Santa Fe New Mexican August 17, 2003

Evolution’s Defenders Should Avoid Absolutism

New Mexican Editorial

Over in Texas, the cognoscenti are in a righteous huff over Holt, Rinehart & Winston caving in to Bible-belters. The publishing giant’s latest offering of biology textbooks tiptoes away from evolution with words urging students to “study hypotheses for the origin of life that are alternatives” to those mentioned in the book.

That advice gladdens the hearts of the anti-Darwinists, who run the gamut from instant-creationists to adherents of an “intelligent-design” theory that rejects the purposelessness of natural selection in favor of a grand design in which life on earth plays a role.

But it offends the Texas Freedom Network, a group whose good works include watchdogging the religious right’s incursions on public schools. To the network’s way of thinking, Holt, Rinehart has “compromised the education of Texas students.”

Actually, it hasn’t happened yet.

More public hearings will take place before final changes are made to the Holt, Rinehart book, or whatever text the state’s educational leaders choose.

Texas being the second-biggest textbook market in the country, freedom-networkers have cause for thinking a publisher would pander to prevailing thought among the public-education establishment.

And if Holt, Rinehart can peddle tens of thousands of textbooks carrying that language to the Lone Star State, why not ship the same books to markets like New Mexico, where civil-libertarian protest won’t weigh as much?

New Mexicans can thank the Texas Freedom Network for serving as the bulwark it is against oppression on several fronts — but we also should urge the group to choose its battles.

To the extent that teachers can find time in their lesson-planning, they should encourage their students to wander beyond the mental fences of evolutionary theory.

It’s certainly the accepted science today, and it gains credibility with every fossil found tracing transitions from early mankind to today’s variety.

But who knows?

Tomorrow, someone might dig up a bunch of bones that make Darwinism look as silly as Aristotelian astronomy — or as the absolutist creationism Clarence Darrow made a laughingstock during the Scopes Trial.

Defenders of “good science” should be glad our country has come as far as it has since the monkey’s-uncle summer of 1925 in Dayton, Tenn.

We’re glad they’re on guard against the imposition of religion on public education.

At the same time, tolerance toward other ideas about the origin of life would give the group greater credibility when such issues as vouchers, school prayer and true censorship of textbooks come up — as they’re bound to.

File Date: 08.26.03