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Discovery Institute Weighs In

Published in Bitterroot Star (Montana)

Dear Editor,

Abraham Lincoln is often credited for the old maxim that “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” If this statement is true then matters do not sit well for a few of the more extreme Darwinists who have made some ill-informed and irresponsible claims about the proposed science policy at issue before the Darby School Board.

Fortunately, the word is getting out about what the policy actually says about teaching evolution. And the record is now being set straight: the Darby proposal is a modest compromise. It is perfectly constitutional for students to learn scientific critiques of scientific theories.

Contrary to some claims, the proposed policy before the Darby Board does not require students to learn about the theory of intelligent design. Nor does it remove any information about Darwinian evolution from students’ curricula. Instead, the policy calls for students to learn even more about evolution. Students would learn about the scientific criticisms of Darwin’s theory as well as its scientific merits.

Noting that scientific knowledge is subject to change in the light of new discoveries, the proposed policy restates key provisions from Montana’s current science standards. It goes on to state, “Teachers in the Darby School District are encouraged to help students assess evidence for and against theories, to analyze the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories, including the Theory of Evolution, by giving examples of scientific innovation or discovery challenging commonly held perceptions.”

Unfortunately, a few members on the Darwinist fringe have claimed, falsely, that it is somehow unconstitutional to adopt such a policy. US Supreme Court precedent, Congressional policy and recent experience in other states contradict them. It is perfectly constitutional for students to learn scientific critiques of existing scientific theories.

In the case of Edwards v. Aguillard (1987), the Supreme Court’s seminal decision on the issue of origins science in public classrooms, the court was clear that critical thinking and academic freedom is to be protected. It stated: “We do not imply that a legislature could never require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught.”

The Conference Committee Report of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 expresses the view of Congress concerning controversial scientific theories. The Report says that where controversial topics like biological evolution exist, students should be able to “understand the full range of scientific views that exist.” In fact, Congress has been so serious in this regard that it will be conducting hearings upon the Report language and its implementation early next month in Washington D.C.*

In 2002, after one year of careful study, the Ohio State Board of Education unanimously adopted the following benchmark as part of its science standards: “Students should know why scientists today continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.” The Ohio standard was adopted without any legal challenge, and Darby would by no means be breaking new ground in adopting the proposed policy. If this policy is good enough for students in other states and school districts, why would it not be good enough for students in Darby?

A few individuals opposing the proposed policy have hoped to divert the public’s attention from the real issues by focusing on the motives of the policy supporters, instead of focusing on the evidence.

For instance, last month Mr. John Schneeberger wrote a letter to the editor that sounded more like a fundraising letter for his small local group. He ducked the scientific controversy and focused instead upon the perceived motives of the Discovery Institute and one of its donors. For the record, the Discovery Institute is a national public policy think-tank, and the nation’s leading think-tank supporting research and scholarship critical of neo-Darwinian theory. His attacks upon Mr. Howard Ahmanson (a contributor to Discovery Institute) as a supposed supporter of theocracy are blatantly false and erroneous. Had Mr. Schneeberger bothered to research his claims rather than following a set of talking points from the Darwin lobby, he would realize that Mr. Ahmanson supports democracy and contributes to an assortment of human rights and relief organizations, and also that major newspapers in Ohio and Texas have acknowledged that such claims about Howard Ahmanson are completely baseless.

More to the point, attacks on personal motives are contrary to the scientific enterprise and irrelevant to the issue being considered in Montana. Such attacks are a last ditch, long-shot effort to distract citizens from a sound and careful policy that offers a middle-of-the-road compromise that will enhance students’ science education.

Charles Darwin wrote that a fair result can only be obtained by balancing the facts and argument on both sides of each question. The proposed policy would allow for such a fair result in Darby’s science classes.

Seth L. Cooper, J.D.
Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture

*Note: The hearings mentioned have since been postponed.