In a recent post from the Discovery Institute, Casey Luskin writes that "Texas Darwinists Reject the Scientific Method of Analyzing “Strengths and Weaknesses” of Scientific Theories." The post argues that it is fundamentally unscientific to not teach the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution (read: teach the controversy) to students. Luskin’s writing is in regard to the Texas State Board of Education proposal to remove the above language from their academic standards.
As I have written before, terms like "academic freedom" and "strengths and weaknesses" are words that sound innocuous when referring to evolution, but really are a stealth attack on teaching reality. Does it really make sense for the classrooms of elementary and secondary education to critically analyze the strengths and weaknesses of a theory that has withstood 150 years of scientific inquiry by thousand of professional scientists?
So I guess the new bill does not leave any room for flexibility in the students mind about the theory? That is what Casey Luskin and the Discovery Institute imply. Well, here are a few select passages from the proposed standards (emphasis mine):
The student knows evolutionary theory is an explanation for the diversity of life…
[students will] evaluate models according to their limitations in representing biological objects or events.
So, evolutionary theory is AN explanation for the diversity of life; it is not THE explanation for the diversity of life. So students can see that there are other options out there, and they also see that these are models that have limitations. Seems pretty reasonable to me without requiring the bogus “weaknesses” requirement.
Here is another one from the proposal (originally taken from the National Academy of Sciences):
Scientific explanations are open to testing under different conditions, over time, and by independent scientific researchers. Many theories in science are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially; however, they are subject to continuing refinement as new areas of science emerge or as new technologies enable observations and experiments that were not possible previously.
Yup, the new standards still say that science is subject to change as new information becomes available. Not nearly as dogmatic as we are led to believe.
Still, is there really any harm with leaving a few criticisms of evolution in the lesson plan? Luskin brings up some of the potential problems as illustrated by the NCSE in a recent article. One is that it will "dilute the treatment of evolution." This seems pretty straight forward to me. More time teaching criticisms means less time teaching the theory. The NCSE also says that teaching evolution will "damage and corrupt science textbooks." This is because it would allow board members to reject any textbook simply because it doesn’t substantially address strengths and weaknesses despite it being the best book in every other regard.
But what does Luskin say about these criticisms by the NCSE?
"Such authoritarian statements have no place in science, and they serve to indoctrinate students rather than teach students how to think critically and skeptically—like scientists. "
Ignoring the point that these students are not qualified to really critically analyze evolutionary theory, the question is then, how much evidence is enough that it wouldn’t be considered indoctrination? Would any amount ever be enough for creation/ intelligent design proponents? A scientific theory can never be really proven; it can only be disproven. Evolution has never been disproven and it has had plenty of chances for it to be wrong. Over the 150 years since its inception, it has only increased in validity with increasing evidence. Teaching reality is not indoctrination.
Here is an interesting quote from the post:
Discovery Institute believes that if scientists can dispute the core claims of neo-Darwinism (as these scientists do), then students can learn about those views:
Good, something we can agree on. If and/ or when scientists can actually discover something that disputes the core of evolution, then I would be all in favor for it. However, there would need to be some strongly compelling evidence. So far, there is no evidence, let alone compelling evidence. On the other hand, I have seen plenty of pseudoscientific views that are against evolution.
Don’t forget, evolution could be easily disproven. If a precambrian rabbit was found, that would completely disprove evolution. If we found out that the human gene for cytochrome C was more similar to an amoeba’s cytochrome C than to a chimpanzee, then that would disprove evolution. Every new gene sequence and every new fossil find could potentially disprove evolution, but none have. Until that time, we should teach evolution as it is, and not waste student’s time with pseudoscientific criticism that have no basis in reality.