When students study Darwin's theory of evolution, should they learn only about its strengths, or should they also hear about its weaknesses? And should they learn about the best current evidence for evolution, or should they study outdated examples that have been discredited by the scientific community?
Those are the real issues Discovery Institute has raised with the Texas State Board of Education, which over the next few months will be considering the adoption of biology texts for use in Texas schools. Contrary to the preposterous rhetoric of Terry Maxwell (''Evolution opponents are at it again,'' July 30), Discovery Institute is not a ''creationist'' organization, nor do we support the teaching of religion in science classes.
Instead, we favor two modest proposals that everyone concerned about good science education should be able to embrace.
First, we believe students should be exposed to legitimate scientific (not religious) controversies over evolutionary theory. Peer-reviewed science journals are filled with articles raising issues about various aspects of neo-Darwinism, the prevailing theory of evolution taught in textbooks. In 2000, for example, an article in the journal Cell noted that there is a ''long-standing question of the sufficiency of evolutionary mechanisms observed at or below the species level ('microevolution') to account for the larger-scale patterns of morphological evolution ('macroevolution').'' Yet this ''long-standing question'' about neo-Darwinism isn't covered in most textbooks. Why not?
In addition, we favor correcting clear factual errors in textbook presentations of evolution.
Unfortunately, many biology texts contain outdated information about evolution that is no longer accepted by many scientists. For example, some books still present a 1950s experiment supposedly showing how life first arose as good science, even though more recent research has shown that the experiment doesn't work under the conditions now thought to have been present on the early Earth.
Biologist Jonathan Wells, who holds a Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology from the University of California at Berkeley, has extensively documented these textbook errors in his book ''Icons of Evolution.'' Contrary to Maxwell, Wells' criticisms have not been refuted, and Wells has successfully defended his book in subsequent articles that can be read at www.iconsofevolution.com.
Far from being rejected by the scientific community, Wells' criticisms of textbooks actually have been confirmed by many other biologists and peer-reviewed science publications.
Take the case of the peppered moth experiments that Terry Maxwell defends so ardently. Microevolution in peppered moths may be due to Darwin's mechanism of natural selection, but experiments purporting to prove this hypothesis have been discredited, and not just by Jonathan Wells. The same criticisms raised by Wells have also been presented in The New York Times, the prestigious science monograph series Evolutionary Biology, and the acclaimed book ''Of Moths and Men'' by evolutionist Judith Hooper. One textbook being proposed for use in Texas actually informs students about problems with the peppered moth experiments, but others continue to present the experiments uncritically.
Let's be clear about what is at stake here. No one disputes that microevolution occurs, or that natural selection can lead to microevolutionary changes. If the original peppered moth experiments had turned out to be valid, not even ''creationists'' would object. The real issue is accurate science. The original peppered moth experiments have been discredited in the scientific community, and so they should not be presented uncritically as proof for Darwin's mechanism of natural selection. The same goes for other examples of outdated research used in textbooks.
Unfortunately, Darwinists like Maxwell seem willing to defend junk science rather than give up their cherished textbook icons. They are so blindly committed to Darwinism that they have lost all objectivity. Such closed-minded dogmatism is the opposite of good science, and it shouldn't be allowed to dictate what Texas students learn about biology.
For more information on inaccuracies in the textbooks proposed for Texas, I encourage readers to check Discovery Institute's textbook review posted at www.discovery.org/crsc.
John G. West, Ph.D., is associate director of Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture in Seattle.
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File Date: 08.11.03