Feedback archiveFeedback 2007

Evaluating an evolutionary science curriculum

A supporter from New Zealand contacted us concerned about a new school science curriculum emphasising evolution which is being prepared by the New Zealand Ministry of Education. How should creationists respond? Should we oppose such a curriculum outright?

In this feedback we show how important it is to first look carefully at exactly what is proposed rather than merely giving a ‘knee jerk’ negative reaction. ‘Test everything, Hold onto the good’ (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

In the following careful examination we see that although the curriculum mandates the teaching of evolution, and consistently confuses natural selection (a real phenomenon) with molecules-to-man evolution (a hypothetical and impossible process), it also includes much good scientific content.

It is important for teachers and students to learn critical thinking on controversial science issues such as the issue of origins. Ideally one should endeavour to be able to understand how different groups of scientists (evolutionists and creationists in this case) arrive at their differing interpretations of the same data, due to their differing starting assumptions. It is liberating and empowering to understand the role of assumptions and worldview in the interpretation of scientific data. This approach will give an excellent understanding of the science and put you ahead of those who only understand it from one side.

Here Andrew Lamb gives a detailed critique of the curriculum, using principles that can be applied to other curricula in other countries. In fact, many of the specific issues tend to be much the same.

Relevant excerpts from the curriculum appear indented and in red. Andrew Lamb’s comments appear in black. Points that are of particular use for creationist teachers and students are highlighted in green.

NZ Curriculum and Science Achievement Objectives

The proposed new New Zealand science curriculum is presented in two documents: 1) The New Zealand Curriculum: Draft for consultation 20061 and 2) Science Curriculum Achievement Objectives2.

Model of a human ear. Photo by Jean Scheijen, sxc.hu

One serious shortcoming that continually appears throughout both these documents is the confusing of natural selection (a real process) with evolution, the idea that one kind of organism changed into another kind over millions of years. These are entirely different and we strongly recommend the use of different words to describe these different concepts. Natural selection involves merely the shuffling, rearrangement and degeneration of existing genetic information, whereas evolution requires encyclopedic quantities of new information to be produced by unintelligent, natural processes—information coding for new types of organs, limbs, physiologies, etc. Usually this confusion is innocent, due to a fuzzy understanding of the science involved. However, in some cases zealous evolutionists deliberately obfuscate on definitions of these two things—see What is Evolution?

The following is a biblical creationist critique of the relevant excerpts from the two documents.

1) The New Zealand Curriculum: Draft for consultation 2006

Current scientific knowledge has its origins in many different cultures and periods of history.
(page 20)

This is not exactly accurate. It is widely recognized that modern science arose following the Reformation. This was as a result of the biblical creationist assumptions (abridged from this list) that 1) the world is real; 2) the world is orderly; 3) Man can and should investigate the world; 4) Man can initiate thoughts and actions; they are not solely results of deterministic laws of brain chemistry; 5) Man can think rationally and logically, and that logic itself is objective; 6) honesty is a virtue. See also The basis of modern science and Christians and the foundation of science.

They come to appreciate that scientific knowledge is at the same time durable and tentative;
(page 20)

This is a good point, acknowledging the tentative nature of scientific knowledge. Yes, science is tentative, so it behooves us to be wary when scientists declare or insist, in an absolutist, emotional or pontifical way, unprovable dogmas such as ‘evolution is a fact’.

They learn about where and how life has evolved,
(page 20)

Here the curriculum demonstrates its worldview bias. It only considers one view, evolution, which is a philosophy, an interpretive framework. The where and how of evolutionary explanations of origins consist not of facts but of fantasy speculations. The ‘where’ of each particular fossil (and gene etc.) may be known, but the stories used to fit those facts into an evolutionary scheme of things are just that—stories. There are other ways of interpreting the data, and proper education involves students understanding these different views. The biblical paradigm for interpreting the fossil and genetic data makes far more sense of them.

