Should Evolution be Immune from Critical Analysis?
About 15 years ago, before the science (yes, it is a science) of intelligent design came on the scene, I wrote a letter to the editor of my local paper arguing that there existed a reasonable middle ground between the dogmatism of the creation-science camp and the dogmatism of the evolution camp. I argued that if evolution were merely taught as a theory rather than as proven fact, it would go a long way towards resolving the conflict. I guess I was rather naïve at the time because I thought that the conflict between the two was based largely on a decision by a minority of idealists in the evolution camp to push naturalistic evolution as the only possible alternative for the creation of life. Of course, the text-book sticker controversy in Cobb County, Georgia, has demonstrated that teaching evolution as a theory is not acceptable to evolutionists -– they have to have evolution taught as proven fact even though, at best, it is a model for which many scientists believe there to be a significant amount of evidence.
In the years since then I have read and studied quite a few things in this area of origins, but I still believe that I was right 15 years ago -– if we simply teach evolution as a theory, then that would resolve most of the problems. But because evolutionists have dug in their heels arguing that evolution must be taught as fact, simply teaching evolution as a theory is no longer an option. Rather, public schools should teach evolution, but it should do so by encouraging the children to think critically about the theory to see if they agree with evolutionists that it is "fact" or agree with non-Darwinian scientists that it is a model that is little more than naturalistic dogmatism disguised as proven fact.
To that end, I read with interest the on-line essay, "Should Evolution be Immune from Critical Analysis?" by David Buckna. Essentially, Mr. Buckna’s essay is a series of questions about evolutionary theory and its ability to explain the evidence. To that end, he quotes from many of the proponents of evolution and follows by rhetorically asking the proponents questions intended to clarify the meaning of the quotes and to expose biases in the original quote or the supposed evidence for evolution.
Linked through the article is an origins of life policy that appears to have been originally proposed by Mr. Buckna and Denis Laidlaw in an article published on the Institute for Creation Research page also entitled “Should Evolution be Immune from Critical Analysis?” (Mr. Buckna needs to become as creative with his titles as he is with his proposals -- of course, I seem to have suffered the same uncreativity in the title of this post).
As no theory in science is immune from critical examination and evaluation, and recognizing that evolutionary theory is the only approved theory of origins that can be taught in the [province/state] science curriculum: whenever evolutionary theory is taught, students and teachers are encouraged to discuss the scientific information that supports and questions evolution and its underlying assumptions, in order to promote the development of critical thinking skills. This discussion would include only the scientific evidence/information for and against evolutionary theory, as it seeks to explain the origin of the universe and the diversity of life on our planet.
The obvious question is "what’s wrong with that?" What could be wrong with someone presenting as part of the teaching of evolution the scientific information that both supports and questions evolution? An article in the Orlando Sentinel entitled "In the Beginning" (which is no longer available on-line, unfortunately) presents one evolutionist’s answer to these questions when discussing Mr. Buckna’s proposed approach.
A Canadian elementary-school teacher, David Buckna, has proposed a more neutral approach to teaching intelligent design than stickers that question the validity of evolution.
Buckna's "Origins of Life" program is based on the premise that "no theory in science is immune from critical examination and evaluation."
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It's not that simple, says Mark Perakh, a retired physics professor at California State University, Fullerton.
"The question of whether there was ever an act of creation by a supernatural creator is beyond science," says the author of Unintelligent Design – a book that dismisses the concept.
"I expect that origin of life will be given a well-substantiated natural explanation in the forthcoming years."
(Note that Dr. Perakh does not state that evidence shows that the origin of life has a natural explanation. Rather, he “expects,” i.e., he has faith, that a naturalistic explanation will be forthcoming. It appears that Dr. Perakh has more faith in science than I do, but that is typical of people who hold dogmatic beliefs.)
The response from Dr. Perakh to Mr. Buckna’s proposal is that positing the possible existence of a supernatural designer is beyond science. But that brings us back to the question of what science should be doing. In this area of origins, should science be trying to determine the truth of how things came to be, or should it be trying to determine naturalistic explanations for how things came to be? If it is doing the latter, than I think science is an interesting intellectual exercise, but I don’t see any reason to accept its outcome as truthful since it has excluded at the outset any possibility of a non-naturalistic explanations. In other words, all science will do in this area is encourage scientists to come up with naturalistic explanations for origins regardless of whether they are true. It is like telling someone that they have to explain how balls bounce off bumpers on a billiard table without considering the possiblity of the laws of physics -- they may be able to do it, but there is no reason to believe that there solution is true since a possible explanation has been excluded at the outset.
Mr. Buckna, who I have had the pleasure of corresponding with, has written a letter to the Editor of the Orlando Sentinel following the publication of the article, and he has given me permission to post it here. Mr. Buckna wrote:
So there is no misunderstanding, I am not proposing that any form of creationism or intelligent design be mandated in science classes by local or state boards of education. The suggested 'Origins of Life' policy can be read in its entirety in the Buckna/Laidlaw article, "Should evolution be immune from critical analysis in the science classroom?", at (www.icr.org/pubs/imp/imp-282.htm)
He then continued by noting that there are four different approaches to the origins of life question for evolutionists depending on their philosophical or theistic beliefs:
The origin perspectives of evolutionists can be classified into the following general categories--all of which are based on naturalistic philosophy:
ATHEISTIC NATURALISM God does not exist. There is no real design (only apparent design) and nature is all there is. eg. Carl Sagan:"The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be."; Richard Dawkins: "...although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." (in The Blind Watchmaker", p. 6)
AGNOSTIC NATURALISM One is unsure whether God exists. Though nature may not be all there is, nature is all that matters.
THEISTIC NATURALISM God exists. He designed the natural laws. There is no design in the strict sense, and although _in principle_ nature is not all that matters, _in effect_ it is.
THEISTIC EVOLUTION God designed the natural laws so that their ordinary operation would result in the intended outcome.
University of California (Berkeley) law professor Phillip Johnson ["Darwin on Trial"] says naturalists define words like "evolution" and "science" in such a way that naturalism is true by definition. Johnson commented in World magazine: "Evolutionary science is based on naturalism and draws philosophical conclusions to that base. That's why any theistic evolution is inherently superficial. It leads people into naturalistic thinking, and they don't realize it." (Nov. 22/97, p.13)
What Mr. Buckna is pointing out is that all of these various approaches to origins, despite two of which being labeled "theistic," are naturalistic in origin. They either deny any role to God in the origin of life question or they deny God any real role. In fact, as the Johnson quote points out, theistic evolution leads people to start thinking in terms of origins as if there were no God under the guise that God is like the Wizard of Oz – somehow behind the curtain pulling levers, but really not much of a wizard.
Mr. Buckna’s letter concludes, appropriately enough, with another quote by Dr. Johnson on CNN in 1999 that I think bears consideration in light of the proposal to teach evolution critically:
I think we should teach a lot about evolution. In fact, I think we should teach more than the evolutionary science teachers want the students to know. The problem is what we're getting is a philosophy that's claimed to be scientific fact, a lot of distortion in the textbooks, and all the difficult problems left out, because they don't want people to ask tough questions.