Should We Teach Evolution?

by John UpChurch on June 6, 2008
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A recent Times article rehashes a common caricature of creationists as wanting the teaching of evolution censored. But is this the truth?

In lieu of our normal Friday feedback, we thought a response to a recent New York Times piece was in order. The article appears to be an effort to foment outrage against teaching the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution in Texas schools, framing the creation-evolution controversy as a battle over censorship. That is, creationists (and any who believe that the universe is created) are out to keep children from hearing about Darwin’s dangerous idea. However, when we take a closer look at the Times’ arguments, we again find a basic lack of understanding concerning the issue over origins.

The article begins:

Opponents of teaching evolution, in a natural selection of sorts, have gradually shed those strategies that have not survived the courts. Over the last decade, creationism has given rise to “creation science,” which became “intelligent design,” which in 2005 was banned from the public school curriculum in Pennsylvania by a federal judge.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the author frames the argument in fallacious terms by setting up false premises. She claims that the issue here is over opposition of “teaching evolution,” as if that were the sole motivation for all who believe the universe is designed. So, let’s take a look at her framing in this paragraph step by step and get to the underlying assumptions.

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The Main Issue: For Christians, evolution is not really the main issue. An old universe is not the main issue, either. These are simply two examples of what underlies the controversy. The real issue should be a matter of authority. Either we trust what God said in His Word, or we trust what fallible humans have cobbled together in a vain attempt to remove God from the equation. Although skeptics often ridicule Christians for trusting in an Authority (God), they do the same thing when they trust what other humans have said or taught. The author of the Times’ article does a disservice to the reader by obfuscating this. Creationists aren’t out to censor anything—our goal is to show that the Bible can be trusted from Genesis to the good news of Jesus Christ to Revelation. We must be able to give an answer for why we have our faith—not stifle debate.

Opposing the Teaching of Evolution: No major creation organization (e.g., AiG, ICR, CRS) would oppose children learning about evolution. In fact, as Christians, we have an obligation to teach our children about evolution, since they will encounter it from TV shows, books, and museums. The author might be surprised to learn that the more than 400,000 visitors to our Creation Museum have been shown the teachings of evolution right alongside the biblical account. We believe that the best way to equip Christians is by showing them what skeptics think about the past, life, and the nature of the universe. Paul said that he became “all things to all men, so that [he might] by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22; NASB). In the same way, Christians need to learn what the world teaches so that we can show those who don’t believe in Christ how the Bible makes better sense of the facts.

Also (so that there is no misunderstanding), AiG in no way, shape, or form supports any measure that forces creation to be taught in schools. Instruction about the truth of God’s Word is always best learned at home and in church (this site has a plethora of resources for just that). Evolutionists continue to seek to mandate that evolution be taught in as many places as possible (including, sadly, even some churches that have strayed from the authority of the Bible), but we, as Christians, should never force people to teach what they don’t agree with, since they will likely skew a perspective that is not their own.

Evolving Beliefs: One oft-used tactic among skeptics is in the conflation of young-earth creation and intelligent design. The author of this article, for example, bizarrely claims that natural selection has led from one to the other. It is true that there have been various names for those who read the Bible in a straightforward manner, but biblical creation is by no means a new (or changing) idea. After all, the belief in an old universe, as proposed by Lyell, is a much more recent interloper. The early church Fathers worked happily within a biblical framework, as did many early scientists. Creationists continue to research the “hows” and “whys” of science (and some of the terminology may have changed), but the framework will always be the same because the Bible is an eyewitness account of the One who created what we observe.

Intelligent design (ID), though there are many Christians involved and a great deal of excellent research being done, is not young-earth creation. The ID Movement is founded upon the postulate that design is empirically detectable—and we find this evidence in the universe. In contrast, creationists begin with what God’s Word says. See Is the Intelligent Design Movement Christian?

Now a battle looms in Texas over science textbooks that teach evolution, and the wrestle for control seizes on three words. None of them are “creationism” or “intelligent design” or even “creator.”

The words are “strengths and weaknesses.”

Starting this summer, the state education board will determine the curriculum for the next decade and decide whether the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution should be taught. The benign-sounding phrase, some argue, is a reasonable effort at balance. But critics say it is a new strategy taking shape across the nation to undermine the teaching of evolution, a way for students to hear religious objections under the heading of scientific discourse.

The careful reader will notice a subtle framing issue here as well. If we break down what the author is saying, we could rewrite it like this: “The battle is over evolution versus creationism (also called intelligent design).” Although this is often used, the inclusion of the suffix -ism makes the argument purposefully (though deceptively) imbalanced. That is, creationism has the appearance of a belief system (which it admittedly is), while evolution is placed on a different plane (i.e., “real” science). The problem, of course, is that any argument or idea that makes truth claims about the unrepeatable past requires belief. We may have a reason to believe what we believe, but we cannot go back in time to see if that belief is right.

Evolution makes what are called “truth statements” about the past (e.g., all life arose from one common ancestor; humans descended from ape-like animals). Now, according to the scientific method, which we must assume that this author would agree with, those statements are testable. They are either right or wrong. Since we cannot go back into time to check these statements, we must depend upon the information we have available now. Some people reject evolution based on the information they have—historical, fossil, molecular, and others. If the scientific method is at all valid, then that information (the weaknesses) must be considered as well. (Of course, as Christians who believe the Bible is God’s Word, Scripture is the only 100% credible source of information about the origin of the universe and life. Based on that information, we can reject the truth claims made by evolutionists.)

In reality, though, evolution is often withheld from the rigors of the scientific method because it is considered sacrosanct by many scientists. Observations fit evolution no matter what, but evolution itself is never questioned. If it were such a solid principle as those “critics” claim, then teaching the weaknesses would certainly not blemish such an ironclad hypothesis. It is almost humorously ironic that children are often taught to tolerate all points of view in public schools, yet many are intolerant of Bible-believing Christians (because they are considered intolerant).

Evolution as a principle is not disputed in the scientific mainstream, where the term “theory” does not mean a hunch, but an explanation backed by abundant observation, and where gaps in knowledge are not seen as grounds for doubt but points for future understanding. Over time, research has strengthened the basic tenets of evolution, especially as advances in molecular genetics have allowed biologists to read the history recorded in the DNA of animals and plants.

Let’s once again rephrase what the author is saying: “Scientists who accept evolution (mainstream) do not dispute evolution. Evolution is backed by those who do not doubt evolution. If evolution fails to explain something, evolution itself is not wrong, our understanding is.” Obviously, this cuts away some of the nuance, but this is essentially what the author is saying. Scientists who are “mainstream” are those who already accept evolution in the first place; thus, evolutionists don’t doubt evolution, which is obviously an invalid argument. After all, truth has never been determined by a majority, since the majority can be wrong (and have been). If historical science (science focusing on the unrepeatable past) is done by a majority vote, then why should we trust it at all? Instead, historical science relies upon interpretations of the evidence based on a framework (e.g., the Bible or uniformitarianism).

Next, a theory, according to the dictionary, is a “plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena.”1 Theories are falsifiable. In fact, they can be discarded in light of new facts. Evolution, as we mentioned before, does not fit this definition. As the author admits, if something doesn’t agree with evolution it is because we lack “future understanding” that will make it fit. That is, if something is to go, it is our current understanding always and not evolution. For a creationist, the Bible is not falsifiable either, but then again, it’s not a theory, it’s a framework. Evolutionists would do well to admit their unfalsifiable framework as well.

As for the supposed molecular evidence, biologists read as much “into” the DNA data as they read “out” of it. That is, evolutionists look at the molecular data with the prior belief that evolution occurred over billions of years—and that’s the “history” they find. On the other hand, creation biologists look at the same data and see amazing evidence of design. (See, for example, Life: Designed by God to Adapt.) It’s not the “facts” that are in dispute; it’s the interpretation of those facts.

The article ends with the claim that all criticisms of Darwinian evolution (at least the ones on the website run by Texans for Better Science Education) have been “thoroughly refuted.” This in itself undermines the message of the article. That is, if most criticism of evolution has been “refuted” as thoroughly as is claimed, then teaching the “strengths and weaknesses” of Darwinism should be nothing to worry about. Students should be wowed by the clear thrashing of any doubt. Yet, evolutionists are fighting not to let these “thorough refutations” be given. And in scientific discussion, as Dr. McLeroy put it in the article, “Why in the world would anybody not want to include weaknesses?”

The message of the Bible is not one of what not to believe or what to fight against. Instead, the Bible is God’s Word to humanity—what He did, why, and how much He loves us. People have always—and will till the end—teach ungodly ideas that they set up to oppose what Scripture says. But ultimately, Scripture always remains and anti-biblical ideas fade away—and that’s one “weakness” that you can count on.


  1. Merriam Webster Online Dictionary, “Theory.”


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