They learn about . . . evolution as the link between life processes and ecology

This is an example of the confused use of the word evolution. Here the curriculum means natural selection / adaptation, which provides a link between life processes and ecology. Natural selection is an observed scientific phenomenon, unlike particles-to-people evolution which is a speculative construct that has not been observed—see Muddy Waters and The evolution train’s a-comin’.

2) Science Curriculum Achievement Objectives

Page 1: Science: Living World: Evolution

Students will understand the processes that drive change in groups of living things over long periods of time and be able to discuss the implications of these changes.

This objective describes natural selection / adaptation, but one should carefully avoid confusing this phenomenon with ‘evolution’ as done here. To label this as ‘evolution’ could be seen as a ‘bait and switch’ tactic. Many evolutionary propagandists knowingly switch the meaning of the word ‘evolution’ part-way through an argument, a practice known as equivocation. The common ‘bait-and-switch’ tactic is simply to produce examples of change over time, call this ‘evolution’, then imply that microbes-to-man evolution is thereby proven (see this paragraph).

Page 1: Science: Planet Earth and Beyond: Earth cycles

Students will gain an understanding of Earth cycles that shape the structure of planet Earth over geological time.

Photo by H Berends, sxc.huChemicals poured into a flask

By ‘over geological time’ the curriculum means millions of years. The age issue is at the heart of the battle of worldviews. Age cannot be measured (see Immeasurable age) and these millions of years are an assumption, adopted for philosophical reasons in contradiction to historical records and much observation data. This change in philosophy began in the late 1700s / early 1800s, when geologists Hutton and Lyell deliberately rejected reliable historical records such as the Bible, which attested to recent creation and catastrophism, in favour of the unprovable and highly unreasonable assumptions of uniformitarianism and long ages—see The origin of old-earth geology.

Page 2: Levels One and Two: Nature of Science: Understanding about science

open-mindedness is important because there may be more than one explanation.

This is a creationist-friendly point. There is certainly more than one explanation when it comes to origins, and the inclusion of this clause provides sanction for creationist science teachers to include alternatives to evolution in their lessons.

Page 2: Levels One and Two: Living World: Evolution

Recognise that there are lots of different living things in the world and that they can be grouped in different ways.

Grouping and classification of organisms (taxonomy) need have nothing to do with imagined evolutionary relationships. See more on this shortly.

Page 2: Levels One and Two: Living World: Evolution

Explain how we know that some living things from the past are now extinct.

Again, this is not evolution. In fact this supports the opposite view. Evolution requires new kinds of organisms to continually come into existence, while extinction involves irrevocable loss of existing kinds of organisms.

Page 2: Levels One and Two: Planet Earth and Beyond: Earth cycles

Observe and describe local natural features and how they can change.

This objective is a highly creationist-friendly one. It gives great scope for introducing evidence of rapid erosion and rapid formation of geologic features. All sorts of geological forms and processes have been claimed to require millions of years. We used to be told that stalactites and stalagmites, canyons, sand beaches, thick sedimentary strata etc. required millions of years to form, but for each of these, observational evidence is available of instances in which they have formed in just hours, months or years. Likewise for oil, coal, petrified wood, fossilized bones, opals, and many other geological phenomena. See details of some such fast processes here. Creation magazine regularly carries details and pictures of real-life examples of the rapid formation of things which evolutionists have claimed take many thousands or millions of years to form.

Page 2: Levels Three and Four: Nature of Science: Understanding about science

… science knowledge changes over time.

This is an important point. Science cannot produce truth. Science is continually discarding old dates, old transitional forms, and old phylogenies (family trees) for new ones. Many evolutionists adamantly insist that their current beliefs on these topics are the truth, just as their predecessors did, whose beliefs they insist were wrong. Well did Saint Paul describe such people when he wrote ‘Ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (2 Titus 3:7).

Page 2: Levels Three and Four: Nature of Science: Understanding about science

They will identify ways in which scientists . . . provide evidence to support their ideas.

