Should Both Sides of the Debate on Evolution be Included in Textbooks? (2008)

J.E. Hill and Seth Cooper

[Though originally published in the Spring Hill Review, subsequent editorial changes have been implemented by the Secular Web editor.]

 

Background
Letter to Seth Cooper: Should Both Sides of a Debate be Included Online?
Response from Seth Cooper

Cooper's Opening Statement
No False Facts? A Response to Cooper's Opening Statement

What Debate? Hill's Opening Statement
Cooper's Rejoinder

 

Background

In late 2003 the editors of the Spring Hill Review: A Journal of Northwest Culture contacted the California-based National Center for Science Education (NCSE) in order to find a local writer willing to participate in a written exchange on whether creationism should be taught in public schools. (At the time the Spring Hill Review was a small local newspaper serving the Vancouver area of Southwest Washington, but in recent years I have been unable to establish e-mail contact with them and they have no website, so they may no longer be in circulation.) The NCSE then contacted the Burlington-Edison Committee for Science Education (BECSE), an active citizens group north of Seattle, in search of a local debater willing to argue in print that creationism should not be taught in public schools. The request had come off of the heels of a recent victory for science education secured by the BECSE in a local battle with the Discovery Institute, initiated by concerned students and parents, over a science teacher's use of creationist materials in his Burlington-Edison High School curriculum. (The BECSE subsequently received an 'Activists of the Year' award from the Seattle American Civil Liberties Union chapter for defeating the Discovery Institute's first attempt to wedge intelligent design into a public school science curriculum.) Since I was a thirteen-year veteran of my local school board, I gave the BECSE some technical (and moral) support on how to handle their local school board at the request of the NCSE. When the BECSE asked if anyone from their group would be interested in participating in a Spring Hill Review exchange, I volunteered and was put in touch with Lucy S. R. Austen, then editor of the Spring Hill Review.

Each participant was asked to submit an initial statement of up to 600 words on "Whether or not both sides of the debate on evolution should be included in textbooks." Once the editor received both submissions, each initial statement was exchanged between the participants for rebuttal. After I received my opponent's opening statement, I asked about the identity of my opponent. I was then informed that I would be responding to Seth Cooper of the Discovery Institute.

Letter to Seth Cooper: Should Both Sides of a Debate be Included Online?

After the debate was published in the Spring Hill Review in January 2004, I e-mailed Seth Cooper requesting his permission to reprint his side of the exchange alongside my own contributions in an open media format on the Secular Web. I wrote:

Dear Mr. Cooper,

I recently had the privilege to participate in an abbreviated written debate with you in the January issue of the Spring Hill Review.

I would like your permission to have our exchange reprinted on the Secular Web.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of my request.

Sincerely,

J.E. Hill

Response from Seth Cooper

In an e-mail response on May 7, 2004, Seth Cooper declined to have his portion of the debate published on an open forum, informing me that his "contributions are archived at the Discovery Institute's website" and that I may provide a link to the relevant location on that site.

Thus, although my Spring Hill Review contributions do not appear on the Discovery Institute website, one will have to visit that site in order to read Cooper's initial argument, come back to the Secular Web to my rebuttal to that argument and my opening statement, then return to the Discovery Institute website to read Cooper's final rejoinder to my opening statement.

Cooper's Opening Statement

Click here to go to the Discovery Institute website and read Seth Cooper's opening statement.

No False Facts? A Response to Cooper's Opening Statement

I must have misread the topic of this discussion. It was "Whether or not both sides of the debate on evolution should be included in textbooks," not "What's wrong with evolution." The bulk of my creative opponent's article was a condemnation of perceived shortfalls in evolutionary theory, polls, and political agendas, but not one word on why creationism should be included in science textbooks. Fortunately, each of his criticisms of evolution have been addressed numerous times over, and a trip to the library would certainly satisfy anyone's curiosity about the facts of evolution theory.

Why did Mr. Cooper avoid telling us why creationism should be included? Should creationism be included because a textbook doesn't completely explain the Miller-Urey experiment, embryonic study, or the Cambrian Explosion to Mr. Cooper's satisfaction? He admits that textbooks are being corrected to assure that they are presenting a true and accurate picture of evolution, and this is good; but why should creationism be included as well? What balance does it provide to science? How is creationism scientific? All of these questions were left unanswered. Why?

I hope that Mr. Cooper's response explains just why creationism deserves to be included in a science class, rather than just debasing evolution. I doubt that this will happen for one reason, and one alone: Since there is no scientific validity to creationism, creationists have to shift the subject and hope you don't notice. To be sure, and using his own argument: If creationism is included in science textbooks, shouldn't students learn of the weaknesses of creationism? Wouldn't creationism then be fair game for exposing its shortfalls, including the fact that it is simply not scientific? If not, why not? Remember: "There is no such thing as a false fact."

