February 23, 2004

Georgia, Ohio, and the Developing Dilemma for Darwinists


By Paul Nesselroade

Recently Georgia State’s school superintendent proposed removing the word evolution from the state’s curriculum and replacing it with the phrase “biological changes over time.” Superintendent Kathy Cox insisted that many concepts of evolution would still be taught – only the word itself would be removed from the curriculum.

This curious move by the Georgia superintendent was defended by Superintendent Cox as a way to allow access to the concept of evolution for those who might ordinarily be prevented from reading about it due to its controversial nature. The proposal, which has since been rescinded, drew strong fire from several supporters of the theory - most notably, Former President, and Georgian, Jimmy Carter.

What might have been surprising to some, however, was the response of the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based think tank and leading proponent of Intelligent Design (ID) theory – a competing theory for explaining biological diversity. Rob Crowther, spokesman for the Discovery Institute, upon hearing of the proposal quickly denounced it saying, “This is just absurd. Georgia needs to teach more about evolution, not less.”

Notwithstanding Crowther’s disapproval of the strategy in Georgia, there are several reasons why this most recent flap over evolution may actually prove helpful to the purposes of promoting ID. First, the Georgia story will serve to better distinguish ID from other anti-evolutionary positions. In the minds of many, all opponents of evolution reject it on religious grounds and are therefore fundamentally opposed to its teaching. ID, however, is a scientific challenge to evolution based not on religious teaching, but rather on the interpretation of evidence. As a result, ID is not advanced by censoring either the concept or the term “evolution” in the science curriculum. Supporters of ID, rather, seek to merely create room for a scientific discussion to take place across the academic spectrum on the subject. In essence, the Discovery Institute and other ID proponents want the question of biological origins to be treated like any other scientific dispute – with open debate based on sound reasoning drawn from a careful evaluation of the evidence. This story is an opportunity for ID proponents to stand on the same side as Darwinists regarding the teaching of evolution and in so doing help to carve out a more accurate position and a more appropriate understanding of the ID position in the minds of many who are unfamiliar with the movement.

Secondly, stories like this add to the growing impression that there is indeed a controversy brewing regarding the unchallengeable preeminence of macroevolution as an explanation for biological complexity. Just as it is getting less and less tenable to suggest there is no controversy within science, this story reinforces that the controversy is also very much alive outside of scientific circles. If evolution is such a slam dunk, why are so many people unconvinced? The tired tactic of attempting to explain away any disagreement by pointing to bad theology and/or ignorance becomes more and more difficult each time a community reacts. Unfortunately, Georgia’s proposed reaction to the controversy would not have been helpful to students; however, react they did – and other communities are sure to follow.

In fact, on February 10th the Ohio State Board of Education voted 13-4 on a resolution of intent in favor of adopting “Set A” as the new model curriculum in science. This proposed curriculum includes a lesson entitled “Critical Analysis of Evolution” which exposes students not only to supporting evidence for evolution, but also contradictory evidence. This reaction to dogmatic Darwinism in Ohio is much more in keeping with the position endorsed by the Discovery Institution and most ID supporters – that is, “teach the controversy.”

Thirdly, and in extension of the second point, situations like the one in Georgia are beginning to expose a dilemma for Darwinists. The status quo of giving Darwinian macroevolution the ridiculous, unmerited privilege of being somehow unassailable in the science classroom may not be tolerated much longer. As the pressure builds, evolutionists are going to be forced to make a tough decision. Do they allow acknowledgement of the controversy and assent to a debate within the classroom or might they try to sidestep the controversy by opting for the employment of different terms designed to appease the critics but which also serve to water-down the stronger philosophical implications of the theory? If the latter option is chosen, we might find more and more evolutionists changing course and actually responding favorably to proposals like the one tentatively offered by Superintendent Cox of Georgia.

The strategy for ID proponents, however, is quite clear – let’s teach more not less about evolution. Students need to be very familiar with Darwin’s eloquent theory as well as its supporting evidence – but they also need to be familiar with scientific arguments against it.

Darwinists who were so quick to shout censorship and clamor for the word to be kept in the curriculum in Georgia may start to change their tune if the unsupported claims of Darwinian macroevolution were suddenly treated like all other theories and opened up for legitimate classroom critique. But until that time, let’s treasure the moment when Darwinists and ID proponents alike are calling for the inclusion of evolution in the curriculum. However, as reactions like the ones in Georgia and Ohio become more and more commonplace, the tired mantra that there somehow “is no controversy” will become less and less tenable and the dilemma for Darwinists will grow more and more acute.

Dr. Nesselroade is Associate Professor of Psychology at Asbury College in Kentucky.  Readers are welcome to respond to this column at the ARN Discussion Forum.

Copyright 2004 Paul Nesselroade. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
File Date: 02.23.04