against non-Darwinian scientific viewpoints, while simultaneously trying to convince the world that it’s the opponents of Darwin who are the censors.


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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