Preparing Students to Intelligently Question Darwin This Fall

Original Article

My large, inner-city public high school was rich in diversity, and I learned to appreciate a multiplicity of viewpoints and backgrounds.

Unfortunately, this diversity did not extend into the biology classroom. There I was told there was one, and only one, acceptable perspective regarding origins: neo-Darwinian evolution.

November marks the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and so students can expect to be exposed to one-sided presentations of Darwin’s theory with even more fervor than usual. Pastors, parents, and youth workers all need to be ready to help students deal with the questions and confusion they may experience as a result.

After attending public schools from kindergarten through graduate school, and after studying evolution extensively, I have come up with three practical tips for how students can keep a level head when studying the origin of life:

Tip #1: Never opt out of learning evolution.

Despite the one-sided nature of evolution-education, I found that the more evolutionary biology I took, the more I became convinced that the theory was based upon unproven assumptions, contradictory methodologies, and supported weakly by the data. So my first tip is to never be afraid to study evolution. But when studying evolution, always think critically and stay proactively informed about a diversity of viewpoints.

Tip #2: Think for yourself, think critically, and question assumptions.

Though my professors rarely (if ever) would acknowledge it, I quickly discovered in college that nearly all evolutionary claims are based upon assumptions. Modern evolutionary theory is assumed to be true, and then the data is interpreted based upon Darwinian assumptions. The challenge for the truth-seeking student is to separate the raw data from the assumptions that guide interpretation of the data.

Beware circular evolutionary reasoning. Very quickly, evolutionary assumptions become “facts,” and future data must be assembled in order to be consistent with those “facts.”

Realize that evolutionary thinking often employs contradictory logic and inconsistent methodologies. The logic employed to infer evolution in situation A may be precisely the exact opposite of the logic used to infer evolution in situation B. For example:

  • Biological similarity between two species implies inheritance from a common ancestor (i.e. vertical common descent) except for when it doesn’t (and then they appeal to processes like “convergent evolution” or “horizontal gene transfer”).
  • Neo-Darwinism predicts transitional forms may be found, but when they’re not found, that just shows that the transitions took place too rapidly and in populations too small to (statistically speaking) become fossilized.
  • Evolutionary genetics predicts the genome will be full of useless junk DNA, except for when we discover function for such “junk” DNA. Then evolution predicts that cells would never retain useless junk DNA in the first place.

Finally, students must be careful to always think independently. Everyone wants to be “scientifically literate,” but the Darwin lobby pressures people by redefining “scientific literacy” to mean “acceptance of evolution” rather than “an independent mind who understands science and forms its own informed opinions.” Evolutionary thinking banks on you letting down your guard and letting its assumptions slip into your thought processes. This is why it’s vital to think for yourself, and identify and question assumptions.

Tip #3: Proactively study credible scientific viewpoints that dissent from Darwinism.

The Darwinian educational establishment doesn’t make it easy to become objectively informed on the debate over evolution and intelligent design (ID), but with a little self-initiative, it can be done.

To gain a balanced understanding of the scientific evidence, students may need to take the time to pro-actively research the pro-ID scientific arguments that many faculty may be opposing, misrepresenting, or perhaps even outright censoring. Yes, take courses advocating evolution. But also read material from credible Darwin skeptics to learn about other viewpoints. Only then can one truly make up his mind in an informed fashion.

To help students learn about scientific viewpoints that dissent from modern evolutionary biology, Discovery Institute has recently released a free online “College Student’s Back to School Guide on Intelligent Design.” The guidebook can be used by students of many ages. It offers suggested readings as well as direct rebuttals to common misinformation promoted by anti-ID professors, such as “Intelligent Design Has Been Refuted by the Overwhelming Evidence for Neo-Darwinian Evolution.”

While academia’s intolerance towards the pro-ID viewpoint may be intimidating, students studying this topic should not be discouraged: If the evidence were on their side, ID’s critics would not resort to such extreme tactics of indoctrination.

Self-initiated critical thinking can be a tall task, but seeking the truth is worth every mental calorie expended. After all, Darwin himself said, “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.”

The College Student’s Back to School Guide on Intelligent Design can be downloaded here.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.