Was Darwin Wrong?

Since the Election, the religious right has taken Bush’s victory as a mandate for their agenda. From the “moral values” of sexual politics to media obscenity, the religious right is flexing its muscle. One area is educational curricula, particularly an increased attack on evolution.

In this environment, National Geographic magazine’s November issue is timely with its article Was Darwin Wrong? And its answer is clear: No.

Discussing Darwin’s big four categories of evidence, biogeography, paleontology, embryology, and morphology, National Geographic reminds us that evolution is by far the best explanation for how we are here, and the explanation which fits much more of the evidence. Of course, some of Darwin’s details have proven to be wrong, but his overall idea has been nothing but strengthened as more evidence has been discovered.

However, the American educational system is being dragged away from this.

In addition to other challenges to evolution in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and other states, the Cobb County, Georgia, school board placed stickers in high school biology textbooks that said

This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.

Is there anything wrong with this sticker? Obviously someone thinks so, because the ACLU sued to block the stickers. Why?

These stickers are a problem because they treat evolution as different from other science. This is wrong for two reasons.

First, “(e)volution is a theory, not a fact” is misleading. In everyday speech, theory means and idea or unproven opinion. In science, that concept is encapsulated in the word hypothesis. In science, theory means ” a model or idea that has undergone testing or validation from careful observations and can be used to make a variety of predictions of what will happen under different circumstances” [Nanjing University]. As the National Geographic article states,

If you are skeptical by nature, unfamiliar with the terminology of science, and unaware of the overwhelming evidence, you might even be tempted to say that (evolution)’s “just” a theory. In the same sense, relativity as described by Albert Einstein is “just” a theory. The notion that Earth orbits around the sun rather than vice versa, offered by Copernicus in 1543, is a theory. Continental drift is a theory. The existence, structure, and dynamics of atoms? Atomic theory. Even electricity is a theoretical construct, involving electrons, which are tiny units of charged mass that no one has ever seen.

Second, all science “should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.” In fact, that’s the whole meaning and purpose of science. If students are told that evolution, and only evolution, should be doubted, they are given an inaccurate impression of both science and the nature of evolution.

Without scientific advancement, America’s pre-eminence in technology, business, communications, the military, and every other field cannot be maintained. Sacrificing America’s future by misleading our students is a horrible bargain.

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About Lance Finney

Father of two boys, Java developer, Ethical Humanist, and world traveler (when I can sneak it in). Contributor to Grounded Parents.
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