Features

Creation mythology

National | Defenders of Darwinism resort to suppressing data and teaching outright falsehoods

Issue: "Dumpsters or hospitals?," June 24, 2000

What makes science superior to other forms of knowledge, we're told, is that it is self-correcting. But that's not the way science is taught in public schools-as Roger DeHart discovered when he tried to teach his students about recent corrections to Neo-Darwinian theory.

A biology teacher at Burlington-Edison High School outside Seattle, Wash., Mr. DeHart had taught the evidence for and against evolution for 10 years. He had also taught about the alternative theory of intelligent design, using the supplemental textbook Of Pandas and People. With his boyish face and engaging brown eyes, Mr. DeHart was a popular and effective teacher, staging lively classroom debates to help students think independently.

But two years ago, following a student complaint, the ACLU started intimidating the school board with threats of a costly lawsuit. Critics accused Mr. DeHart of teaching creation, though students testified that he did not talk about God or religion in class. Indeed, he presented the issues so objectively, students couldn't even tell what his own position was. Yet in 1998 a new superintendent ordered Mr. DeHart to cease and desist from teaching students about intelligent design; he could, however, still talk about problems in Neo-Darwinism.

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Then this May, the administration imposed even more draconian restrictions. Mr. DeHart wanted to alert students to recent reversals in key evidence for Neo-Darwinism, and sought approval to distribute articles from mainstream scientific journals to correct old, outdated information in the textbooks. Astonishingly, the principal said no. In short, the ACLU's intimidation tactics have been so successful that Mr. DeHart is being compelled to teach a caricature of the scientific method.

For example, the textbook the school requires Mr. DeHart to use presents Stanley Miller's 1953 life-in-a-test-tube experiment as evidence that the building blocks of life arose spontaneously in a "primeval soup" on the early earth. But today most biologists dismiss that experiment as outdated, since it relied on assumptions about the early atmosphere now known to be false. An article in Scientific American tells the story, yet the school forbids Mr. DeHart to tell students how science has corrected itself.

Again, the most famous example of natural selection involves the speckled peppered moth. Supposedly, when industrial pollution darkened tree trunks, birds could see the lighter moths against the blackened trunks, while darker moths blended in and increased in numbers. Yet a recent article in The Scientist reveals that these moths don't even rest on tree trunks-and that photos shown in textbooks were staged: Dead moths were glued onto tree trunks. Yet the school forbids Mr. DeHart to correct this false impression for his students.

Finally, many textbooks include an illustration of vertebrate embryos lined up side by side, supposedly demonstrating common ancestry. Yet as The American Biology Teacher reports, biologists have known for years that these drawings were fudged to look more similar than they really are. Mr. DeHart wants to tell his students the truth, but school officials won't let him.

When defenders of Darwinism are willing to suppress data and teach outright falsehoods, you know they're in trouble. Last April, a teacher who helped write the standard textbook for Alberta high schools admitted in a Canadian newspaper that he and his colleagues "were aware of the questions" about the peppered moth when writing the text. Yet they decided to include the story anyway, he explained, because of its persuasive power ("it is extremely visual"). When students are older, he said, then "they can look at the work critically."

In other words, it's OK to teach false or misleading information, so long as it supports Neo-Darwinism.

Meanwhile, teachers who teach the truth are restricted, and even fired. Kevin Haley was a biology professor at Oregon Community College until this spring, when the administration chose not to renew his contract. His only crime: to expose students to flaws in evolutionary theory.

Darwinism has become our culture's official creation myth, protected by a priesthood as dogmatic as any religious curia. A genuinely scientific approach should be open to corrections and alternatives. Darwinism and design theory are not two different subjects; they are competing answers to the same question: How did life arise and diversify on earth? If one view is taught, teachers should be free to teach other views as well.

This is simply good pedagogy. The reason Roger DeHart and Kevin Haley were such effective teachers is that they helped students weigh the evidence and think critically. They taught students that science really can be self-correcting-if it is free to follow the facts wherever they lead.

Nancy R. Pearcey
Nancy R. Pearcey

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