Education or Indoctrination?
Analysis of Textbooks in Alabama

I. General Observations


During the process of reviewing science textbooks for use in Alabama public schools, members of the 1995 Alabama State Textbook Committee found numerous problems with the books submitted for adoption. A detailed examination of these problems follows.
A major class of problems concerns the way in which explanations of origins are presented in the texts. It was felt by a minority (six members of the State Textbook Committee) that many of the books violate an important directive of the Alabama State Board of Education. On March 9, 1995, this Board unanimously required that the Alabama Course of Study - Science include the following amendment:

"Explanations of the origin of life and major groups of plants and animals, including humans, shall be treated as theory and not as fact. When attempting to apply scientific knowledge to world problems, no social agenda shall be promoted." This statement was deemed necessary by the State Board of Education to insure that the children of Alabama receive training in how to think rather than in what to think, and that they receive good science education, not ideological indoctrination.

In order to deal positively with the texts that violate the Alabama Course of Study, the minority on the Textbook Committee presented a report calling for a supplement to be placed in the front of problem texts: "First, a supplement should be attached to each adopted text. This supplement should not only inform students, parents, and teachers of the Board's position on the teaching of origins, but it should also point out in general terms the assumptions upon which macroevolution is based and some of the unanswered questions that remain. Otherwise, the public will assume, since the State approved texts teach naturalism as scientific fact, that this teaching represents the position of the State School Board and Department of Education." (1995 Alabama Science Textbook Committee Minority Report, p. 3)

On November 9, 1995, the Alabama State Board of Education responded to the Minority Report by adopting, with only one dissenting vote, an insert to be placed in the front cover of every biology text (see Appendix A for the full text of this insert). It is hoped that this insert will stimulate students to evaluate theories rather than just accept them. It tries to accomplish this goal of good science teaching by:

  1. Pointing out that explanations of past events with no human observers must be treated as interpretations of data and not as factual descriptions.
  2. Showing how the word, "evolution", is used with various meanings that are often not identified or differentiated.
  3. Giving examples of phenomena that have not yet been explained adequately by current evolutionary theory.

One of the chief criticisms of the insert is that it discriminates against one theory. "Why", asks one critic, "are inserts not written for other theories, such as the Big Bang?" Part of the answer is that other theories are presented properly in the texts examined by the Textbook Committee. For example, here is the exemplary way in which one text treats the Big Bang Theory: "Was there a Big Bang? No one knows, but you now know some of the evidence." (Project Star, Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, 1993, p. 321) If evolutionary theory was presented in the same way that Project Star presents the Big Bang Theory, there would be no need for an insert.

The major reason why evolutionary theory must be scrutinized more carefully than any other is because its adherents' claim that it is central to our understanding of reality. For example, Miller and Levine state: "Evolutionary theory is, in the minds of many biologists, the foundation on which all biological science is built. Only because all living organisms are related through common descent can be talk about universal characteristics of life... But the influence of evolutionary thought extends far beyond biology. Philosopher J. Collins has written that 'there are no living sciences, human attitudes, or institutional powers that remain unaffected by the ideas . . . released by Darwin's work.'" (Biology, Miller & Levine, Prentice Hall, 1995, p. 313)


A. Naturalistic Theories of Origins Taught as Fact

"You are an animal, and share a common heritage with earthworms..." (Biology, Visualizing Life, Johnson, Holt Rinehart Winston, 1994, p. 453) This is the type of factual statement found in all the biology textbooks and in many of the elementary textbooks submitted for adoption. What makes this statement scientifically repugnant is that the concept is presented to students as unquestioned scientific fact. It is also repugnant because the beliefs underlying the statement are not identified. The factual presentation of the evolutionary origin of all life forms is in direct contrast to older biology texts. For example, in the preface to the 1981 edition of Modern Biology we find the following statement: "In the sections of Modern Biology dealing with evolution, scientific data have been used to present this material as theory rather than fact... Every effort has been made to present this material in a nondogmatic manner." That current textbooks teach evolution as fact is reflected in the following quote: "Evolution is no longer merely a theory." (Biology, Fourth Edition, Arms & Camp, Saunders College Publishing, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1995, p. 10)

The attempt to teach evolutionary theory as fact is accomplished through intellectually questionable methods such as comparing an interpretation (macro-evolution) with an observable, quantifiable phenomenon: "Evolutionary change is undeniable. ...there is no question that if you jump into the air, you will end up on the ground below. It makes no difference whether you understand - or even believe in - gravity. What goes up must come down. Just as definitely, life on Earth evolves, or changes over time." (Biology, Miller & Levine, Prentice Hall, 1995, p. 291)

