Academic freedom and evolution

Original Article

Our nation presently is embroiled in a debate over whether educators and researchers should have academic freedom to dissent from Darwin in the classroom.

One side claims there is a real scientific controversy over neo-Darwinian evolution and that students deserve to hear about both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of biological evolution.

The other side, which just recently won a battle over science standards in Florida, claims there are no scientific doubts over neo-Darwinian evolution and therefore it should be hailed in classrooms as the fundamental principal underlying all of biology. Under their vision, Darwin-skeptics need not apply.

In January, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences weighed in on this debate, declaring that ““[t]here is no scientific controversy about the basic facts of evolution,”” because neo-Darwinism is “”so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter”” it. As an undergraduate and graduate student taking multiple courses covering evolutionary biology at the University of California San Diego, that is what I was told as well. My science courses rarely, if ever, allowed students to seriously entertain the possibility that Darwin’s theory might be fundamentally flawed.

For this reason, in 1999 I co-founded the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness, or IDEA, Club at UCSD, which drew many students and faculty who discussed the possibility that modern Darwinian theory is essentially wrong. It was only after starting this student club that I learned just how much real dissent from neo-Darwinism exists in the scientific community.

During my undergraduate studies, I read a controversial book, ““Darwin’s Black Box,”” by Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe, which argued that biochemists have opened the ““black box”” of the cell and discovered micro-world molecular machines that function like a factory, or a miniature city. Indeed, more than 700 scientists have signed a statement agreeing that such integrated, organized complexity of life is not what we would expect from a random-and-unguided process like Darwinian evolution (see

Even scientists who reject intelligent design find that neo-Darwinism is lacking. Five years after Behe’s book, biochemist Franklin Harold stated in an Oxford University Press monograph that ““there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations.””

Similarly, NAS member Lynn Margulis admitted that “”Mutations, in summary, tend to induce sickness, death or deficiencies. No evidence in the vast literature of heredity changes shows unambiguous evidence that random mutation itself, even with geographical isolation of populations, leads to [new species].””

Darwinists often laud the alleged success of evolutionary science in aiding research, but some scientists believe the theory does not provide much guidance for scientific advance. In 2005, another NAS member, Philip Skell, wrote in The Scientist that, “”Darwinian evolution– whatever its other virtues –does not provide a fruitful heuristic in experimental biology . . . the claim that it is the cornerstone of modern experimental biology will be met with quiet skepticism from a growing number of scientists in fields where theories actually do serve as cornerstones for tangible breakthroughs.””

Even when trying to fight anti-biotic resistant bugs, Darwinism provides little guidance beyond the truism that bacteria that are insensitive to a drug will produce more offspring, while those that are susceptible to a drug will die off. It is probably for this reason that evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne admitted in Nature that ““if truth be told, evolution hasn’t yielded many practical or commercial benefits. Yes, bacteria evolve drug resistance, and yes, we must take countermeasures, but beyond that there is not much to say.””

To actually outsmart superbugs, biomedical researchers must intelligently design drug cocktails that rely upon the fact that there are limits to how much microorganisms can evolve.

Sadly, it is not uncommon for the academy to be intolerant of dissent from Darwinism. One achievement of the IDEA Club was to provide a “”safe-house”” for faculty and students who were skeptical of evolution but feared openly expressing their views among their colleagues.

If you think I’m making this up, consider the NAS’s statement that “”there is no scientific controversy” over Neo-Darwinian evolution.” Imagine you are a UCSD biologist with fundamental doubts about Darwinism but you see the most influential science organization in the country asserting that your views don’t exist. Does that make you feel free to express your views in the laboratory or the classroom? I think not.

Next month, a documentary will be released featuring Ben Stein titled ““Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,”” that recounts the stories of scientists who experienced persecution because they questioned evolution. One scientist was Richard Sternberg, a biologist at the Smithsonian with two Ph.D.s in evolution, who was harassed and intimidated because he was a skeptic of neo-Darwinism. Another biologist, Caroline Crocker, lost her job at George Mason University because she challenged evolution in a classroom.

No wonder Darwinists confidently assert there is no controversy over evolution: They actively shut down such scientific debates from taking place.

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.