Teach Critiques of Darwin, Too

Fred Cutting
Tallahassee Democrat
February 4, 2008
Original Article

As a retired engineer and a member of the Framers' Committee for Florida's new science standards, I must express a deep concern about part of the proposed standards.

At our May framers' meeting, a major concern from the experts brought in was that in the United States we are teaching science "a mile wide and an inch deep." American students are each a walking encyclopedia of facts without sufficient depth of understanding of the underlying concepts in science.

In order to remedy this problem, the Proposed Florida Science Standards included a requirement that students must "recognize that the strength and usefulness of a scientific claim is established through scientific argumentation, which depends on the use of critical and logical thinking, and the active consideration of alternative scientific explanations to explain all the data presented."

This is a good approach to science education. Somewhat inexplicably, however, there is no indicator in the proposed standards that applies this philosophy of science education to the teaching of evolution.

We do not advance science by canonizing our predecessors but by challenging our successors. What challenge is there if we tell students "this is the only way to look at this issue"? As a member of the Framers' Committee, I am submitting a minority report suggesting that the following language be adopted into Florida's science standards:

"Students should learn why some scientists give scientific critiques of standard models of neo-Darwinian evolution or models of the chemical origin of life."

I oppose including religion in the science classroom, and this proposal in no way brings religion into the science classroom. There are serious scientific critiques of neo-Darwinism that deserve to be heard by students. This is a scientific debate, not a religious one.

It is a great improvement that the proposed standards teach students more about evolution. But as currently written, four of the proposed standards take a dogmatic tone that does not reflect the true nature of science and dramatically overstates the degree of proof supporting Neo-Darwinian evolution and theories of chemical evolution.

For example, the proposed Florida science standards claim that, "Evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence." This is true for micro-evolution but not so for origination of organismal forms or the origination of life itself (i.e. macro-evolution).

If Florida students are to remain competitive in science, students need to see how scientists debate important topics, such as Darwinian evolution or the chemical origin of life. We sincerely hope that the Florida State Board of Education will remain open to these requests for the sake of our students and the excellence of Florida's science education.