Sometimes a text will impose a conclusion on students that is not warranted by the data presented: "The fossils of the earliest birds are rare, often poorly preserved, and very similar to those of many small dinosaurs. Because of this, there is much controversy over which fossils are those of birds and when birds first appeared on Earth. Although the fine points of bird evolution are hotly debated, one thing is certain - birds evolved from ancient reptiles." (ibid, p. 725)

Aside from being poor science, teaching macro-evolution as fact has social and moral ramifications. Ideas have consequences. Is it any wonder that, after many years of communicating to children that they are mere animals, we now find so many behaving like animals?


B.Untestable Philosophical Assumptions Presented Under the Color of Scientific Knowledge.

Textbook authors treat evolutionary interpretations as fact because they believe these interpretations are true; they believe in the underlying untestable, philosophical, religious view of nature that states there is no explanation for the origin of all life forms, including man, other than purposeless, random, and materialistic processes. The belief that matter has the ability to organize itself into higher levels is presented as factual scientific knowledge, as the following quote shows: "We can learn a great deal about the nature of life by comparing body systems among invertebrate groups and by tracing the patterns of change as we move from one phylum to another. As we do so, it is important to keep this concept in mind: Evolution is random and undirected." (Biology, Miller & Levine, Prentice Hall, 1995, p. 658) The religious philosophy of naturalistic evolution runs throughout the texts as the basic factual foundation of biological knowledge. This view is religious because it promotes the belief that the universe is without plan or purpose: "In many ways, each animal phylum represents an experiment in the design of body structures to perform the tasks necessary for survival. Of course, there has never been any kind of plan to these experiments because evolution works without either plan or purpose." (ibid, p. 658) This view cannot be proven and it excludes any nonnatural or supernatural cause from consideration by science students. That "evolution works without either plan or purpose" is a statement of faith masquerading as scientific knowledge. How is a child to avoid being indoctrinated when such a philosophical view is presented as fact by a scientist in a science book with all the authority this implies? In state schools this view is not neutral with regard to religion; it is clearly antagonistic to all theistic religions. Another quotation from a current Biology textbook clearly shows how this naturalistic religion is promoted:

"We have documented the role of change in shaping the vast diversity of life. We have also chronicled the role of chance. Chance has affected the evolutionary process in the generation of genetic diversity through mutation. Chance has also played a role at every major milestone in the history of life. Before life began, over 3.5 billion years ago, the chance union of certain small organic molecules ignited a chain of events that led to the first genes. Much later - about 65 million years ago - a chance collision between Earth and an asteroid may have caused mass extinctions. What are the odds for or against asteroid collisions? How would the evolution of biological diversity have been different if the dinosaurs had not become extinct? One of the great wonders of our existence and of life itself is that it has all arisen through a combination of evolutionary processes and chance events." (Biology Concepts & Connections, Benjamin Cummings, 1994, p. 390)

One characteristic of such an exclusive "religious" position is that it sees other metaphysical positions as rivals. Could this be the reason why some of the current textbooks treat theistic positions as myth and try to marginalize them? The following quote illustrates this antagonism: "Floods, fire, and brimstone were interpreted as punishment for bad human behavior. When some people were particularly obnoxious, their cities were obliterated. When nearly everybody was heading in a bad direction, a great flood submerged the entire world... Understand this fact, and perhaps you will see why acceptance of the very idea of biological evolution was so long in coming." (Biology the Unity and Diversity of Life, Seventh Edition, Starr and Taggart, Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1995, p. 260)

Starr and Taggart also define the nature of reality for us. With regard to questions of morality and ultimate purposes they state: "Answers to such questions are subjective. This means they come from within us, as an outcome of all the experiences and mental connections that shape our consciousness... This is not to say that subjective answers are without value. No human society can function without a shared commitment to standards for making judgments, even if the judgments are subjective." (ibid, p. 12) Here we have a science textbook making the profound metaphysical judgement that no objective basis exists for morality.