This is a good objective as it gives sanction for discussing the shortcomings of evolution and the flaws in the evidence used to support it. Much of the evidence for evolution consists of stories thought up to explain presumed relationships between fossils. But as a famous and popular scientist once said when confronted with a fossil interpretation he didn't like, “I too could think up some equally ingenious explanation for these artefacts.”3

Page 2: Levels Three and Four: Nature of Science: Investigating in science

They will ask questions, find evidence, and carry out appropriate investigations to develop simple explanations.

This is important and encouraging—the objectives do not insist on natural explanations, and Creation is demonstrably a rational, logical, and straightforward theory. ‘Hard-core’ evolutionists insist that science is the search for natural answers, and emphatically reject the idea that science is merely the search for rational, logical or simple answers—see Lewontin’s admission to this effect.

Page 2: Levels Three and Four: Living World: Evolution

Begin to group plants, animals, and other living things into science-based classifications.

Photo by Rodolfo Clix, sxc.huA living organisim under the mircoscope

Classifying living organisms need not have anything to do with imagined evolutionary ancestries. Indeed the very founder of the science of taxonomy (biological classification), Carolus Linnaeus (1707–1778), was a Bible-believing creationist. See the section Linnaeus and the classification system in Ligers and Wholphins and footnote 10 in Genetic engineers unwind species barrier. Evolutionists are continually chopping and changing their ancestral trees as ever more contradictory (from an evolutionary view) data about DNA similarities and differences among organisms becomes available. See Bananas in pyjamas? and Are look-alikes related?

Page 2: Levels Three and Four: Living World: Evolution

Explore how the groups of living things we have in the world have changed over long periods of time. Some living things in New Zealand are quite different from living things in other areas of the world.

This objective gives excellent scope for a creationist science teacher to introduce the biblical history of animals dispersing around the globe from the Middle East, adapting along the way via the founder effect, natural selection and degenerative mutation, to the various extreme and niche environments offered in the post-Flood world. Again, this objective as described has nothing to do with evolution, only natural selection / adaptation, and degenerative mutation. It also gives scope for mention of the Ice Age, with its associated lowered sea levels, land bridges, etc. Note that these adaptive changes do not require millions of years, but can happen within a few generations, which has been surprising to evolutionists. See Speedy species surprise.

Page 2: Levels Three and Four: Planet Earth and Beyond: Earth cycles

Investigate the cause, rate, and signs of change of natural features.

This objective provides an excellent opportunity for creationist science teachers to introduce evidence of catastrophism and rapid formation of geological forms. For instance see the fast fossil examples listed here. See also articles about planation surfaces,4 pediments, and water gaps.5

Page 2: Levels Three and Four: Planet Earth and Beyond: Interacting cycles

Identify the conditions that allow life to exist on Earth at this moment in time.

“At this moment in time” connotes the evolutionary assumption of a long period in the past during which the earth was not habitable. This contradicts evidence from a supremely reliable historical source (the Bible) that men and women have been here ‘from the beginning’ (Matthew 19:4; Mark 10:6).

Nevertheless, this objective has a good aspect in that it provides the opportunity to introduce the Anthropic Principle, the observation that the various physical properties of our world seem precisely designed to support life. See What is the Anthropic Principle? and The universe is finely tuned for life.

Page 3: Level Five Level Six: Nature of Science: Understanding about science

Students will understand that scientists’ investigations are informed by current scientific theories.

The acknowledgement of “current scientific theories” gives opportunity to remind students of the transient nature of evolutionary theories. Although most scientists believe evolution occurred, there have been many different theories of evolution (i.e. different proposed mechanisms by which evolution could proceed). Prior to Darwin many people thought evolution sounded reasonable and wanted to believe it, but no-one had yet managed to think of a plausible mechanism, make it respectable, and popularise it. Darwin was the first to succeed in this with Darwinism (natural selection plus variation).

