Should We Teach Reasonable Science or Naturalism or Creationism
Author's Note: A version of this article was originally written when the Pennsylvania General Assembly was considering new science standards in 2001. It was to be printed in the New Castle News in my Critical Thinking column, but due to either its controversial nature or their unwillingness to examine the issue seriously, it was never printed. Pennsylvania's Council of Basic Education voted unanimously to recommend standards that unquestionably supported naturalistic evolution. However, if one reads all of the news reports, you can see how the issue has become focused on only two sides (naturalism vs. young-earth creationism). Instead of allowing good science, the debate has become "which dogmatic religious beliefs should we let in the classroom?"
"Pennsylvania may allow creationism to be taught in schools," stated one headline in the latest chapter of the evolution versus creationism debate. This issue was once again in the news as the Pennsylvania General Assembly considered new science education standards. Like most media reports on science, this issue continues to be detailed at a superficial level. Perhaps this is due to lack of space, time or desire to search through endless scientific literature to find answers. This article will attempt to give a more detailed introduction to the subject. The first step to understanding any topic is to define the relevant terms and exactly who is involved.
The theory of evolution is at the center of the debate. An editorial stated that it is not disputed and yet there are sharp disagreements over specifics. This is true if you first define what you mean by evolution. The ability of species to adapt to environmental changes or other stimuli, and perhaps creating a different species in the process, is usually referred to as microevolution. These different species are related, but rarely, if ever, intermix. It is not uncommon for some adaptations to disappear when the stimuli is removed. No one disputes this process which is often referred to as microevolution.
The part of evolution classified as a "theory" is transspecific evolution, or macroevolution. This states that all life has gradually developed from a single or a few ancestors through various processes.
Whether one can extrapolate microevolution to support macroevolution, or provide any evidence for the latter, is at the heart of the debate. Reading the media reports, one gets the false idea that the debate is science versus religion. A careful look at the primary sides involved shows that both sides often try to inject their philosophical beliefs into the scientific process. This often overshadows those engaged in following the scientific evidence to where it leads, regardless of personal beliefs.
On one side we have the orthodox Darwinists, whom adhere to naturalism which claims science can say nothing about God or a Designer and that the universe is the result of undirected processes. This is a logical fallacy. They are stating "a priori" (before the fact) what science may or may not discover, thus rationalizing their way to preconceived conclusions. This is pursued because if a chance-based universe is not valid, they lose the primary support for naturalism.
They refuse to acknowledge the research of other Darwinists who detail macroevolution's problem explaining sudden species appearance, lack of transitional forms in the fossil record and the complexity of life. Closely related to this position are theistic evolutionists whom are creationists that do not adhere to naturalism, but believe that macroevolution has at least some validity. Another major creationist belief is that of old-earth creationists, whom accept the data of Earth's antiquity, but do not find validity with macroevolution. Obviously, the term "creationist" can be used to describe anyone who believes God had a role in the creation of the universe.
However, the type of creationist that usually defines the second side of the debate are the young-earth creationists. The terms "creationist" or "scientific creationism" nearly always refer to them. They attempt to rationalize science to coincide with their interpretation of the Bible. They propose that the earth is only a few thousand years old as a response to naturalistic evolution. Science and other creationists are adamant that this is contrary to hundreds of dating techniques that consistently date the universe as billions of years old. Human history is also easily traced further back than the 10,000 years usually allowed by young-earth creationists.
The counting of genealogies in the Bible is also used erroneously as a support of young-earthism. What many forget is that in Hebrew tradition many generations are unreported, often counting only the famous or infamous. A comparison of the genealogies confirms this. As for the days in Genesis 1, the original Hebrew can be literally translated three ways. Long ages and 12-hour days are just as literal as 24-hour days. So one cannot claim that "24-hour days" are the only literal view. One must consider other contextual items as a whole, not decide beforehand what the conclusions will be.
Throughout the history of Christianity, the subject has been debated, but never until the late 20th Century have the beliefs of young-earthism and naturalism been so popular and dogmatic. Both the naturalists and the creationists have controlled the debate through emotionalism and propaganda wars. The two groups wanting to replace it with their personal beliefs have corrupted the scientific method with their beliefs. In the process, the issues have been clouded and more reasonable voices unheard.
One middle view, held by scientists of a wide variety of belief systems, is the Theory of Intelligent Design. They have made the claim that modern science shows signs of an intelligent designer. For example, complex information is a clear sign of intelligence. Randomness can produce order, but not complex information such as this article. This creates questions such as where does the complex information in DNA come from? Another illustration is that hundreds of physical constraints must be met just for one planet bearing life to exist. The probability of all these constraints being met by chance is equivalent to zero.
The naturalists do not like it because it talks of a "designer." Some young-earth creationists do not like Intelligent Design because its principal proponents base it on the same science that concludes the universe is ancient. The supporters counter that the theory uses "designer" generically and the universe's old age is supported by hundreds of often simple techniques. If reason and logic lead to a designer, then that is what science will conclude. Specific implications for religion are the domain of theologians or some cross-disciplinary scientists like Dr. Hugh Ross whom formulate their "creation model" with Intelligent Design and the agreement of Scripture.
Would the changes to Pennsylvania's science standards benefit the naturalists or young-earthers? On one hand it hurts both, because some of the proposed changes in the standards prevent any theory from being silenced or minimized. Philosophies will have a harder time masquerading as science. Students will be taught to keep an open mind and look at all of the avenues, rather being force-fed "theories" as facts. This is how science is supposed to work. It does not hide from controversies. (Ultimately, Pennsylvania's Council of Basic Education voted unanimously to recommend standards that unquestionably supported naturalistic evolution instead of proposed standards allowing discussion of other theories.)
On the other hand, the lack of emphasis on the scientific method and logic in the standards highlights a flaw in the system. Without a clear process of inquiry taught, how can students test the theories? We cannot just teach theories and not dissect them to test their validity. That is not science, but a path leading to relativism. We would end up teaching statements like, "Some still believe the earth is flat, but we cannot discuss if they are right or wrong because someone will be offended."
What we can learn from this debate is that our science standards have a serious flaw. The standards for practicing science itself are not taught. Instead we focus on what subjects may or may not be taught. Perhaps we need to learn how to teach science, rather than telling science what it may or may not conclude about the universe.
*Darrick Dean operates the Christianity and Science Resource Center (http://www.geocities.com/darrickdean/relsci.html) website and is a volunteer apologist for Reasons to Believe ( http://www.reasons.org/ ). He has had articles on space exploration published in Ad Astra, Space Times, Spaceviews and formerly penned the Critical Thinking column for the New Castle News. In 1998, Dean was awarded the Arthur L. Williston Award by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers for the paper "The Benefits and Necessity of Manned Exploration of Frontiers as Compared to Unmanned Efforts." He is a graduate of Geneva College where he earned his B.S. in mechanical engineering.
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