Teaching Evolution to Creationists

By Henderson, James R | Sociological Viewpoints, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Teaching Evolution to Creationists


Henderson, James R, Sociological Viewpoints


ABSTRACT

Symptomatic of the widespread societal phenomenon of people taking a non-evidence-based view of many aspects of their lives is the acceptance of creationism and intelligent design as scientific theories. The present work explains why these doctrines are not scientific and offers techniques for dealing with creationists and adherents of intelligent design in biology class. Intelligent design will be shown to be non-scientific because of its non-falsifiable nature: adherents of this doctrine make no unambiguous predictions essential to their characteristic claim, that life on earth was designed by an intelligent agent. Creationism will be attacked on two fronts. Its central thesis, that God created all life in its present form, entails that any fact could theoretically be accounted for, so it, too, is non-falsifiable. Historically, however, this has not been the gambit of creationists. They have made many bold predictions, almost all of which are demonstrably false. Hence, if creationism is treated as a scientific theory, it can be shown to be a failed one. Considerable time will be spent showing how these conclusions may be argued for in the biology classroom.

INTRODUCTION

It is not uncommon for those teaching college courses involving the interplay between science and religion to find themselves educating students about the issues surrounding the creationism/evolution debate. If recent poll results are anything close to accurate, this material will be presented to an audience that, primarily, has creationist leanings. These students are not alone. Indeed, since 1980 two US presidents have explicitly voiced support for the teaching of creationism and/or intelligent design (ID) in public schools. While biologists see teaching students about Darwinian evolution as an end in itself, some philosophers see it as an opportunity to also teach students about religion. Anything, and this includes an understanding of evolution by means of natural selection, that helps students escape from the straightjacket of religious-stories-as-newspaper-accounts is a good thing. The power of the religious myth is as a metaphor - its strength lies not in its denotation, but in its connotation. One of the most damaging things about creationism is that it takes religion to be denotative.

In any event, the public debate about creationism in the classroom is not limited to statements of politicians. Suits demanding equal time for creation science have been brought in Arkansas (1981) and Louisiana (decided by the Supreme Court in 1987). Two suits brought in California (1981 and 1994) have sought to eliminate evolution from biology curricula in public schools, and suits have been brought in Louisiana (1994 [decided in 1999]), Oklahoma (2000), Georgia (2005), and Pennsylvania (2006) to insert disclaimers into textbooks. In Ohio there are several challenges pending to a statewide science curriculum decision to offer intelligent design as a scientific alternative to evolution. Kansas is also famously involved in this debate.

It is interesting to note how setbacks in the courts have changed the nature of creationists' legal challenges to evolution over time. Before 1980, challenges were largely based on outlawing the teaching of evolution. After 1980, equal time was demanded for creation science. Finally, the debate has now shifted to pressuring the publishing industry to limit coverage of evolution and include coverage of intelligent design and creation science in textbooks. This last tactic is particularly disturbing as high school textbook content is disproportionately determined by California and Texas school boards since these states have so many school districts and mean big sales for publishers - disturbing because the Texas state republican platform includes a plank demanding equal time for intelligent design (Texas GOP 2006).

This latest reincarnation of the creationist movement is undoubtedly symptomatic of a larger, ever-present societal urge to take a non-evidence-based view towards many aspects of life. …

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