[Update, 9/24/12: BioLogos should be commended for removing the inaccurate statement that Tennessee’s 2012 Academic Freedom Law is “opposed to teaching evolution,” and that the law is similar to other laws that “have not survived the scrutiny of the courts.” This is good, though it’s still disconcerting that BioLogos relies on advocates of science-censorship like the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) when discussing evolution-education in public schools.]
For better or worse, the stated purpose of the BioLogos Foundation is to create “a community of evangelical Christians committed to exploring and celebrating the compatibility of evolutionary creation and biblical faith.” Nothing about this organization’s mission, as BioLogos itself describes its goals, has anything to do with involvement in public school educational issues. So why is BioLogos promoting false claims about evolution-education in public schools, following the lead of a top Darwin-lobbying group, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE)?
Last month, the BioLogos Editorial Team presented an infographic on public school evolution-education titled “The State of Evolution.” The infographic borrows and promotes NCSE information, stating:
Americans of many backgrounds and beliefs want to improve science education, including the teaching of evolution. The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is an organization seeking to keep evolution in the science classroom. In early 2012, NCSE ranked the science standards of the 50 states and the District of Columbia and awarded grades from A to F.
The infographic then adopts, repeats, and promotes false NCSE talking points about specific states. For example, the infographic parrots the NCSE’s false charge that because Tennessee’s 2012 academic freedom law allows teachers to “teach the weaknesses of evolution” it is “opposed to teaching evolution” — and claims that it’s similar to other laws that “have not survived the scrutiny of the courts.”
Those claims are simply not true. It’s false to equate defending the right of teachers to “teach the weaknesses of evolution” with being “opposed to teaching evolution.” Tennessee’s law does not forbid teaching evolution. Quite to the contrary, teachers are required to teach the standard pro-evolution curriculum, as before. The law protects the rights of teachers to teach the evidence for evolution just as much as the evidence against. This is not some wacky law promoting Biblical creationism. It is precisely the approach that numerous secular educators, including leading science education theorists, say is the best way to teach scientific concepts.
Moreover, there has never been even one court case over a modern-day academic freedom law, so it cannot possibly be true that similar laws have been struck down. If any case is relevant to academic freedom legislation, that would be Edwards v. Aguillard, in which the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed:
We do not imply that a legislature could never require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught.
(Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 593-594 (1987).)
That language declares it legal to teach scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories like neo-Darwinian evolution.
Why Is BioLogos Doing This?
It’s true that Americans of many backgrounds and beliefs want to improve science education, but why does BioLogos adopt the NCSE’s approach, which most Americans oppose? The NCSE seeks to enforce teaching only the evidence for Darwinian evolution, but polls show that 78 percent of Americans want teachers to teach both the scientific evidence for and against Darwinian theory. Support for this approach is strikingly bipartisan. Indeed poll breakdowns show that over 70 percent of both self-identified “Democrats,” “liberals,” “Republicans,” and “conservatives” want teachers and students to have the “academic freedom to discuss both the strengths and weaknesses of evolution as a scientific theory.”
This is what Americans want. This is what makes for good science education. Again, I ask: Why is BioLogos promoting the NCSE’s approach, which represents a major part of what’s wrong in science education today?
The NCSE stands for censorship, pure and simple. I’ve dealt with the NCSE in numerous state and local educational battles over the past seven years, and in every single one they advocate exactly the same thing: censoring education to hide from students any knowledge of the serious discussion going in mainstream science today of the evidence that challenges Darwinian evolution. Is this what BioLogos, a self-identified Christian education organization, supports?
Unfortunately, the infographic suggests this might be the case. The infographic lauds a 2011 survey from Science which lamented the fact that only 28% of biology teachers teach evolution in a pro-Darwin-only dogmatic fashion. Likewise, the BioLogos infographic states: “The inconsistency in science education standards across the country means that many students are not learning the scientific evidence for evolution.” Yes, it’s a problem when students don’t learn the case for evolution, but this is a gross mis-statement of the real problem. Far and away, the biggest problem in evolution-education is that the vast vast majority of students learn ONLY the evidence for Darwinian evolution, and all scientific challenges to neo-Darwinism are censored from the classroom. BioLogos’s Infographic complains only about the small percentage of students who don’t learn the case for evolution, but makes no mention of the much larger — even huge — percentage of students who learn ONLY the evidence for evolution but the evidence against is censored. So if BioLogos is concerned about inadequate evolution-instruction, the specific problem they choose to complain about reveals much about their perspective.
Also ironic is that at the same time the NCSE advocates censorship, they seek to brand their opponents as censors. The truth, of course, is that leaders in the intelligent-design movement are not at all trying to keep evolution out of the classroom. Again, to the contrary. It is the ID community, not the NCSE, that is consistent with what Americans of many backgrounds and beliefs want. The vast majority of Americans want both the evidence for and against evolution taught. Contra the NCSE’s narrative, they don’t “oppose” teaching evolution, and they don’t want the NCSE’s approach. Insofar as BioLogos adopts the NCSE’s rhetoric on evolution-education in public schools, Americans overwhelmingly reject BioLogos’s approach as well.
It’s one thing to take a pro-evolution view, and if BioLogos does this, OK fine. But taking a pro-Darwin view therefore doesn’t mean you have to endorse the one-sided education policies of the Darwin Lobby. After all, as seen in the chart above, the ID movement readily endorses teaching students about scientific viewpoints we disagree with. The Darwin Lobby, in contrast, only wants students to learn about one view–their own.
Let’s hope more people — including those at BioLogos — stop endorsing one-sided NCSE-style science education and adopt the reasonable, tolerant, and pedagogically superior position that just because you disagree with a viewpoint doesn’t mean you have to endorse censoring it from students in public schools.