C. The Meaning of "Theory" Redefined.

The answer to those who accuse the textbook authors of presenting naturalistic theories of origins as fact is that the layman does not understand what a theory really is. A theory, according to these authors, is an idea held with such certainty by the scientific community that for all practical purposes it has the appearance of fact. Here is a typical example: "The theory of evolution is so broadly supported by evidence that biologists accept it with as much certainty as they do the theory of gravity." (Holt, Biology, 1994, p. 14) In order to give evolution greater standing, the "law" of gravity is being changed to the "theory" of gravity. This statement is intellectually dishonest and can only be seen as intended to elevate the theory of evolution to equal status with the observable law of gravity. Previous texts still refer to gravity as a law: "A theory is a verified hypothesis. Long-term validation of a theory leads to a law: thus we speak of the 'Law of Gravity'." (Times Mirror Mosby, Understanding Biology, 1988, p. 14) According to the next quote, note what gives a theory its validity: "Theories are the solid ground of science, that of which scientists are most certain." (Holt, Biology Principles & Explorations, 1996) Here the certainty of scientists gives a theory its almost factual standing. Compare this to the definition of "theory" given in the 1988 edition of Holt's Modern Biology, p. 7: "Data have value only when valid conclusions are drawn from them. Such conclusions must be based entirely on facts observed in the experiment. If other experiments continue to support the hypothesis, it may come to be called a 'theory'. A good theory explains the facts and also predicts new facts." Note that former definitions of theory have always centered on their relationship to "facts". Evolutionary theory does not fit many known biological facts, and so the emphasis in its definition has had to be changed from fitting the facts to fitting the opinion of the scientific community.

Authors of the texts under question create a dichotomy when presenting evolution. The descent of all life from a common ancestor(s) is treated as historical fact, like the Civil War: "...nearly all biologists now see evolution as an extensively documented feature of life, much as historians who did not personally witness the U.S. Civil War are convinced, based on an accumulation of evidence, that the war really happened." (Biology, Campbell, Benjamin/Cummings, Addison-Wesley, 1993, p.12) The critical difference is that no written eye-witness documents exist for macro-evolutionary descent as they do for the Civil War. As any historian knows, interpreting a past event without eye-witness documents produces a much more hypothetical interpretation than if such documents exist. The fossil record is not a document, but a collection of artifacts that must still be subject to interpretation based on selected assumptions. Fossils are analogous to artifacts such as canteens, cannons, and swords found on a battlefield. The fossil record contains nothing analogous to diaries or military documents. The attempt to equate fossils to such documents smacks of indoctrination.


D. Problems Unexplained by Evolutionary Theory not Mentioned

In most books no mention is made of "any" problems with current theories of origins, giving the impression of an air-tight case for a naturalistic view. The texts read more like an argument for evolution than as an objective presentation of a theory subject to continual reevaluation and modification. If there are no problems left unsolved by a theory, it should be called a law. In the case of theories of origins there are many loose ends such as: How did information in living cells arise? Why have no new phyla appeared for over 500 million years? Why are there no fossil links between the phyla? What is the explanation for the Cambrian explosion? This "sudden" appearance of major body plans early in the fossil record is a phenomenon that is not mentioned in almost all of the current crop of biology textbooks (a laudable exception being that of Biology, Fourth Edition, Sylvia Mader, Wm. C. Brown Publishers, Times Mirror, 1993, p. 416). One text says with great certainty that: "Scientists have learned that new species usually form only when populations are isolated, or separated." (Biology, Miller & Levine, Prentice Hall, 1995, p. 305) This section extends from page 305-307 and expands this statement so that we understand the author is referring to the "founder's effect." This effect supposedly occurs when a few individuals establish a new population. It is vital to the punctuated equilibrium theory and for explaining why so few transitional forms are found in the fossil record. (see Interview with Niles Eldridge, Campbell Biology Instructor's Guide, Benjamin/Cummings, Addison-Wesley, 1993, p. 862) However, no hint is given that this process is a very untested hypothesis. Its lack of solid evidential support became obvious in April of 1995, when researchers Moya, Galiana, and Ayala reported the results of their ten year study of the founders effect: "Our results provide no support for the theories proposing that new species are very likely to appear as by-products of founder events." (Founder-effect Speciation Theory: Failure of Experimental Corroboration, Proc Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, Vol 92, pp. 3983-3986, April, 1995) Yet, almost all of the Biology texts refer to this process as a factual scientific phenomena.

