by Casey Luskin
A public school science instructor recently contacted Discovery Institute to let us know that the required biology curriculum in the teacher's district includes an inaccurate article from the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). Titled "Why Teach Evolution?," the article attempts to frame the debate over Darwinian theory as one of science versus religion. The article tells students that opposition to evolution is religiously based, and denies that there is a real scientific debate over modern Darwinian theory. It also makes fallacious objections to the Dissent from Darwinism list, signed by 900 PhD scientists and registering their disagreement with orthodox evolutionary theory.
I attended public schools from kindergarten through my master's degree, and over the years I took many classes that dealt with the subject of evolution. I'm painfully aware of the censorship and false framing of the evolution debate to which public school students are subjected. My long-standing view is that students absolutely do need to learn about evolution, but they should do so in a complete, objective, and balanced manner, rather than having scientific challenges to Darwinism censored and caricatured as religiously based objections. So, I felt it necessary to write an accurate framing of the issue, which I hope will be beneficial to both teachers and students.
Why Is Darwinian Theory Controversial?
Everyone agrees that Darwinian evolution is a controversial topic. But not everyone agrees on why.
Many advocates of Darwinian evolution promote the stereotype that the theory is controversial only because a small religious segment of society has social, religious, or political objections. These advocates claim that there is no credible scientific disagreement with Darwinian evolution. This, however, is not true. The Scientific Dissent from Darwinism list shows that there is credible scientific dissent from Darwinian theory.
The Scientific Dissent from Darwinism List includes hundreds of PhD scientists who are skeptical of Darwinian evolution. The list shows that it is possible to hold legitimate scientific doubts about Darwinian evolution from a strictly scientific standpoint.
Of course there are some people who have religious objections to Darwinian evolution. Conversely, some people make religious (or anti-religious) arguments for accepting Darwinian evolution. Religion isn't the issue here. The issue is whether it's possible to be a scientific skeptic of Darwinian evolution. The Scientific Dissent from Darwinism List shows that it is.
What Is "Evolution"?
Whenever talking about challenges to "evolution," it's vital to carefully define terms, otherwise confusion can result. There are three common usages of the term "evolution":
- Evolution #1 -- Microevolution: Small-scale changes in a population of organisms.
- Evolution #2 -- Universal Common Descent: The idea that all organisms are related and are descended from a single common ancestor.
- Evolution #3 -- Darwinian Evolution: The view that an unguided process of natural selection acting upon random mutation has been the primary mechanism driving the evolution of life.
No one doubts Evolution #1, which is sometimes called "microevolution." Some scientists doubt Evolution #2. But the Scientific Dissent from Darwinism list only concerns Evolution #3, also called Darwinian evolution or Darwinism. The scientists who have signed the dissent statement say this:
We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.
I defined Evolution #1 by equating it with "microevolution" -- small-scale changes in a population of organisms. Collectively, Evolution #2 and #3 might be termed macroevolution, which is defined as follows:
Macroevolution: Large-scale changes in populations of organisms, including the evolution of fundamentally new biological features. Typically this term also means that all life forms descended from a single common ancestor through unguided natural processes.
Unfortunately, evolutionists sometimes purposefully confuse these definitions, hoping you won't notice that they have overstated their case. They will take evidence for microevolution (Evolution #1), and then over-extrapolate the evidence and claim it supports macroevolution (Evolution #2 or Evolution #3). Indeed, sometimes evolution advocates will equate microevolution and macroevolution, the idea being that macroevolution is just repeated rounds of microevolution added up. I will address these inaccurate claims…
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