The Dangers of Neutrality in the Origins Debate

Article excerpt

One lesson learned through bitter experience in history is that the pursuit of knowledge in all fields, and especially science, requires the freedom to explore new ideas and areas of knowledge without hindrance from state or church authorities. The classic example is Lysenkoism which the Soviet government concluded was "the only truly scientific and materialistic theory of heredity constructed on the basis of dialectical materialism." (1) Lysenko marched "under the banner of reconstruction of biological science on the basis of Darwinism raised to the level of Marxism." (2) In the end Lysenkoism had disastrous consequences not only for agriculture, but for "the whole of biology" and for the "national economy" in the Soviet Union and several eastern block countries. (3) This concern was drummed into us students in both my undergraduate and graduate training at Wayne State University in Detroit. For these reasons, a major professional concern of mine is academic freedom. This communication explains one more reason why over thirty years later I am still concerned about academic freedom.

Around 1976 I wrote a monograph on the creation-evolution controversy. After several revisions, including a review by several American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) members, the monograph was published in 1979 by the first publisher that I sent it to--Phi Delta Kappa, the education honor society (4) located in Bloomington, Indiana. Titled Teaching About the Creation/Evolution Controversy, (5) the publication was very successful; a recent Worldcat search (6) located a copy in over six hundred libraries. Probably more than six hundred libraries in fact have copies because the 45-page monograph was published as part of a series called Fastbacks in which the monographs on a wide variety of educational topics are often not cataloged separately. Part of the reason why so many copies are in libraries is because the Fastback series was well received; the publisher informed me that my monograph in particular was one of the best selling of the series. In the monograph, I tried to objectively review the origins controversy, providing both historical and scientific information. I did not advocate teaching creation in the monograph but, as the title says, focused on teaching about the controversy. This communication explores the personal repercussions that resulted from the publication of this monograph.

When I started writing the monograph, I was an agnostic and an evolutionist exploring this issue and, for this reason, had an interest in the topic. My personal position at this time was in flux, although by the time the monograph was published my doubts about both Christianity and orthodox Darwinism were beginning to solidify. Endeavoring to avoid an advocacy position for either side, I maintained the neutral tone of the original monograph during the final editing process. The reviews were very favorable to my approach, and this is one reason why Phi Delta Kappa wanted to publish my monograph.

Under the title "Bergman Scores with a Fastback," Iowa State University biochemist Walter Hearn wrote in the Newsletter of the American Scientific Affiliation:

   Jerry Bergman's latest publication is a winner. Entitled Teaching
   About the Creation/Evolution Controversy, it's a 45-page booklet in
   the "Fastback" series put out by the Phi Delta Kappa Educational
   Foundation. Phi Delta Kappa is a prestigious organization in
   educational circles. Something like 20,000 copies of each Fastback
   are printed initially, with copies sent to most educational
   journals for review. We ... recommend it as a thoughtful discussion
   of the philosophical and educational aspects of the controversy.
   Jerry argues for teaching alternative concepts of origins,
   concluding: "The schools should be forums for debate and discussion
   of all topics. To exclude discussion of life's origins because they
   involve religious views does not do justice to the educational
   enterprise. …