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Media Advisory on Evolution Controversies

Contact: Rob Crowther, 206-292-0401 x 107 rob@discovery.org

As you report on controversies over evolution and intelligent design, here are some facts you might find useful:

1. There is a growing scientific controversy over Darwinian evolution.

a) Today there are critics of Darwinian evolution within the scientific community, including biologists at mainstream American universities. In 2001, more than 100 scientists including scholars at such institutions as Yale, Princeton, MIT, and the Smithsonian signed a public statement announcing that they were “skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.” [A complete list of these scientists can be found in A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism.]

b) Because of the scientific critics of Darwin’s theory, it is misleading to present the modern controversy over Darwinian evolution as a simplistic battle between “science” and “religious fundamentalists.” Accurate reporting on this issue should do justice to the complexities of the real situation, not resurrect stereotypes from the fictional movie Inherit the Wind.

2. It is constitutional and legal for teachers to teach about the scientific controversies surrounding Darwinian evolution.

a) The courts have frowned upon raising religious objections to evolution in science classrooms, but these legal restrictions are irrelevant to discussions of scientific controversies over evolution.

b) According to law professor David DeWolf, co-author of the leading law review article about how to teach the evolution controversy legally, there is absolutely no constitutional problem with acquainting students with scientific criticisms of Darwin’s theory currently being made by scientists. [See David DeWolf et. al., Teaching the Origins Controversy: Science, Or Religion, Or Speech? Utah Law Review (2000)].

Teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to schoolchildren might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction.
– U.S. Supreme Court, Edwards vs. Aguillard Ruling (1987)

3. The failure of biology curricula to discuss the weaknesses as well as the strengths of Darwin’s theory is attracting increased criticism from educators, scientists, and the general public.

a) According to biology professor Scott Minnich of the University of Idaho, Darwinian evolution has become “the exceptional area that you can’t criticize” in science education, something he considers “a bad precedent.” In his view, we need to “teach it more, and teach it critically.”

b) According to a 2001 Zogby Poll, an overwhelming majority of Americans (71%) believe that “biology teachers should teach Darwin’s theory of evolution, but also the scientific evidence against it.”

c) Recent scientific reports have shown that some of the most common scientific proofs for Darwin’s theory that are cited in high school and college textbooks are now widely known to be flawed, notably Haeckel’s embryos and the Peppered Moth experiments [see linked NY Times’ articles].

4. Federal education policy as articulated by Congress now calls for an balanced approach when teaching about controversial scientific topics such as evolution.

a) In the Conference Report to the landmark No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Congress clearly advised states to provide for the balanced treatment of controversial scientific issues like evolution. According to Congress, “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, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.” (This language originally came from Sen. Rick Santorum , R-PA, and is sometimes called The Santorum Amendment.)

b) U.S. Senator Robert Byrd (Dem-WV) expressed the sentiments of many lawmakers when he declared that “it is important that students be exposed not only to the theory of evolution, but also to the context in which it is viewed by many in our society. If students cannot learn to debate different viewpoints and to explore a range of theories in the classroom, what hope have we for civil discourse beyond the schoolhouse doors?” [Congressional Record, June 13, 2001]

5. Darwin himself would have likely agreed to a ‘teach the controversy’ approach.

In The Origin of Species Darwin wrote: “A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.”

Conclusion:

Can teachers discuss the scientific controversy over Darwinian theory? Yes, in fact, good education demands it.

About Discovery Institute

Discovery Institute is non-profit, non-partisan policy and research organization on issues from transportation to technology to tax policy. In science education, it supports a “teach the controversy” approach to Darwinian evolution. Its Center for Science and Culture has more than 40 affiliated biologists, biochemists, physicists, philosophers and historians of science, and public policy and legal experts, most of whom also have positions with colleges and universities.

The Center for Science and Culture

Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture advances the understanding that human beings and nature are the result of intelligent design rather than a blind and undirected process. We seek long-term scientific and cultural change through cutting-edge scientific research and scholarship; education and training of young leaders; communication to the general public; and advocacy of academic freedom and free speech for scientists, teachers, and students.