Another example of omitted data is the impossibility of chance being responsible for the information in living organisms and for their complexity. Why is information such as the following never found in any of the textbooks reviewed? "The specificity of the haemoglobin protein is represented by the number 10 to the 650 power. What this means is that if haemoglobin evolved by chance there would only be one chance in 10 to the 650 power of it actually occurring. The specificity of the DNA of the T4 bacteriophage is represented by the number 10 to the 78,000 power so that there is only one chance in 10 to the 78,000 power of it actually occurring by random shufflings. These figures have to be set against the fact that the universe is only 10 to 18 power seconds old, and so there is no possibility whatsoever of life having evolved through Darwin's theory of natural selection operating on chance mutations." (The Philosophical Scientists, David Foster, Barnes & Noble, 1985, p. viii)

Why do none of the science texts include any problems with current evolutionary theory? University of California at Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson gives the answer: "Darwinists have avoided rigorous scrutiny because of the successful stereotyping of anyone who would question the truth of evolutionary theory." Yet the very essence of teaching an explanation as theory is to include problems still needing explanation.


E. "Evolution" not Defined with Precision - A Classic Shell Game with Words.

For apparent polemical reasons, many texts now fail to use precision in defining "evolution". "Evolution" is often defined as merely a "change in living things' - a definition which applies to aging, migrations, and the effects of weight lifting. "Evolve" is defined as "to change over time" (Evolution, Prentice Hall, p. 114F). "So, when you hear someone wonder about whether 'evolution' occurs, remind yourself that evolution simply means change through time." (Biology Concepts and Applications, Cecie Star, Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1994, p. 191) One book has a section entitled "Evolution on the Farm." (Science Interactions, Glencoe, 1995, Course Three, p. 557) "Evolution" does not even appear in the glossary of Biological Science An Ecological Approach (BSCS Green). Some books use the term to refer to designs by human intelligence, and then extend the same term to refer to undirected natural events: "In the previous investigation, you gathered evidence that bicycles have changed a lot in the past 170 years....In this investigation, you will examine evidence for change in horses." (Middle School Science and Technology, BSCS, Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1994, Level C, p. 108)

Note the way in which the following definition blurs the distinction between what is highly theoretical and what is an observed process (factual): "evolution: process by which modern organisms have descended from ancient organisms; any change in the relative frequencies of alleles in the gene pool of a population." (Biology, Miller & Levine, Prentice Hall, 1995, reference / p.29) The later part of the definition refers to the process used to produce different breeds of animals such as poodles or fox terriers. Once this definition is established, the book can then refer to evolution as fact, because part of the definition includes a process that is observed. Thus, a big jump is made from micro-evolution (changes within a species) which is an observed process to macro-evolution (formation of major groups of life forms) which is unobserved. This linguistic slight of hand is not intellectually honest and confuses rather than instructs students in the proper methods of scientific inquiry. Children are deliberately conditioned into thinking that "evolution is a fact". It is difficult to debate a concept when that concept is defined so broadly that it cannot be refuted. Without precise definitions, no meaningful discussion can take place. See Appendix B for the glossary definitions found in the reviewed textbooks.

In addition to the shell game with the highly manipulative word "evolution", a linguistic sleight of hand maneuver is employed to establish "natural selection" as the primary mechanism responsible for our existence. Virtually all textbooks cite examples of minor variations, such as peppered moths, beaks of finches, and pigeon breeding (intelligent selection) as examples of the proven creative power of unintelligent natural selection. Nowhere is it ever pointed out that these minor variations within limits may not address the major question of whether this same mechanism has the power to create major innovations such as moths, and birds, and scientific observers in the first place. The mechanism for the origin of major innovations, such as new complex organs and phyla level body plans, is a major unsolved problem in biology. Using semantic tricks to deprive students of this knowledge leads to suspicion of ideological indoctrination, because it is now recognized that Darwinism teaches that unguided, unsupervised, purposeless natural selection, not God, is our creator. The 1994 American Association for the Advancement of Science President, Francisco J. Ayala, states the ideological importance of Darwin's mechanism of natural selection as follows: "Darwin's theory encountered opposition in religious circles, not so much because he proposed the evolutionary origin of living things (which had been proposed many times before, even by Christian theologians), but because his mechanism, natural selection, excluded God as the explanation accounting for the obvious design of organisms." (Francisco J. Ayala, "Darwin's Revolution", from J.H. Campbell, J.W. Schopf, Creation Evolution?!, Jones & Bartlett, Boston, 1994, p.5)


