Teaching Origins in Public Schools

A PROPOSED APPROACH TO TEACHING ORIGINS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS AN EFFORT TO RESOLVE THE CREATION-EVOLUTION CONTROVERSY

By David N. Menton, Ph.D.
(C) copyright 1991 Missouri Association for Creation, Inc.

BACKGROUND:

The creation evolution controversy in public education has grown in intensity since the famous Scopes Trial of 1925. At that time the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyer, Clarence Darrow, argued for the inclusion of evolutionary theory in the science curriculum. Today the ACLU and others insist that creationism should be excluded from the science class room and that only evolutionism should be taught as a scientifically acceptable theory of origins. Recent legislation in Arkansas and Louisiana requiring that "equal time" be given to the scientific evidence for both creation and evolution in the science curriculum has been successfully challenged by the ACLU.

THE PROBLEM:

Surveys have consistently shown that a substantial majority of Americans believe that man and the cosmos were created by a process involving supernatural intervention. A Gallup Poll in July of 1982, for example, showed the following breakdown of beliefs among 1,518 people sampled from 300 areas across the nation:

"God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years" ------- 44% agreed.

"Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process including man's creation" -------- 38% agreed.

"Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, God had no part in this process" -------- 9% agreed.

"Other, or don't know" -------- 9%

We may conclude that nearly half of the students in our public schools might find disturbing inconsistencies between their religious beliefs and the evolutionary ideas encountered in books, films and discussions. Scientific truth is not established by popular vote, and scientific facts must not be ignored or modified to accommodate the religious beliefs of our students, still, we should be quite sure of our facts on the matter of origins lest we unnecessarily burden our student's conscience. How we view our origin has profound religious and philosophical implications. The introduction of explicitly religious material in the science curriculum, on the other hand, is likely to be successfully challenged in the courts. Can we then teach and discuss the best scientific evidence for origins in a way that is sensitive to the cherished beliefs of our students and their parents, while adhering to the required separation of Church and State? I am convinced that it not only can be done, but should be done.

A PROPOSED SOLUTION:

First I propose that Biblical creation not be taught in our public schools. There are two reasons for this, 1) Biblical creation necessarily involves supernatural intervention, a subject outside the scope of the scientific method, and 2) evolution is the only explanation for origins currently being seriously considered within the "mainstream" of science. This is not to suggest that creation is implausible or even that evolution is more plausible, but simply that, for better or worse, evolutionary ideas are the "Zeitgeist" of scientific attempts to explain the origin of the cosmos and it is these ideas which now appear in our instructional materials and are the subject of concern to many students and their parents.

A persistent criticism of science instruction is that evolution is often taught as "dogma" or as a "just so story." Mere scenarios of major evolutionary transformations are often presented as though they were "historical" observations, when neither the events nor their mechanism is actually known or perhaps even knowable. While some teachers do emphasize the theoretical nature of evolution, rarely is a critical view taken of this highly speculative field of science. As a result, the student and even the teacher are often led to conclude that there is no substantive criticism of evolutionary ideas among professional scientists, but such is hardly the case as we shall see.

The proposed solution to the problem is simply to: TEACH EVOLUTION IN THE CRITICAL MANNER THAT WOULD BE APPROPRIATE FOR ANY FIELD OF EMPIRICAL SCIENCE. Thus we would present evidence that seems to support evolutionary theory as well as evidence that seems incompatible with this interpretation of origins. Unfortunately, the biological training of most teachers has not included a critical evaluation of the evolutionary paradigm; this gap would need to be filled with inservice education. Naturally, it is hoped that the education of our future science teachers would include a critical review of the evidence both for and against evolution. There is presently a substantial body of literature in respected scientific journals which documents numerous specific criticisms of evolution by scientists from many fields including evolutionists themselves. While some of this literature may be too technical or even inaccessible for many teachers, attempts should be made by qualified science educators to summarize the principle lines of criticism for study and evaluation by the class room teacher.

