Evolution and Academic Freedom

Charles Darwin, father of modern evolution, source of two prime secular falsehoods in America today.
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Evolution rules in public schools today, and school instructors teach uncritical acceptance, not critical examination. A CNAV contributor suggests an alternative, one that challenges evolution on scientific grounds, not theological ones.

Evolution and Academic Freedom

by David Buckna

(submitted as a Letter to the Editor to Conservative News and Views and also to The Denver Post.)

In China we can criticize Darwin but not the government. In America you can criticize the government but not Darwin.

Chinese paleontologist, quoted in Johnson PE, “The Church of Darwin,” The Wall Street Journal, 16 August 1999)

Last Thursday (May 12), mayoral candidates Chris Romer and Michael Hancock were asked at the East High forum whether creationism or intelligent design should be taught in public schools. Hancock answered “yes,” while Romer responded “no.” Later, Hancock clarified his position and said [that] creationism and intelligent design are religious beliefs that have no place in a public school curriculum. (“Denver mayoral candidates face off at pair of forums,” The Denver Post May 13)

Still, I wonder how many students would say they have the academic freedom to critique evolution in their science classes? There should be school district and state polls of high-school and college/university students studying evolution, asking two questions:

In this class:

  1. Is evolution taught as fact, theory, or both fact and theory?
  2. Do you have the academic freedom to critique evolution?

[Students should be asked anonymously]

The same two questions could be asked of their instructors.

The article, “Valley of the Whales”, in the August 2010 issue of National Geographic, is a good example of an evolutionary article. It’s typical of readings given to students studying evolution:

Thirty-seven million years ago, in the waters of the prehistoric Tethys Ocean, a sinuous, 50-foot-long beast with gaping jaws and jagged teeth died and sank to the seafloor.

Over thousands of millennia a mantle of sediment built up over its bones. The sea receded, and as the former seabed became a desert, the wind began to plane away the sandstone and shale above the bones. Slowly the world changed. Shifts in the Earth’s crust pushed India into Asia, heaving up the Himalaya. In Africa, the first human ancestors stood up on their hind legs to walk. The pharaohs built their pyramids. Rome rose, Rome fell. And all the while the wind continued its patient excavation. Then one day Philip Gingerich showed up to finish the job.

Teachers should be encouraged to distribute such articles and three different colored markers to each student, then ask them to mark the verified facts with one color, the opinions with another, and the suppositions with another. Students should be taught to weigh the factual evidence, evaluate statements and recognize the writer’s purpose and point of view.

The following suggested Origins of Life policy, is a realistic, practical and legal way for local and state school boards to achieve a win-win with regard to evolution teaching. Even the ACLU, the NCSE, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State should find the policy acceptable:

As no theory in science is immune from critical examination and evaluation, and recognizing that evolutionary theory is the only approved theory of origins that can be taught in the [school district/state] science curriculum: whenever evolutionary theory is taught, students and teachers are encouraged to discuss the scientific information that supports and questions evolution and its underlying assumptions, in order to promote the development of critical thinking skills. This discussion would include only the scientific evidence/information for and against evolutionary theory, as it seeks to explain the origin of the universe and the diversity of life on our planet.

What follows is a partial list of questions that could be used to critically examine and evaluate evolution. They would make good classroom discussions, initiated by either teacher or student, or research assignments.

  1. Edward Blyth, English chemist/zoologist (and creationist), wrote his first of three major articles on natural selection in The Magazine of Natural History, 24 years before Darwin’s “Origin of Species” was published. Why then, do evolutionists think of natural selection as Darwin’s idea?
  2. On page one of Richard Dawkins’ 1986 book, The Blind Watchmaker, he writes: “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”
    1. If living things look designed—if the empirical evidence suggests purpose—then how do evolutionists know they weren’t designed?
    2. What [are] the criteria for “apparent” design?
  3. How does evolution explain the Cambrian explosion of new life? Stephen Jay Gould noted that the Burgess Shale fossils turn the cone of increasing species diversity predicted by neo-Darwinian theory virtually upside down. Do you agree with Gould’s assessment: that the disparity of the phyla precedes the diversity of species? Isn’t this, in fact, backwards from Darwinian predictions?
  4. How does geology explain dinosaur bones with soft tissue, supposedly dated at “80 million years”? (Schweitzer et al, Science 324:626-631). Watch: 60 Minutes Presents: B-Rex
  5. ARVE Error: need id and provider

  6. Most geologists believe diamonds formed deep below the earth’s surface, 1 to 3 billion years ago. How do these geologists explain the presence of carbon-14 in a number of diamond samples?
  7. All radiometric dating methods assume that:
    1. No decay product was present initially or that initial quantities can be accurately estimated,
    2. the decay system was closed through the years, and
    3. the decay rate was constant over time.

    What conditions could invalidate these assumptions?

  8. Regarding vertical evolution (information-enhancing evolution), can you give an example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome?

If science is a search for truth, no scientific theory should be allowed to freeze into dogma, immune from critical examination and evaluation.

For further reference:

Teaching Evolution– Is There a Better Way?

Teaching Origins in Public Schools

Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution

David Buckna

Editor-in-chief at | + posts

Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

6 Responses to Evolution and Academic Freedom

  1. John says:

    I remember back to when I was in high school, and I had to learn about the theory of evolution. Initially I rejected it, and complained to my science teacher that the theory was dissonant with my personal beliefs, and her’s what she said,
    “Your beliefs are not scientific fact, nor should belief be subject to scientific fact. The two are not the same thing, nor should they attempt to be. You are free to believe whatever you want to believe, and more power to you for having the faith to believe it. But in the science classroom, if you are to understand biology, you must learn the theory of evolution since the past 150 years of progress can only be understood through the lens of evolution.”
    And I realized that I had all of the intellectual freedom in the world, nobody could take from me my belief in god, especially not simply be teaching me something else. I was free to question the theory all I wanted, and my science teacher patiently answered all my questions to the best of her ability, usually to my satisfaction. Eventually, in light of all the evidence, I came to accept that the theory of evolution is probably correct, but this did not mean I stopped believing in God. In fact, if you cannot accept a universe that can tolerate the existence of both God and the theory of evolution, I would suggest that your faith is somewhat limited, and your belief in God is shakier than you’d like to admit.

  2. David says:

    Evolution: The Creation Myth of Our Culture
    by David Buckna (June 26, 2011)

    http://www.trueorigin.org/evomyth01.asp
    http://www.trueorigin.org/evomyth02.asp
    http://www.trueorigin.org/evomyth03.asp
    http://www.trueorigin.org/evomyth04.asp

    • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

      Excellent set of links.

      • John says:

        A terrible set of links. Most of these questions have nothing to do with the theory of evolution, and instead indicate more of a problem with science as a concept than with the theory of evolution. Also, some of the questions are factually wrong to begin with, demonstrating that the author really doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

        But there is one thing I’ve noticed. With science, you can at least make a good faith attempt to answer these questions, by postulating one theory or another. A lot of these questions aren’t far from what might be seen on homework or a test on the subject of evolution anyway, and those that can be answered validate the theory more than the ones that cannot. Science has never claimed to have all the answers. If we had all the answers, we wouldn’t need science.

        With pseudoscience, particularly intelligent design and creationism, you can answer these questions, but every answer is ultimately the same: God did it.

        While that answer might be very simple, and very comforting, it isn’t very useful. There are no applications for that (mis)information.

        Fact of life: Sciences must have direct applications if they are to be studied. Evolution has direct applications. Scientists use the theory of evolution every day to come up with new innovations and discover new things about the universe. This has allowed research in evolution to pay for itself.

        Creation science/intelligent design (since they’re the same thing) has no applications. If it did, that research would pay for itself. Instead it relies on handouts from the naive and willfully ignorant.

        So I’ll grant you that there is not enough academic freedom to study intelligent design in higher academics. Not because intelligent design isn’t allowed to be studied, but because it can’t get any grant money because it cannot provide any useful research or innovation.

        I’m not an atheist, I believe in God, I know God exists in my heart. I also know that God gave me a brain for a reason. If God is the universe, God’s reason for creating me, a part of the universe, is so that God’s universe can learn about itself. God is, obviously, more sophisticate in God’s grand designs than our mortal minds could comprehend. I also know that there is NOTHING I could ever do that would make God stop loving me, and that includes accepting science, not believing in God (God isn’t that petty), and pretty much anything else you can think of, from murder, to taking drugs, to just being impolite, God will always love me unconditionally. I’m not saying it’s right to kill people or be rude, but God will never stop loving any of us.

  3. David says:

    John, which of these origins perspectives is closest to your own view?

    The origin perspectives of evolutionists can be classified into the following general categories–all of which are based on naturalistic philosophy:

    ATHEISTIC NATURALISM God does not exist. There is no real design (only apparent design) and nature is all there is. eg. Carl Sagan:”The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.”; Richard Dawkins: “…although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” (in The Blind Watchmaker”, p. 6)

    AGNOSTIC NATURALISM One is unsure whether God exists. Though nature may not be all there is, nature is all that matters.

    THEISTIC NATURALISM God exists. He designed the natural laws. There is no design in the strict sense, and although _in principle_ nature is not all that matters, _in effect_ it is.

    THEISTIC EVOLUTION God designed the natural laws so that their ordinary operation would result in the intended outcome.

    Phillip Johnson [“Darwin on Trial”] says naturalists define words like “evolution” and “science” in such a way that naturalism is true by definition. Johnson commented in World magazine: “Evolutionary science is based on naturalism and draws philosophical conclusions to that base. That’s why any theistic evolution is inherently superficial. It leads people into naturalistic thinking, and they don’t realize it.” (Nov. 22/97, p.13)

  4. John says:

    This is totally irrelevant, but I’m some sort of theistic naturalist, if I have to pick one of your labels. I would ask you a similar question, but I don’t really care what invented label you want to apply to yourself.

    You’ve moved on from having a problem with evolution to having a problem with science. Congratulations, you have successfully contributed to the continuous marginalization of your nonsense dogma.

    Also, you haven’t addressed any of the points I’ve raised, and instead have pursued what can be inferred as a thinly veiled ad hominem, both against myself and the scientifically curious at large.

    Until such a time as your criticisms show an even basic understanding of the theory of evolution or the scientific method, you can be very safely ignored.

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