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Chaffee, Sewell: “Evolution — More Certain Than Gravity?”


Our contributors Sarah Chaffee and Granville Sewell ask a great question over at The American Specator. Why is evolution, uniquely in the context public school education, treated as the “holy Kaaba of science”?

Imagine two science teachers. Mr. Smith teaches straight out of the textbook. He expects students simply to memorize and correctly regurgitate. The other, Ms. Jones, supplements her teaching with challenging mainstream material that casts the textbook’s position in a new, more critical light. She asks students to weigh some of the evidence for themselves, like real scientists do.

Which sounds like the better teacher?

Or rather, if you are a parent, would you want Smith or Jones teaching your kid? Which sounds stultifying dull and which sounds like a really memorable class?

Evolution Is the Exception

They go on:

This is a question that lawmakers have considered in a series of legislative battles across the country over academic freedom for high school science instructors. The idea that students are well served by creative, challenging instruction would seem uncontroversial. Except, that is, when the subject is evolution. Then all hell breaks loose.

And why do you think that is?

Whether the standard neo-Darwinian mechanism fully explains the origins of biological novelties is a question that scientists themselves increasingly contest. Yet for the media, evolution is the holy Kaaba of science. Resistance verging on hysteria greets attempts to allow teachers to introduce mainstream controversies found in peer-reviewed scientific literature.

Just look at media coverage about Arizona’s state science standards, currently being revised, where minor changes were decried as a wholesale “attack” on evolution. Louisiana passed its academic freedom law, the Louisiana Science Education Act, in 2008 and critics have been denouncing it ever since, dishonestly, for sneaking in instruction about “intelligent design” or “creationism.” Tennessee passed a similar law in 2012, likewise prompting accusations about a “loophole… through which creationism would creep in.”

Discovery Institute participated in crafting some of these laws, and although Discovery is well known for its promotion of intelligent design as a scientific theory, it firmly opposes attempts to push the scientific theory of intelligent design, much less Biblical creationism, into schools. The best academic freedom legislation permits students to learn about the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory, not about alternative scientific or religious ideas.

Then why are efforts to allow teaching the controversy on evolution met with such determined resistance? Is there something special about evolution, setting it apart from other scientific theories?

An Axiom, Not a Mere Idea

Their answer traces back to the 19th century when evolution was established not as an ordinary scientific idea but an axiom, “more certain than gravity.” Naturally, given that, it cannot be challenged in the classroom. Read the rest over there.

Photo credit: Adrian Sampson, via Flickr.