EXAMPLES OF SCIENTIFICALLY VALID CRITICISMS OF EVOLUTION:

Evolution is necessarily speculative:

A growing number of scientists are becoming highly critical of various aspects of the neodarwinian theory of evolution and it seems certain that currently accepted beliefs regarding the mechanism, rate and sequence of evolution will change substantially in the next few years. It is not clear to what extent, if any, empirical (experimental) evidence can replace mere speculation and scenario. In his foreword to the Dutton centennial edition of Darwin's Origin of Species, the distinguished biologist W.R. Thompson concluded:

"A long-enduring and regrettable effect of the success of the Origin of Species was the addiction of biologists to unverifiable speculation."1

In a sobering introduction to a published symposium dealing with the evolution of the cell, Roger Stanier warned:

"Evolutionary speculation constitutes a kind of metascience, which has the same intellectual fascination for some biologists that metaphysical speculation possessed for medieval scholastics. It can be considered a relatively harmless habit, like eating peanuts, unless it assumes the form of an obsession."2

It behooves the teacher to fairly distinguish fact from speculation in any discussion of evolution as this will not always be obvious to the student. Even the term "theory" ought to be strictly limited to those hypotheses which are subject to the scientific method and thus are capable of being disproven by a critical experiment.

The improbability of origin by chance:

Most people intuitively sense that the origin of life by means of chance and the intrinsic properties of matter and energy is extremely unlikely. It is quite easy, using elementary mathematics, to calculate the probability for the chance assembly of a SINGLE copy of any particular biologically useful protein, yet even this trivial but necessary step in the evolution of life is an extremely unlikely event. Such calculations show that there is simply not enough time and matter in the known universe to reasonably expect to achieve the ordered assembly of any ONE particular protein of average size by chance alone! The origin of man by chance and natural selection is incalculable and totally outside the realm of empirical science, but this comment by Dr. Murry Eden, Professor of Engineering at MIT, gives us a sense of magnitude of the problem:

"The chance of emergence of man is like the probability of typing at random a meaningful library of one thousand volumes using the following procedure: Begin with a meaningful phrase, retype it with a few mistakes, make it longer by adding (random) letters; then examine the result to see if the new phrase is meaningful. Repeat this process until the library is complete."3

It would be an instructive class room exercise to calculate the probability of the chance assembly of a short sentence using the 26 letters of the alphabet plus a space. Is the probability problem overcome by invoking tens of billions of years and billions of earth-like planets? What happens to complex machines if we attempt to improve them by randomly changing their parts?

Evolution cannot be observed:

A basic requirement of empirical science is that the object or phenomenon to be studied must be observable and repeatable, yet no one has actually witnessed the evolution of a fundamentally new organism of a higher taxonomic group . There may be considerable variation among the individuals of a species, such as the nearly 150 varieties of dogs, but this simply is the result of selection among the alleles in the existing gene pool of the species. This process is strictly limited and has no known relation to "macroevolution". Mutations, on the other hand, may cause a new arrangement in a gene but this is vastly more likely to harm an organism than improve it. Dr. H.J. Muller, who won the Nobel Prize for his work on mutations puts it this way:

"It is entirely in line with the accidental nature of mutations that extensive tests have agreed in showing the vast majority of them detrimental to the organism in its job of surviving and reproducing --- good ones are so rare we can consider them all bad."4

Most current science and biology text books mention "industrial melanism" in the peppered moth as an example of "visible evolution" by means of natural selection. This example provides an ideal opportunity to discuss the genetic basis of variation and to explore its putative relationship to "macroevolution." There are many interesting subjects that might be discussed in the class room on the known effects of mutations on living organisms. Interestingly, virtually every living organism known has a highly complex mutation repair system that actually cuts mutations out of the gene and patches them with a correct sequence of DNA! It seems obvious that life as we know it would be impossible without such a gene repair mechanism. An example of what happens when this repair system fails to work may be seen in the fatal human disease xeroderma pigmentosum. We know that mutations can cause cancer but can they produce a healthier and better adapted organism?