The most popular evolution theories today are Neo-Darwinism (mutations plus selection) and Punctuated Equilibrium. Proponents of both these theories point out the impossibilities inherent in their competitor. Other (mostly discarded) theories of evolution include Maximum Entropy Production (MEP), Population Dynamics, Facilitated Variation, Semi-Meiosis, Niche Construction, Saltation, Panspermia, Metabolic Rate Theory, Zoogenesis, Lamarckism, Orthogenesis, Pangenesis, Gaia Theory, Evo-Devo, Symbiogenesis. There are many more.

Page 3: Level Five Level Six: Nature of Science: Understanding about science

Students will … aim to collect adequate evidence that is interpreted through processes of logical argument.

Again, it is very encouraging to see the New Zealand science objectives specify logical argument, rather than enforcing the assumption of naturalism.

Page 3: Level Five Level Six: Nature of Science: Investigating in science

Students will develop and carry out investigations that use a variety of approaches. Variables will be considered and logical and justifiable conclusions drawn.

Again, specifying “logical and justifiable conclusions” is a boon to creationists. Creation is logical and justifiable. This clause provides teachers the scope both to present creation, and to discuss the illogical and unjustifiable aspects of evolution.

Page 3: Level Five Level Six: Nature of Science: Communicating in science

They will apply their understandings of science to evaluate both popular and scientific texts (including visual and numerical literacy).

This is an incredibly useful objective, as it sanctions use of popular materials, which can include creationist materials, such as DVDs and Creation magazine articles.

Page 3: Level Five: Living World: Life processes

Describe the organisation of life at the cellular level.

Under this objective material on the extreme and irreducible complexity of the cell can be introduced, e.g. material from intelligent design books and DVDs such as (books) Darwin’s Black Box; Evolution: A Theory in Crisis; and Darwin’s Enigma and (DVDs) Unlocking the Mystery of Life; Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution 1; Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution 2; and Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution 3.

Page 3: Level Five: Living World: Evolution

Describe the basic processes by which genetic information is passed from one generation to the next.

Artist impression of blood. Image by Ali Taylor, sxc.hu

The basic processes involved are highly conservative, acting against random change. The genetic machinery for processing DNA includes many ingenious mechanisms for prevention of errors (random changes), whereas evolution requires random changes, and billions of them. Again, this objective as worded has nothing to do with evolution of one type of organism into another.

Page 3: Level Six: Living World: Evolution

Explore patterns in the inheritance of genetically controlled characteristics.

This is another example of the loose definition of evolution. Existence of patterns in inheritance of genetically controlled characteristics involves not evolution but mendelian genetics.

Page 3: Level Six: Living World: Evolution

Explain the importance of variation within a changing environment.

Variation within a changing environment is not evolution.

Page 3: Level Six: Planet Earth and Beyond: Earth cycles

Understand how plate tectonics shapes and changes the structure of planet Earth.

The use here of present-simple-tense wording (shapes, changes) implies uniformitarianism, and this curriculum objective does not differentiate between scientific observation and the interpretive philosophy of uniformitarianism. In fact from historical records we know that the bulk of the world’s structure and landforms arose not through slow and gradual processes but through two unique events, Creation and the Flood. It is worth looking at alternate geological explanations to help students understand the basic assumptions involved.

Page 3: Level Six: Planet Earth and Beyond: Interacting cycles

Investigate how Earth and astronomical cycles can alter the balance of conditions that support life on Earth over time.

This sounds like it could be providing opportunity for teaching evolutionary speculation about the big bang, millions of years, stellar evolution, origin of life, biological evolution, ice ages and fantasized future evolution. A teacher or student can keep themself informed of creationist thinking on each of these topics via the FAQ and search facility on the CMI website. This curriculum objective would also provide opportunity to consider the Anthropic Principal, mentioned previously.

