dlaycock at MAIL.LAW.UTEXAS.EDU
Sun Mar 8 12:39:38 PST 1998
Several people in this thread have commented, in various ways, that
it would be much better if evolution were taught in a more sophisticated
way, with attention to limits, gaps, and criticisms as well as to the basic
theory, and in a way which would make it easier for students to reconcile
their religious faith with their science class without rejecting either.
This seems so obvious and sensible, so why does it so rarely happen?
This may be a special case of what happens to an issue when the
people on each side with the most intense views take the lead. My
impression is that there has been serious intransigence on all sides. The
outspoken creationists, being far less sophisticated folks than their
defenders on this list, don't want evolution taught better; they want it not
taught at all.
The scientific community perceives itself as under seige, and it
responds with the mentality of not saying any thing that might give comfort
to the enemy. Doubts, limits, and criticisms are for scientific journals;
statements to the public come out overbroad and unqualified.. There is also
the genuine pedagogical problem that you need to give students a good grasp
of a body of knowledge or belief before you can invite them to intelligently
debate it and make up their own mind about it.
Some on the scientific side do indeed claim evolution in support of
their atheism, thus doing exactly what the creationists accuse them of..
They make the obviously fallacious argument that if science can identify a
way in which life *could have* appeared without a Creator, then life *did*
appear without a Creator. They forget the significance of one of their
other favorite arguments -- that religion (or creationism) isn't science
because it's nonfalsifiable. If it's nonfalsifiable, then they have not
proven it false. Dawkins is probably the leading example.
The center is not dead, but it has a hard time making itself heard.
Eugenie Scott has a very good article in the July/August issue of the
newsletter of the National Center for Science Education, entitled Dealing
with Anti-Evolutionism, in which she emphasizes ways for teachers to enable
students to see that they are not being asked to abandon their faith. It
would help a lot if every teacher and textbook author took that article to
heart. And this is coming from an organization whose primary mission seems
to be to defend the teaching of evolution and to combat creationism.
The same issue reports that the national association of biology
teachers just adopted a statement on teaching evolution, in which they
removed two words from the draft. One was "undirected," and the other
similarly implied a claim that evolution happened without a God. (I
apologize for the vagueness, but I am doing this from memory; the issue has
disappeared into a stack in the mess that passes for my office.) The
association's leadership seemed surprised that anyone took these words in
the draft to imply claims about religion, but took them out to avoid
misunderstanding. Now they are being criticized by their own hardliners
who say it was a mistake to cave in and take the words out. The hardliners
say evolution means atheism.
One of the moderates seemed highly surprised when I said this is a
self-defeating argument. If evolution means atheism, they really can't
teach it in the schools.
University of Texas Law School
727 E. Dean Keeton St.
Austin, TX 78705
dlaycock at mail.law.utexas.edu
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