Evolution seems incompatible with the second law of thermodynamics:

Perhaps the reason that there is so little compelling scientific evidence in support of evolution is that it appears to contradict one of the most fundamental laws of nature - the second law of thermodynamics. This law says what is intuitively obvious to most people, that all real processes tend toward a condition of greater probability and disorder. Thus a house is more likely to spontaneously disassemble over a period of a thousand years than it is to assemble itself into an even more complex and more highly organized structure. Order can be achieved out of disorder, but it requires information, programs, energy and machines. Energy from the sun can help to transform an acorn into an oak tree but it requires the indescribably complex biological machinery and information in the living cells of the acorn to do it. Dead oak trees are destroyed by the same energy from the sun. Speaking of evolution, Julian Huxley said:

"Nowhere in all its vast extent is there any trace of purpose, or even a prospective significance. It is impelled from behind by blind physical forces, a gigantic and chaotic jazz dance of particles and radiations, in which the only over-all tendency we have so far been able to detect is that summarized by the second law of thermodynamics -- the tendency to run down."5

Lord Kelvin, the discoverer of the second law of thermodynamics, was quite aware of the incompatibility of Darwinian evolution and the second law:

"The only contribution of dynamics to theoretical biology is absolute negation of automatic commencement or automatic maintenance of life."6

A class discussion of what is required to produce order and complexity, in an informational sense, out of disorder could be stimulating and useful. Is energy and an "open system" all that is necessary to produce order out of chaos as evolutionist suggest? What about snow flakes and crystals? Is the second law compatible with evolution? - defend your answer.

Fossil evidence for evolution:

The fossil record provides the only unambiguous evidence of prehistoric life on earth and thus is the only evidence that could show if one organism gradually transformed into another through a sequence of intermediate forms. Darwin was well aware that the fossil record did not, in fact, show the intermediate forms his theory required but he attributed this to the incompleteness of the fossil evidence at his time and earnestly hoped that it would in time support his theory. Paleontologist Dr. David Raup of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago points out that Darwin's hopes have not been fulfilled:

"Well, we are now about 120 years after Darwin and the knowledge of the fossil record has been greatly expanded. We now have a quarter of a million fossil species but the situation hasn't changed much ... We have fewer examples of evolutionary transition than we had in Darwin's time. By this I mean that some of the classic cases of darwinian change in the fossil record such as the evolution of the horse in North America, have had to be discarded or modified as a result of more detailed information."7

Evolutionists are becoming increasingly blunt about the failure of the fossil record to document evolutionary transformation:

"The known fossil record fails to document a single example of phyletic evolution accomplishing a major morphologic transition..."8

Not only are the higher taxonomic groups separated by vast unbridged gaps, but gaps are also the rule at the level of the species:

"The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology.... In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and fully formed."9

The popular Harvard author and evolutionist Steven J. Gould raises the provocative question of just what good partially developed organs might do for a hypothetical transitional organism:

"Can we invent a reasonable sequence of intermediate forms, that is, viable, functioning organisms, between ancestors and descendents? Of what possible use are the imperfect incipient stages of useful structures? What good is half a jaw or half a wing?"10

The lack of transitional forms in the fossil record has led many evolutionists to virtually abandon fossils as evidence for evolutionary change. Still others invoke an ad hoc hypothesis (punctuated equilibrium) which attempts to account for the missing evidence by arguing that the animals which appear as fossils represent highly stable organisms which remained unchanged for vast periods of time, while the evolutionary transformations occurred so quickly that no fossil record was preserved! In an effort to deal with the fossil record, many taxonomists are now adopting a "cladistic" approach to the classification of animals and plants which entirely ignores presumed evolutionary relationships. Some very distinguished evolutionists are denying that there is ANY evidence for common ancestry at all! In a recent address at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, Dr. Colin Patterson, paleontologist at the British Museum and author of the book Evolution, told a distinguished gathering of evolutionists:

"The explanatory value of the hypothesis of common ancestry is nil...I feel that the effects of the hypotheses of common ancestry in systematics has not been merely boring, not just a lack of knowledge, I think it has been positively anti-knowledge...Well, we're back to the question I've been putting to people, 'Is there one thing you can tell me about evolution?,' The absence of answers seems to suggest that it is true, evolution does not convey any knowledge or if so, I haven't yet heard it."11

Even the much touted sequence of lower to higher organisms in the geological column is far less convincing than the geology and biology text books would have us believe. In nearly every mountainous region on earth there are numerous examples of "old" strata (bearing fossils of more primitive organisms) resting on top of "young" strata (bearing fossils of higher organisms). This is typically explained away by over thrusting of strata but often, the only geological evidence for this is "out of order" fossils according to the evolutionary interpretation of origins. The circular reasoning implicit in our interpretation and dating of the geological column has not gone unnoticed by geologists and evolutionists:

"I regard the failure to find a clear 'vector of progress' in life's history as the most puzzling fact of the fossil record...we have sought to impose a pattern that we hoped to find on a world that does not really display it."12

"A circular argument arises: Interpret the fossil record in the terms of a particular theory of evolution, inspect the interpretation, and note that it confirms the theory. Well it would, wouldn't it?"13

It would be an excellent class room exercise to critically evaluate what we might expect the fossil record to look like if life evolved by random changes and natural selection and then to determine if it does indeed look that way? Are there transitional forms in the fossil record, for example, showing the unambiguous evolution of invertebrates into vertebrates (the process is said to have taken over one hundred million years)? Are fossils being produced today? What conditions are necessary for the production of fossils and how long does it take? Can we give ANY example of a known transitional form - what is our evidence?

The recapitulation myth:

At one time the development of the embryo was thought to provide an abbreviated view of the evolutionary history of the organism. This idea, first proposed by Ernst Haeckel and supported with obviously falsified data, has remained a persistent "law" of evolution despite having been shown to be false for over 100 years! It is this so called "biogenetic law" that is the basis of the oft repeated text book example of "gill slits" in mammalian embryos which presumably are supposed to tell us something about our aquatic ancestors. It is a well known fact that there are NO gills or slits in the pharyngeal region of ANY mammalian embryo yet this myth still continues to appear in science text books and films. Even a recent museum guide from the American Museum of Natural History in New York still considers embryological recapitulation "evidence" for evolution. This is strange indeed as evolutionists seem to be quite aware of this false interpretation of embryology:

"This interpretation of embryological sequences will not stand close examination. It's shortcomings have been almost universally pointed out by modern authors, but the idea still has a prominent place in biological mythology."14

Out of 15 high school text books being considered for adoption by the Indiana State Board of Education in 1980, 9 offered embryological recapitulation as evidence for evolution and 2 specifically mentioned "gill slits." It would be an interesting class room exercise to discuss why recapitulation continues to be presented as evidence for evolution when it has been known to be untrue for over 100 years.

Another example of a known interpretational error that keeps coming up in science text books is the "vestigial" organ. According to this concept, certain organs of our body are remnants of our primitive ancestors and are no longer useful. What about the oft mentioned "vestigial" organs of our body such as the appendix and "tail bone," are these really left over and largely useless organs of our primitive ancestors? At one time virtually all of the endocrine and lymphoid organs (like the appendix) were thought to be useless vestiges from our ancestors. How could we tell an organ is vestigial assuming they exist? Are the male mammary glands vestigial? Does it make any difference what your surgeon thinks about vestigial organs?

Is the similarity of biological structures evidence of common ancestry?:

For years, evolutionists have argued that the similarities of various body parts between organisms of different classes is evidence for common evolutionary descent. The forelimbs and fingers of bats and birds are clearly homologous though distinctly different in detail. While this observation is certainly consistent with evolution it hardly proves it. Our left hand is obviously homologous to our right hand but does this tell us something about its evolution? There is evidence that homologous organs and structures are often completely unrelated genetically:

"It is now clear that the pride with which it was assumed that the inheritance of homologous structures from a common ancestor explained homology was misplaced."13

Since fossils are now falling out of favor as evidence for common ancestry, a new field of "molecular evolution" is emerging which compares the molecular similarity of homologous proteins in various species. In this way it is assumed that not only ancestry but even the time of divergence can be numerically assessed. But problems are emerging here as well. It is indeed true that organisms that live in similar ecological niches and eat similar diets do share considerable common chemistry, but does this tell us something about evolution or required chemistry? Even more important is the fact that molecular homologies are often in total disagreement with evolutionary sequences based on the fossil record. On the basis of the protein insulin, for example, humans and pigs are very closely "related" but on the basis of the protein calcitonin, man is distantly related to the pig but closely related to the salmon! No wonder the microbiologist Michael Denton said in his recent book, Evolution: a Theory in Crisis:

"The really significant finding that comes to light from comparing the proteins' amino acid sequences is that it is impossible to arrange them in any sort of an evolutionary series."16

As for determining the relative date that two organisms diverged on the phylogenetic tree by molecular difference or "distance", the situation appears to be no better. James Farris, who was a principle developer of this technology, has concluded that the use of molecular distance data in phylogenetic analysis is very questionable:

