How Should Schools Teach Evolution?

Don't Forget Weaknesses in Theory
Bruce Chapman
Dallas Morning News
September 21, 2003
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Some people don't want Charles Darwin's theory of evolution taught in public schools, while some others don't want anything taught that might contradict it. Both are wrong.

Texas law calls for textbooks to provide both "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. A recent Zogby poll showed overwhelming support among Texans (75 percent) for that approach on teaching evolution. The support reached across all demographic groups.

At the national level, language connected with the No Child Left Behind Act said, "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."

Darwinist die-hards have persuaded some in the media and on state school boards that the federal language wasn't really "official." So, in a letter released a few days ago, the chairs of the House and Senate Education committees that wrote the act forcefully repeated that state science standards should "not be used to censor debate" on Darwin's theory. States can defy Congress without losing federal aid, but there is no mistaking the official congressional view.

Darwinism is a theory in crisis.

More and more scientists question the Darwinian claim that all of life's complexity is the result of natural selection working on random mutations. Nearly 300 scientists, including 40 Texans, have signed a statement expressing such skepticism.

Other scientists, such as Dr. J.Y. Chen of China, one of the world's leading paleontologists, have argued that the fossil record from the "Cambrian explosion" of animal life "is basically in conflict with Darwinian evolution."

Biologist Giuseppe Sermonti, editor of the peer-reviewed European journal Revista Biologia, says dryly, "Darwinism is the politically correct of science." Political correctness, he points out, never has served the cause of academic freedom and true science.

Yet textbooks continue to ignore the growing scientific skepticism. Some textbooks even perpetuate long-discredited proofs for Darwin's theory, such as embryo drawings from the 19th century that purport to show that many animals – from fish to people – look virtually identical in the earliest stages of embryonic development. Although it has been known in scientific literature for years that the drawings are wildly inaccurate, three textbooks proposed for Texas still include them.

But Darwinists aren't about to admit any errors, even when textbooks disagree among themselves. Take the Cambrian explosion. If all of the textbooks are just fine, as the Darwinists assert, are we to believe the text that says it took place over a period of 20 million years or the one that says 160 million years or the ones that ignore the event altogether? Somebody is wrong. But Darwinists want the state school board to pretend otherwise.

Such errors and factual disagreements are rife in the high school biology text accounts of evolution, whether it is the story of the "peppered moth" or the study of finch beaks on the Galapagos Islands. In each case, experts not only have shown the Texas school board the errors but also have backed them with copious examples of peer-reviewed science literature.

Instead of answering the charges of scientific errors, the defenders of Darwinism are trying to change the subject to ... religion.

Their tactic is to label any scientific critic a "religious rightist" or "creationist," even though creationism teaches the literal biblical account of life's origin, while none of the scientists drawing the Darwinists' ire shares that position.

Many are indeed Christians of various kinds, but others aren't even religious. But in all of those cases, so what? Unless a scientist's work is corrupted by his personal faith or an anti-religious animus, it shouldn't matter to the integrity of his science.

Darwin's theory certainly does have implications for religion, philosophy and sociology. That is why it excites such passions. Let historians and philosophers explore those topics to their hearts' content. But keep the topic of religion and the philosophy of anti-religion out of high school science classes and textbooks.

Congress, more and more scientists and most Texans agree: Students should know all about Darwin's theory. Just make sure that includes the growing scientific dispute of its key "proofs."

Bruce K. Chapman, former director of the U. S. Census Bureau and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Organizations in Vienna, is president of the Discovery Institute. His e-mail address is