F. Biased Treatment of Environmental Problems and Social Issues.

Another issue relevant to these textbooks is their promotion of social agendas that grow out of the fertile ground of naturalism. Debatable issues are often treated as nondebatable and useful information is withheld from the students, especially in the area of gloom and doom hyper-environmentalism. Presentations on overpopulation, global warming, acid rain, the ozone layer, etc., are biased and will make it difficult for students to reach informed and balanced conclusions. For example, regarding China's population control program, the text states: "The program encourages couples to postpone marriage and provides easy and free access for married couples to sterilization, contraception, and abortion." (Biological Science An Ecological Approach, BSCS Green Version, Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1992 p.674)

"(E)ncourages" and "provides" are euphemisms that totally misrepresent China's program. It's all about human rights violations. Students aren't told that China has abused and oppressed more women than any other nation on earth. The text fails to mention that China's one-child-per-family rule has resulted in forced sterilization and the monitoring of women's menstrual cycles so that those with unapproved pregnancies can be identified and dragged off to clinics where abortions are performed against their will. A recent Chicago Tribune editorial correctly points out, "If there is a more anti-woman regime in the world today than China's, it's hard to think what it may be." The section concludes with this bleak warning: "The best lesson other countries, including the United States, can learn from China's experience is to curb population growth now through family planning and economic incentives and not wait until the choice is between mass starvation and strict coercive measures." (p. 675) Note the authors' assertion that without implementation of their plan, every country will inevitably have to choose between mass starvation and strict coercive measures. Absent from the discussion, however, are numerous pertinent, more optimistic facts. Many books ignore recent developments and predictions, and the dynamics of the marketplace. Many of the texts disparage mankind and his achievements. This is such a recurring theme from K - 12 that the result could be a very depressed and negative outlook on the part of students toward the future and mankind in general. The goal of science becomes mere survival rather than exploration and achievement. For example, one text complains: "We have polluted the waters where fish still swim little changed from when vertebrates first ventured onto land. Humans are the first species to do major harm to the Earth..." (Biology Principles and Explorations, Johnson & Raven, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1996, p. 288) Another text observes: "Of the many crises in the history of life, the impact of one species, Homo sapiens, is the latest and potentially the most devastating." (Biology, Campbell, Benjamin/Cummings, Addison Wesley, 1993, p. 666) A supplementary trade book that accompanies the Silver Burdett Ginn Science Discovery Works program indoctrinates as follows: "Help! There's a monster on the rampage! This monster eats up the earth's resources. Then it spits them out all over the land. Do you know the name of this monster? It is You-Me-All-of-Us...You-Me-All-of-Us digs huge, craterlike holes. Why? The greedy monster wants the natural resources that are buried in the earth. It gobbles up coal and iron ore. It wants to use the resources for fuel and to manufacture things." (I Can Save the Earth, Anita Holmes, Simon & Schuster, 1993, p. 33)

By contrast the following is an excellent example of the proper treatment of environmental problems: "An article in the local newspaper stated: 'Everything that humans do to the environment causes animals to become extinct.' Write a letter to the editor of the newspaper to disagree with the statement. In your letter, describe some of the ways that humans help prevent animals from becoming extinct." (Science Plus, Red, Grade 7, Holt Rinehart Winston, 1993)


G. Intellectual Dishonesty

One text attempts to discredit any supernatural origin of life by incompletely quoting the statement in Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species that contains that book's only positive reference to the supernatural. It puts a period in the middle of Darwin's sentence. The textbook reads: "Darwin gave biology a sound scientific basis by attributing the diversity of life to natural causes rather than supernatural creation. Nevertheless, the products of evolution are elegant and inspiring in their variety and harmony. As Darwin said in the closing paragraph of The Origin of Species, 'There is grandeur in this view of life.'" (Biology, Third Edition, Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Company, 1993, p. 436) This quotation misrepresents Darwin's original statement which reads: "There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one;" (The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin, Mentor Edition, 1958, p. 450) Note: the text's version of Darwin's statement is incorrect even if you use the first edition of The Origin of Species. Such a deliberate misquotation appears to be intellectually dishonest. It also leads one to question why such dishonesty is necessary, unless the authors believe that their point could not be won on the merits.

Another area of intellectual dishonesty occurs when large logical jumps are made without telling the student what is really taking place. For example, one book (Biology Principles and Explorations, Johnson & Raven, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1996, p. 251) draws the conclusion that, just because man developed broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage from the same species, all living things including man are produced by evolution from a common ancestor. This jump is made without telling the students about any of the assumptions and problems in reaching such a sweeping conclusion.

See also section E above, for a discussion of how words are used in dishonest ways.


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Copyright © 1995 Norris Anderson. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
File Date: 12.22.95