"It seems that the only general conclusion one can draw is that nothing about present techniques for analyzing molecular distance data is satisfactory...None of the known measures of genetic distance seems able to provide a logically defensible method..."17

CRITICISMS OF THE CRITICAL APPROACH TO EVOLUTION:

One of the most disturbing criticisms of the proposed approach to teaching evolution has come from teachers who claim that students don't want to critically examine anything, they just want to know the "facts" for the exam. The critical approach, some say, will only confuse and frustrate the student and perhaps even lead him to conclude that the evidence for the evolution of man from an expanding cloud of hydrogen gas is really not all that good. If any of this is true, then it only serves to emphasize that a critical and investigative approach to learning is long overdue. In fact, teachers who have used this approach in the class room find that it makes the potentially dull subject of evolution much more exciting and interesting. As for the possibility of students loosing their faith in evolution, it may comfort some to know that most scientists still accept the evolutionary explanation of our origins despite the lack of empirical evidence. There are often reasons for believing what we believe which transcend the empirical evidence as is evident in this comment:

"Evolution is a theory universally accepted not because it can be proved to be true, but because the only alternative, special creation, is clearly incredible."18

Whether we are philosophically biased toward evolution or creation, we must not compromise the facts of science or the scientific method, to accommodate the beliefs of any individual.

Some have expressed fear that it may be illegal to even criticize evolution in scientific terms. As outrageous as this sounds, there may be some basis for this fear. It is conceivable that the ACLU, and perhaps others, might challenge the scientific criticism of evolution in the science class room should they choose to perceive religious motives behind such criticism. No court, however, has thus far prohibited voluntary instruction concerning purely scientific evidence merely because it "happens to coincide or harmonize with the tenets of some or all religions." (McGowan, 366 U.S. at 442, 81 S.Ct. at 113; Crowley, 636 F.2d at 742)

Finally, some have argued that if we were to critically examine the evidence for every thing we teach in science, we would never get through the text book. Given the "information explosion" in science this is no doubt true, none the less, at least one instance of critical inquiry seems a highly desirable educational experience. Perhaps we teach too much codified information and have failed to teach students how to think on their own and critically evaluate evidence. If we were to pick one topic to critically examine, we could do no better than the subject of evolution for all of the reasons sighted above, but most of all, this subject has more profound implications than anything else we teach in school. How we view our origins affects our entire world view; where we came from, why we are here, where we are going, and the purpose of life. If we can't take the time and effort to deal with the subject of our origin in a critical way, perhaps it would be best not to deal with it at all.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. Thompson, W.R. Foreword to The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (Dutton, N.Y.) 1965.

2. Stanier, Roger Y. Symposium of the Society for General Microbiology 20:1-38, 1970.

3. Moorhead & Kaplan, eds. Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretaion of Evolution (Wistar Institute Press, Philadelphia) 1965

4. Muller, H.J. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 11:331, 1946.

5. Huxley, Julien. Evolution in Action (New American Library, N.Y.) p. 11-12, 1953.

6. Kelvin. "On the sun's heat" In popular lectures and Addresses (Macmillian, London) p. 415, 1889.

7. Raup, David M. "Conflicts between Darwin and Paleontology" Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin. 50:22-29 January 1979.

8. Raup, David M. "Probabilistic Models in Evolutionary Biology" American Scientist 166:57 January/February 1977.

9. Gould, Stephen J. "Evolutions erratic pace" Natural History 86:12-16 May 1977.

10. Gould, S.J.

11. Patterson, Colin, from transcript of speach at the American Museum of Natural History, New York City on November 5, 1981.

12. Gould, Stephen J. "The ediacaran experiment" Natural History 93:23, February 1984.

13. Kemp, Tom. "A fresh look at the fossil record," New Scientist 108:66, December 5, 1985.

14. Ehrlich, Paul and R. Holm. The Process of Evolution p.66, 1963.

15. de Beer, Sir Gavin. Homology, an Unsolved Problem (Oxford University Press, London) p. 15, 1971.

16. Denton, Michael. Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Burnett Books, London) p. 289, 1985.

17. Farris, James S.. "Distance data in phylogenetic analysis" in Advances in Cladistics Funk & Brooks eds. (The N.Y. Botanical Gardens) p. 3-23, 1981

18. Watson, D.M.S. Nature 123:233, 1929.

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