Should Students Be Taught the Truth about Evolution?

The World and I, March 2001 | Go to article overview
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Should Students Be Taught the Truth about Evolution?


To the Editor:

In his review of my recent book, Icons of Evolution, in the February issue of The World & I, University of Kansas paleontologist Larry Martin concludes that although the book is full of sound and fury, it doesn't signify much. But Professor Martin has ignored or distorted my main points.

Icons of Evolution relies on published scientific reports to show that biology textbooks systematically misrepresent the evidence for Darwinian evolution, substituting "icons" for facts. It also points out that many biology textbooks use Darwinism to promote an antireligious philosophy and argues that this has no legitimate place in publicly funded science education.

Some dogmatic Darwinists have attacked me personally for bringing these textbook misrepresentations to public attention--accusing me of being a dishonest scholar or a religious fundamentalist. I am happy to say that Martin does not descend to this level; he even graciously acknowledges that I have gotten my biological facts straight.

But Martin's criticisms do follow a pattern typical of many other Darwinists. First, he defends the superficial outlines of the textbook icons but ignores their profound distortions of the truth. Second, although my book does not criticize evolution from a theological perspective, Martin relies on theological arguments to defend it. Third, he falsely accuses me of wanting to "take the teaching of evolution out of schools" and to "suppress philosophical viewpoints" that disagree with my own.

On the first point: Most biology textbooks ignore the Cambrian explosion, in which the fossil record shows the major types of animals (technically called phyla) appearing together, fully formed, rather than diverging gradually from a common ancestor as Darwin's theory requires. Martin changes the topic to extinction, then glosses over the conflict between evolutionary theory (in which major differences are supposed to appear after minor ones) and the fossil evidence (which shows the opposite).

Martin briefly notes that I "attack ... the embryological support for evolution." But he completely ignores the substance of my chapter on embryology. Charles Darwin believed that the "strongest single class of facts" supporting his theory was the supposed similarity of vertebrate embryos in their earliest stages, which (he thought) demonstrated their descent from a common ancestor. In making his claim, Darwin relied on drawings made by his German contemporary, Ernst Haeckel. But Haeckel faked his drawings and was accused of fraud by his colleagues.

Yet Haeckel's drawings (or some form of them) are still used in most modern biology textbooks as evidence for evolution. "We do, I think, have the right," Stephen Jay Gould wrote in 2000, "to be both astonished and ashamed by the century of mindless recycling that has led to the persistence of these drawings in a large number, if not a majority, of modern textbooks."

Then there's the story of peppered moths. Most current biology textbooks carry photos of these moths on tree trunks, claiming that experiments performed in the 1950s showed that natural selection (stemming from camouflage differences and predatory birds) made dark- colored moths more common during the Industrial Revolution.

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