Standards should treat evolution honestly

Chris L. Thomas & Seth Cooper
Star-Tribune
November 30, 2003
Original article: http://www.startribune.com/stories/1519/4238045.html

If input from the public and outside experts is going to be ignored, why solicit it in the first place?

That's the question Minnesotans should be asking themselves as the drafting of Minnesota's new science standards draws to a close.

Over the past few months, Minnesota's Department of Education has invited extensive public input on a draft of the standards. In response, large numbers of Minnesotans have testified at public hearings or sent in written comments raising questions about how the theory of evolution should be covered.

The overwhelming majority of those comments have criticized the one-sided and inaccurate way Charles Darwin's theory is presented in the draft standards. A University of Minnesota scientist appointed by the state to evaluate the scientific accuracy of the draft standards has made the same point.

Unfortunately, the committee in charge of developing the standards appears to be ignoring all of this input, essentially derailing the public process set up to create the new standards.

In a recent op-ed, Jamie Crandall of the Science Standards Committee tried to justify the committee's refusal to incorporate public input by mischaracterizing what the debate is about. According to Crandall, the issue is whether the theory of intelligent design is included in the standards. That's false.

It is true that some scientists who are critical of Darwin's theory favor an emerging scientific theory known as intelligent design. This new theory is based upon scientific evidence, not religious doctrine. For example, biochemist Michael Behe builds a strong case for design based on a scientific analysis of miniature motors and complex circuits discovered in living cells.

However, most of those seeking more accurate coverage of evolutionary theory in the standards are not asking for intelligent design to be inserted in the standards. Instead, they are simply asking that students learn about all of the evidence about Darwin's theory, not just evidence that happens to support it. After all, that's how science works.

Peer-reviewed science literature now documents the existence of many problems with current evolutionary theory and with its presentation in school textbooks.

For instance, while Darwin's theory purported to explain how life could have grown gradually more complex starting from one or a few simple forms, it did not explain or attempt to explain how life originated. Chemical evolutionary theory (which does try to explain the origin of life) has recently encountered severe scientific criticisms. Yet if the draft standards aren't revised, Minnesota students won't have to learn anything about these scientific debates over the origin of life.

During the coming week, a committee will be meeting to produce a final draft of the science standards. In their deliberations, committee members should remember that they have an obligation to represent the concerns of all the citizens of Minnesota, not just the most dogmatic defenders of Darwin's theory.

They would also do well to recall Darwin's famous words in making their decision: "A fair result can only be obtained by balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question."

If the committee fails to discharge its duty to seriously consider public and professional input, then the governor and the Legislature will have an obligation to ensure that this input is incorporated before the standards are finally approved next February.

Chris L. Thomas is a research scientist in the Twin Cities; Seth L. Cooper is a lawyer with the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture.