Textbooks Gone Astray

U.K. Textbooks Mislead Students

by Paul S. Taylor on June 27, 2008

Many new U.K. textbooks mention creation in their pages for the first time. There is, however, no cause for celebration about this mention, as the books nearly always get their facts wrong.

At a Glance

  • Several new textbooks in the U.K. misrepresent creation, conflate natural selection and Darwinism, and mislead students.
  • The textbooks display an utter lack of research into the claims made and resort to fallacious statements.

Recent changes in the Science National Curriculum in both England and Wales have led to a rash of new school science textbooks. Many of these mention creation in their pages for the first time. There is, however, no cause for celebration about this mention, as the books nearly always get their facts wrong. English schools are covered by three examination boards, which publish science syllabuses for examination at age 16. Their acronyms have developed historically, and it would not be of general interest to explain what they stand for—EdExcel, AQA, and OCR—the latter, confusingly, publishing two alternative syllabuses. In Wales, there is a syllabus published by the WJEC (Welsh Joint Education Committee). These syllabuses were all released in September 2007, and new textbooks have started appearing.

The OCR Twenty-First Century Science (Higher) book describes the reception that Darwin’s theory of evolution received as follows:

Most people thought that everything in the Bible should be believed just as it was written. The Bible said that all life on Earth was created in six days. There was no natural selection and no evolution. (OCR TFCS Higher p. 188, published by Oxford, emphasis mine)

So, this book, in common with most of the others, is confusing natural selection with evolution. The OCR’s other syllabus, Gateway Science, makes the same error.

Although evolution by natural selection usually takes place over millions of years, it is possible to see natural selection taking place over a much shorter time scale. (OCR Gateway Science, p. 60, published by Heinemann).

Readers will be fascinated to know that the textbook then goes on to give an example of such evolution. The example they choose is our old friend, the peppered moth! The book contains the usual photos of the moths settled on the bark of trees, and then asks the students to respond to this statement:

Suggest why the moths have evolved back into the grey speckled variety. [emphasis mine]

There is once again the deliberate confusion over what the word evolution means. The OCR Gateway book has the following to say about creationists:

Even today, in the face of all the evidence, some people still believe that evolution had no part to play in the diversity of organisms that live on Earth. (OCR GS p. 62)

In another place, the same book says:

Some people, called creationists, believe that their God created all life and that organisms were placed on Earth ready made. (p. 59)

The idea being taught here is that creationists don’t believe in natural selection and don’t believe in any changes in species. Both of these ideas are false. These textbooks are guilty of straw-man arguments. They tell the pupils what presumably all creationists supposedly believe—even though they don’t—and then they knock down these ideas that most creationists don’t even really believe. The most laughable example of this is on the same page of the same book:

Most scientists now think that the clues to our origin lie in the fossil record. However, creationists believe that even the fossil record was created by God. (p. 59)

While the fossil record was mostly laid down by the Flood, which, in essence, would be “by God,” this is certainly not what they’re implying: that it was directly created by God during creation.

At the time of writing, I did not have AQA or EdExcel textbooks available. However, the Welsh textbook is no better. It is worth including an extended quote to examine the disingenuous use of language, which is designed to suggest to students that the serious arguments on evolution are over.

Before Charles Darwin’s time, most people believed that all natural species had been created as they appeared to them, and had never changed. This view was called creationism. In 1859, when Darwin’s ideas about evolution were first published, the majority of people still believed in creationism, and many argued against Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Then some people began to think that species could change gradually into other species by evolution, and this belief was called Darwinism.
Today, almost all biologists believe in Darwin’s ideas about natural selection. The combination of genetical studies of inheritance, fossil evidence, and an increasing amount of experimental data has made the theory of natural selection a proven fact. (WJEC GCSE Science and Additional Science, p. 16, published by Hodder Murray)

Once again, creationists are assumed to believe in fixidity of species—which they don’t. The first paragraph above seems to suggest that evolutionism did not exist before Charles Darwin. The book does not mention the work of Erasmus Darwin, Charles’s grandfather. Also, the paragraph suggests that most people believed creation. This is unlikely to be true, particularly as there was a strong leaning in many churches towards liberalism. Incidentally, Darwin’s own upbringing in Unitarianism is probably a strong contributory factor to his rejection of scriptural truth—an argument not generally examined in the usual hagiographical life stories of Darwin.

The last sentence of the above quote is worth pulling apart in more detail.

The combination of genetical studies of inheritance,

Genetics indeed throws a lot of light on Darwinism. Darwin knew nothing about genetics—or the whole concept of information theory.

fossil evidence,

Fossils do not provide evidence of change. They provide evidence of two things: (a) Stasis (i.e., some creatures have changed very little), and (b) Extinction (some creatures have become extinct and are not thought to exist today).

and an increasing amount of experimental data

It is not possible to do experiments on things in the past. While we do see natural selection within created kinds today, we cannot extrapolate this to larger (e.g., inter-Phyla/inter-Kingdoms) changes merely given longer periods of time without evidence. The present is not the key to the past. Such experimental data can only be meaningful in an evolutionary sense if the experimenter starts by assuming that evolution is true.

has made the theory of natural selection a proven fact.

This is classic bait and switch. No serious scientist ignores natural selection. But natural selection is not evolution—whereas this quote leads students to assume that the two terms are synonymous. Natural selection, properly understood, is the very antithesis of evolution because it will tend to weed out mutations, rather than propagating them. Moreover, the mutations that are produced merely rearrange or reduce genetic information, rather than increase it—yet true evolution requires continually complementary increases in genetic information time and time again.

Changes in the National Curriculum and accompanying textbooks need to be addressed by Christian parents today. Remember that the Bible does not mention schools or teachers. The responsibility for educating children rests with the parents—and specifically the father. If necessity means that you have to delegate this responsibility to someone else, be sure that you can trust the one who takes up the responsibility to educate your child. When you need a babysitter for your children, you check out the potential babysitter, maybe taking up recommendations and references. Yet we may allow strangers to teach our children and indoctrinate them with all sorts of unusual ideas unchecked. I want to urge parents and churches to consider the problems of the science National Curriculum, and to look at how children in your church are educated. I want to encourage churches to encourage their young parents in taking part in or educating their children themselves, and maybe setting up new schools in every Bible-believing church in the U.K.

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Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.