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The Evolution Controversy Comes to Indian Schools

Sarah Chaffee

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Let no one think that debates about Darwin are limited to Western countries. Recently, I came across an article in an Indian newspaper, the Deccan Herald, reporting on calls for the removal of evolution from school textbooks in India’s southwestern state of Karnataka:

Branding Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution as unscientific, the Karnataka Unaided Schools Management Association (Kusma) is in the works to move the Union and State governments to remove it from school textbooks.

“Very shortly, the administrators and I will be calling a press conference to address the need to shelve Darwin’s theory of evolution from our school text books. We will be requesting both the Union and State Governments to make necessary changes to our textbooks,” said K V Dhananjay, legal counsel, Kusma.

While the news account is brief, this does not sound like a very good idea. Although we think that scientific evidence does not support neo-Darwinism, quality science education necessitates teaching students the strengths and weaknesses of evolution. As a result, Discovery Institute would never support removing evolution from the curriculum.

Still, it is commendable that the Karanataka Unaided Schools Management Association recognizes that teaching evolution as dogma is bad pedagogy.

Dhananjay further said that unlike the Constitutions of other countries, the Constitution of India expressly says that its citizens and children should cultivate scientific temper and rational thought. “When school children are repeatedly told that Darwin’s theory is already a scientific fact, their constitutional right to a scientifically acceptable curriculum is violated,” he said.

However, saying that this demonstrates a “need to shelve Darwin’s theory of evolution from our school textbooks” is a different matter. We disagree with KUSMA’s conclusion. As we put it in our Science Education Policy, “evolution should be taught as a scientific theory that is open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can’t be questioned.”

KUSMA’s reaction, however, is not uncommon. Some private and home schools may want to focus on intelligent design and omit evolution from their curriculum. That would be a mistake. Although we think the evidence points to design, and it is fine if non-public schools want to discuss it, evolution is a widely held and historically significant theory. It is a matter of basic scientific literacy for students to understand the full range of scientific views on evolutionary theory.

We recognize the difficulty that many textbooks present a one-sided view of evolution. For schools in Karnataka or anywhere for that matter, as well as for adults and others looking for appropriate educational resources, we recommend Explore Evolution, our textbook that presents both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory.

India’s constitution says its citizens have a fundamental duty “to develop the scientific temper.” That is a very fine and progressive idea, but how does one go about doing so? Teaching students how to engage in scientific inquiry by critically analyzing scientific theories, such as evolution, is one way. In the U.S. and beyond, educators should aim to train students to think like scientists.

Image: Mallikarjuna and Kasivisvanatha temples, Karnataka, by Dineshkannambadi at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Sarah Chaffee

Now a teacher, Sarah Chaffee served as Program Officer in Education and Public Policy at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. She earned her B.A. in Government. During college she interned at Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler’s office and for Prison Fellowship Ministries. Before coming to Discovery, she worked for a private land trust with holdings in the Southwest.

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