Evolutionists Split over Biology Lessons

By Witham, Larry | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 24, 1998 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Evolutionists Split over Biology Lessons

Witham, Larry, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)

An effort by biology teachers to accurately define evolution, a topic they must present in the nation's high schools, has split top American evolutionists over the correct approach to take. The dividing line is whether presentation of Charles Darwin's idea about the origin of natural diversity, including humans, must sidestep the question of God's existence or rebut it head-on.

"There seems to be in the social discussion a lot of confusion on what evolution is," said Alvin Plantinga, a University of Notre Dame philosopher whose fall letter to the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) spurred the new debate.

The letter prompted the NABT board, which represents 8,000 biology teachers, to alter a key paragraph in its statement on teaching evolution so it did not offend religious Americans.

In protest, another group of ardent evolutionists said the move was an unnecessary concession to creationists.

The NABT asked critics to submit alternatives that might unite biologists on the issue. "At NABT we welcome an open and honest debate on the merits," said Wayne Carley, executive director of the NABT.

"It is a living document," he said of the organization's three-page 1995 "Statement on the Teaching of Evolution." "I don't anticipate more changes in the document soon."

Mr. Plantinga said that Darwinism presents the concepts of "descent with modification" and the rise of new species by natural selection - but that many Darwinists also conclude that evolution refutes God's existence.

"The first two seem like appropriate scientific themes," Mr. Plantinga said. "The third seems like a theological gloss."

His letter to the NABT last fall, also signed by world religions scholar Huston Smith, questioned the association's saying that evolution is an "unsupervised, impersonal" natural process.

That might offend many Americans, Mr. Plantinga and Mr. Smith added, because 90 percent of them believe "a personal agent - God - supervised in some way our arrival on the planet."

Mr. Carley now agrees. "To say that evolution is unsupervised is to make a theological statement," not a scientific one, he said.

The NABT board meeting in October at first voted against dropping the words "unsupervised" and "impersonal." Later, at the urging of Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), an anti-creationist group, a new vote favored the deletion.

Then battle lines were drawn among evolutionists.

University of Tennessee botanist Massimo Pigliucci issued a protest statement. To date, it has garnered the signatures of more than 100 evolutionists.

Dropping the two words "represents the first wedge of a movement intended to surreptitiously introduce religious teachings into our public schools," Mr. Pigliucci's statement said.

In an interview yesterday, he said he is working with other biologists to draft new wording that does not compromise but also does not insult American believers.

"It is not going to be perceived as `in-your-face,' " like the 1995 statement, Mr. Pigliucci said. "But evolution will be presented as a naturalistic process."

His group will submit their alternative to the NABT board. His co-writers include Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin and Brian Charlesworth, president of the Society for the Study of Evolution.

After the protest earlier this month, Mrs. Scott of the NCSE circulated her response to what she called "l'affaire NABT."

"NABT was not knuckling under to creationist pressure, but responding in a responsible manner to a perception on the part of religious Americans that it was making an antireligious statement," Mrs. Scott said.

While the debate over evolution and God as creator may prompt many Americans to think of the 1925 John Scopes "Monkey Trial," Mr.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Evolutionists Split over Biology Lessons


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?