Thursday, June 5, 2008

A New Anti-Evolution Strategy

The New York Times had an interesting article on the latest strategy by opponents of evolution to bring religion into the science classroom:

Opponents of teaching evolution, in a natural selection of sorts, have gradually shed those strategies that have not survived the courts. Over the last decade, creationism has given rise to “creation science,” which became “intelligent design,” which in 2005 was banned from the public school curriculum in Pennsylvania by a federal judge.


Now a battle looms in Texas over science textbooks that teach evolution, and the wrestle for control seizes on three words. None of them are “creationism” or “intelligent design” or even “creator.”



The words are “strengths and weaknesses.”

Starting this summer, the state education board will determine the curriculum for the next decade and decide whether the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution should be taught. The benign-sounding phrase, some argue, is a reasonable effort at balance. But critics say it is a new strategy taking shape across the nation to undermine the teaching of evolution, a way for students to hear religious objections under the heading of scientific discourse.

Already, legislators in a half-dozen states — Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri and South Carolina — have tried to require that classrooms be open to “views about the scientific strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian theory,” according to a petition from the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based strategic center of the intelligent design movement.

. . .

The “strengths and weaknesses” language was slipped into the curriculum standards in Texas to appease creationists when the State Board of Education first mandated the teaching of evolution in the late 1980s. It has had little effect because evolution skeptics have not had enough power on the education board to win the argument that textbooks do not adequately cover the weaknesses of evolution.

“ ‘Strengths and weaknesses’ are regular words that have now been drafted into the rhetorical arsenal of creationists,” said Kathy Miller, director of the Texas Freedom Network, a group that promotes religious freedom.

The chairman of the state education board, Dr. Don McLeroy, a dentist in Central Texas, denies that the phrase “is subterfuge for bringing in creationism.”

“Why in the world would anybody not want to include weaknesses?” Dr. McLeroy said.

The word itself is open to broad interpretation. If the teaching of weaknesses is mandated, a textbook might be forced to say that evolution has an “inability to explain the Cambrian Explosion,” according to the group Texans for Better Science Education, which questions evolution.

The Cambrian Explosion was a period of rapid diversification that evidence suggests began around 550 million years ago and gave rise to most groups of complex organisms and animal forms. Scientists are studying how it unfolded.

Evolution as a principle is not disputed in the scientific mainstream, where the term “theory” does not mean a hunch, but an explanation backed by abundant observation, and where gaps in knowledge are not seen as grounds for doubt but points for future understanding. Over time, research has strengthened the basic tenets of evolution, especially as advances in molecular genetics have allowed biologists to read the history recorded in the DNA of animals and plants.

. . .

“When you consider evolution, there are certainly questions that have yet to be answered,” said Mr. Fisher, science coordinator for the Lewisville Independent School District in North Texas.
But, he added, “a question that has yet to be answered is certainly different from an alleged weakness.”


Mr. Fisher points to the flaws in Darwinian theory that are listed on an anti-evolution Web site, strengthsandweaknesses.org, which is run by Texans for Better Science Education.


“Many of them are decades old,” Mr. Fisher said of the flaws listed. “They’ve all been thoroughly refuted.”



Read it all here.

Evolution, as with any science, is always subject to revision and rethinking. The danger of the "strengths and weaknesses" approach is that it tends to rely on bad or outdated science as to what if a true weakness. What is next? Perhaps "strengths and weakness" of gravity theory? Or germ theory?

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