Page 4: Level Seven Level Eight: Nature of Science: Understanding about science

Students will understand that scientists have an obligation to connect their new ideas to current and historical scientific knowledge and to present their findings for peer review and debate.

Under this objective, a creationist teacher could bring up the fact that most branches of science were actually founded by Bible-believing creationists (see a more extensive list here). A teacher could also raise the fact that modern science is profoundly dependent on distinctly biblical creationist assumptions (mentioned near the beginning of this critique).

This objective would also sanction the incorporation of debate on evolution, the age of the earth, uniformitarianism vs catastrophism and other contentious origins-related scientific issues.

Page 4: Level Seven Level Eight: Nature of Science: Participating and contributing

Students will use relevant information to develop a coherent understanding of socio-scientific issues that concern them and to identify possible responses at both personal and societal levels.

Under this objective, material on the terrible personal and social consequences of evolution (communism, genocide, democide, sexual anarchy, eugenics, homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, suicide, crime, etc.) could be introduced. The effects of differing beliefs about origins on personal and social behaviour could be discussed. See the articles listed under the heading ‘Creation: Why it matters’.

Page 4: Level Seven: Living World: Ecology

Explore ecological distribution patterns and explain possible causes for these patterns.

This objective provides a good opportunity to discuss post-Flood dispersion and adaptation.

Page 4: Level Seven: Living World: Evolution

Understand the role of DNA in gene expression.

This is real, objective science, and has nothing to do with particles-to-people evolution.

Page 4: Level Seven: Living World: Ecology and Evolution

Explain how the interaction between ecological factors and natural selection leads to genetic changes within populations.

Photo istockphoto.comA teacher and students in class

Again, this is not evolution. It’s good that they explicitly say “within populations” here. The genetics of the population can change without the genetics of any individual within that population changing. E.g. something wipes out all the individuals except those with a particular trait. A new population then arises in which every individual has that trait. Note that the trait was already present at the beginning. The thing that has changed is the relative proportion of existing traits. Note too that this process results in the loss of unsuited traits from that population. Natural selection (or as I personally like to call it, natural rejection) involves loss of unsuitable genetic information, the opposite of evolution. Again, see Muddy Waters and The evolution train’s a-comin’.

Page 4: Level Eight: Living World: Life, Ecology and Evolution

Explore the evolutionary processes that have resulted in the diversity of life on Earth and appreciate the place and impact of humans within these processes.

This objective, if implemented, would amount to the telling of evolutionary stories, based on interpretations of the fossil record and naturalistic speculation. It could amount to blatant indoctrination. Depending on what is included, one would simply have to keep asking the question, ‘What has been actually observed? What is evidence and what is speculation?’ In this way a creationist student or teacher would be able to expose any ‘just so’ stories.

Page 4: Level Eight: Planet Earth and Beyond: Astronomical cycles

Use the concepts of distance, time, and gravity to explore information about galaxies and the universe.

This encompasses the important issue of distant starlight, which does pose a prima facie inconsistency with the Bible. Explanation is required but the apparent clash can be resolved. See the articles listed under How can we see light from stars millions of light years away? God stretched out the heavens (Isaiah 45:12 and 16 other verses). If evolutionists object to God stretching out the heavens, just remind them of the unobserved, entirely assumed ‘inflation’ period in their own big bang theory of the universe. It is important too, to point out that the big bang has an intractable starlight travel problem all its own.

Published: 14 April 2007

References and Notes

  1. http://www.tki.org.nz/r/nzcurriculum/pdfs/curriculum-framework-draft.pdf Return to Text
  2. http://www.tki.org.nz/r/nzcurriculum/pdfs/table-science.pdf Return to Text
  3. Dr Zaius from Planet of The Apes (paraphrased, from memory). Return to Text
  4. See also Planation surfaces or peneplains? Creation 29(2):5, March 2007. Return to Text
  5. See especially our upcoming article by Michael Oard, Do rivers erode through mountains? Creation 29(3):18–23, June 2007. Return to Text