As a Ph.D. with 30 years of experience within academia, government and industry, I am appalled that anyone interested in improving science education within the state of Tennessee could be opposed to William Dunn's House Bill 368.
The Wall Street Journal reported that 80 percent of our high school seniors nationwide are now scoring below proficiency in science and mathematics (January 26). Moreover, our country has now slipped to 31st in world science and math education. It is clear that something is wrong with our approach to teaching and something must be done for the welfare of our kids, our state and our great nation.
Mr. Dunn's timely amendment (HB 368) offers an improvement in our approach to science education. The bill simply proposes that public teachers be permitted to allow critical analysis of scientific theories within the public classroom. Two UT science department chairs testified in opposition to the bill. What strikes me as odd is how academic scientists could argue with an approach that, in all honesty, molded them into the professionals that they are today. What I am talking about is advanced critical thinking and analysis that lies at the very core of a scientist's world. A well functioning peer review system challenges a scientist's thinking and ensures critical and constructive discourse.
This is the scientific process. Why would we deprive our future scientists from understanding how to critically challenge and assess scientific theories?
Those who oppose the bill seem to be focused on the teaching of evolution as a non-controversial fact. But are there controversies associated with theories such as full Darwinian macroevolution? Sure there are. Michael Behe, a biochemist from Lehigh University, recently published a book entitled: The Edge of Evolution, the Search for the Limits of Darwinism. In it he notes that plasmodium bacteria, which cause malaria, have developed resistance to new drugs. This is indeed a form of evolutionary change through adaptation. But why is it that these bugs have not evolved significantly in other ways? Why is it that malaria is still confined to the tropics and has not evolved to thrive in more temperate regions? He then argues that there are limitations or boundaries to classic Darwinian evolution. Dr. Behe is not alone in questioning apparent boundaries.
I am not writing to argue for or against macroevolution or any other scientific theory. But the bottom line is that critical thinking and analysis fosters good science. For high schoolers, their love of science and acumen for it will not come from memorizing and repeating textbook prose, but rather by diving into the strengths and weaknesses of theories such as evolution.
Amazing biomedical advances are on the horizon, and these will drive economic growth in the decades to come, and the seeds of creativeness and innovation are sowed early in the high school years. Let us not deprive our kids, our state and our nation of the opportunity to regain our world prominence in science, technology and economic might.
Robin D. Zimmer, who lives in Knoxville, is a private biotech consultant and affiliate of the Center for Faith and Science International, which was founded to assist faith-based organizations such as churches better understand the importance and benefits of science and how it relates to their faith.