Friedrich Nietzsche once famously pronounced that “God is dead.” The eminent scholar Philip Johnson added that Darwin provided the murder weapon. Until the time of Darwin, it was held that nature gave powerful evidence of design—it was something that was made, not a random occurrence.
In our schools today, science textbooks present Darwin’s theory of evolution as fact. Others beg to differ. Recently, the Ohio State Board of Education challenged Darwinism by mandating critical analysis of the 150-year-old theory. Ohio is the first state to adopt the science standards in the wake of the No Child Left Behind Act, which includes legislation calling for the analysis of Darwin’s theory.
For the past year, debate has raged in Ohio over whether alternate theories such as Intelligent Design (ID) should be included alongside evolution in science classes (for more information on ID, see “Does Science Point to God?” in the April 2003 issue). Proponents of ID believe that nature includes features that are best explained scientifically by reference to intelligent causes. Supporters for a change in teaching standards in Ohio want the board to teach the controversial evidence that challenges Darwin’s theory.
Critics of the alternate theories, such as the newly formed Ohio Citizens for Science, claim that theories such as ID are not scientifically sound and shouldn’t be taught in the classroom. Despite a recent poll that shows overwhelming support for the teaching of alternate theories, these critics continue to resist.
This opposition is surprising since there’s an increasing body of scientific evidence that suggests an alternate theory to Darwinian evolution is possible. Research has shown that the odds of even one small protein molecule being shaped by a combination of chance and natural selection is astronomically small. Thus, some kind of ordering intelligence may be the best scientific explanation for the emergence of extraordinarily complex information systems, such as the coding of DNA. Many scientists contend that alternate theories regarding the development of complex biological forms—including intelligent agency—are better explanations of what we see in biology than Darwinism. In the past two years, nearly 200 scientists have gone on record, despite a significant risk to their careers, calling for renewed vigor in examining Darwin’s theory.
It’s clear that those who oppose teaching alternate theories are trying to propagate a particular worldview—one that denies that God is even a possible cause for anything we observe in the cosmos or in biology. For instance, their argument for not wanting to include ID is that they fear it’s simply Creationism in disguise and, hence, that it propagates religion in public schools. Nothing could be further from the truth; in fact, the very opposite is true. By monolithically imposing Darwin’s theory of evolution—despite recent evidence questioning its validity—these opponents are guilty of propagating their own secular brand of religion in schools; that is, a militant atheism that denies the world could have been created by some greater force.
Despite the opposition from the Ohio Citizens for Science, the Ohio board has made a significant step toward ensuring accurate science education by including a critical analysis of Darwinism in its teaching standards. Students will be exposed to the full range of scientific evidence that exists concerning biological evolution—that is, evidence for and against Darwin’s theory. This is in keeping with the amendment I drafted in the Conference Report of the No Child Left Behind Act that stipulates: “Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.”
The Ohio board’s decision is a victory for intellectual diversity. Students should be taught a variety of viewpoints in the classroom, deciding for themselves which is most convincing. Of course, not every possible intellectual or scientific controversy should be taught in public schools; to do so would be license for chaos in the classroom. But when it comes to such a key element of a major scientific field, it makes sense to teach students about the flaws and weaknesses in the theory, especially when the scientific evidence has broader implications for society.
Dissenting theories should not be suppressed but discussed openly. To do otherwise is to violate freedom of thought. Such efforts at censorship abrogate critical thinking and will ultimately thwart scientific progress. Moreover, under current Supreme Court precedent, students and teachers don’t lose their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate and shouldn’t be forced to declare allegiance to any particular orthodoxy. Intellectual freedom in the classroom must be protected from the dangers of political correctness.
The bipartisan amendment of the Conference Report of the No Child Left Behind Act was adopted 91-8 by the Senate—strongly supported by both Republicans and Democrats. In short, the belief that students should be taught alternate scientific points of view, no matter how controversial, is not a conservative or liberal position; rather, it’s a pro-education, pro-learning position that champions excellence in the classroom.