Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

It Keeps Going and Going

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

It Keeps Going and Going

Article excerpt

LIKE THE Energizer bunny, the anti-evolution forces just keep on going and going. Certainly, they share the stick-to-itiveness of the plucky little pink rabbit, but what they're up to is serious business.

By now, most Kappan readers have probably heard about the one-page insert that the Alabama State Board of Education was planning to place in that state's 10th-grade biology textbooks. It was once supposed to describe evolution as a "controversial theory" and to warn readers that "any statement about life's origins should be considered as theory, not fact." But cooler heads have since prevailed, and the insert has now been reduced to a single sentence: "Evolution should be treated as theory, not fact."

This strikes me as a reasonable revision for two reasons. First, the theory of evolution makes no claims about how life on this planet began, so the matter of "life's origins" is not in any way central to it. Indeed, Stanley Miller of the University of California at San Diego--the original chef who in the early 1950s cooked up a batch of primordial broth, added simulated lightning, and created organic compounds--was seeking only to show that the materials of life might have formed in conditions thought to exist on the early Earth. These days, he is pursuing the role that PNA (the "P" is for peptide) might have played in the genesis of life as precursor to both RNA and DNA.

Whatever conclusions Miller and his colleagues ultimately draw from their current research will show only that the basic building blocks of life might have been created by means of certain chemical mechanisms. Science has so far proved unable to say anything about the role of the divine in creation.

The second reason that the revised Alabama insert is a step in the right direction has to do with that old bugbear of education's underbrush: unanticipated consequences. …

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