As far as the fact that "over 300 scientists" have signed a statement saying that they're skeptical of evolution is concerned, over 400 scientists alone named "Steve" (only about 1% of scientists overall) have signed a statement stating exactly the opposite! In short, this sort of argument is simply nonsense. Let's stay on task here.

I find it interesting that Mr. Cooper would cite Edwards v. Aguillard endorsing "the teaching of scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories." That's fine, but just why should a pseudoscience such as creationism qualify for that job? And concerning the Conference Report "recommendation" on teaching science in the No Child Left Behind Act, it never made it into the law and is not part of the act.

I couldn't agree more with this statement (and can't believe that he really said it): "Wouldn't a more complete presentation of Darwinian evolution bolster science education and better prepare students for global competition?" Absolutely! Many of the criticisms of evolution would dissolve if we were to provide a more complete and comprehensive presentation of evolution. Say, the kind that is taught at virtually every university in the land, including religious-based institutions like Gongaza, Seattle Pacific, Notre Dame, and Whitworth. Unfortunately, creationism doesn't accomplish this goal, nor better prepare students. It just muddies the waters and averts attention from real science.

A common tactic used by creationists is to use quotes out of context, and this article seems to be no exception with its ending Darwin quote. Here it is again, only with the part (in emphasis) that was conveniently omitted:

"A fair result can only be obtained by balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question; and this is impossible here."

Why is it impossible? Because Darwin realized then, as we know now, that creationism explains nothing and is not science. Creationism deserves no place in a science textbook.

What Debate? Hill's Opening Statement

No serious dispute arises within the scientific community concerning the fact that evolution is the driving force in biology and other disciplines. While some scientists may have differing views about how evolution works, there is no disagreement about whether evolution best explains the progression of life on Earth. Only a small group of religious conservatives who want their religious worldview promoted not only in their own churches and schools, but in our public schools, is behind this "debate." But they don't want creationism treated like science, for it would flunk the scientific method test. Thus they take their views to the arena of public and political opinion to force their particular religious views on our public schools. Interestingly, proponents of creationism wish to exclude other religions while including their creationist views.

"Both sides" would indicate that there is some sort of equality of the sides. Clearly this is not the case. Evolution is not theology, and creationism is not science. They are equally unequal, if you will, both performing a service for their individual disciplines. Creationism, in its different forms, fits a theology model very well where one cannot test or falsify a hypothesis. Evolution clearly fits the scientific model as the best explanation for the progression and diversity of life on Earth. The question then becomes: Why would we include creationism in public school science textbooks? We don't teach geocentricity, a flat earth, astrology, alchemy, witch-doctoring, or other pseudosciences. We don't include other creation models of differing religions. Why? Because there is no confirming evidence that these are factual or true. Indeed, they have either been proven false or untenable by all modern scientific methodology. Creationism simply has not earned a seat at the table of modern science, in theory or practice.

Creationists have never presented a theory, paper, or peer-reviewed work in an effort to be treated on an equal basis, and creationism is rightly rejected by the scientific community for failing to meet any scientific standard. Indeed, creation proponents cannot even agree on what creationism is. There are young Earth creationists who generally believe that, according to the Bible, the Earth is only 6,000 years old. There are old Earth creationists that claim that the Earth is old (according to the biblical account), but not the accepted four and a half billion years old. And there are the intelligent design fans who generally believe that the Earth is very old, but insist on the need for a creator or divine designer--and not just any designer, mind you, but the Judeo-Christian one. I would, in fact, suggest that a debate between these three groups would be more telling than one about including creationism in textbooks. The folly of their equal treatment claims would be quickly exposed, and one could rest assured that any one of the three groups would like to be the one represented in science textbooks. Does this mean that we would have to give all three "equal time"?

If creationism is included in textbooks, then what else will claim eligibility for inclusion? Letting in creationism would open the door for every revisionist historian, crackpot theorist, or fringe group demanding "equal time" and "balanced treatment" for their pet theories. Opening the door would obviously be a slippery slope that might lead to the degeneration of all public school textbooks. By now the absurdity of the balanced treatment argument must be apparent to any objective person.

High school science textbooks are a survey of current scientific knowledge. They give students an opportunity to learn more about current science in one school year than they ever learned before. Their snapshot of hard science needs to be as unadulterated as possible. If proponents want creationism of any kind included in science textbooks or the public school curricula, then they can start by submitting scientifically valid theories for peer review. If they don't like that idea, then there is an alternative science class where they can have equal time: political science.

Cooper's Rejoinder

Click here to go to the Discovery Institute website and read Seth Cooper's final rejoinder.


Copyright ©2008 J.E. Hill. The electronic version is copyright ©2008 by Internet Infidels, Inc. with the written permission of J.E. Hill. All rights reserved.

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