Proposed new science standards: Where’s the e-word?


‘Georgia takes on “evolution”’ trumpets the New York Times. ‘Georgia may shun “evolution” in schools,’ warns the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Here we go again. Another US state is embroiled in controversy over the teaching of evolution. Will it ever end?

At issue

Georgia’s broad education standards (passed in 1984) need improvement, and so a year ago, the state’s newly elected school superintendent initiated a major overhaul. A panel of experts adopted the new Standards for Excellence in Education, produced by the nonprofit Council for Basic Education, with a few modifications.

The problem is that the proposed ‘modifications’ include replacing the word evolution with ‘biological changes over time,’ and removing (or rewording) references to Darwin, human origins and the age of the earth.

Evolution is an emotional ‘buzzword’—says Georgia’s school superintendent

Georgia school superintendent, Kathy Cox, appears to have been surprised by the media backlash. Nothing appeared in the media when she first released the draft of the education standards on 12 January, inviting public comment.

The alarm bells went off on Thursday, 28 January, when The Atlanta Journal-Constitution printed a major article that opened, ‘Georgia students could graduate from high school without learning much about evolution, and may never even hear the word uttered in class.’1

L.A. Times, New York Times and others picked up the story. By 3 pm, superintendent Cox decided to hold a news conference to set the record straight.

She explained that the standards expect students to learn all about the processes of evolution, that the tentative standards have just removed the word evolution, because it is ‘a buzzword that causes a lot of negative reaction.’

In a web response, called ‘The truth about GA’s [Georgia’s] biology curriculum,’ the education department stressed,

‘Those who read the draft of the science curriculum will find that the concepts of Darwinism, adaptation, natural selection, mutation, and speciation are actually interwoven throughout the standards at each grade level. Students will learn of the succession through history of scientific models of change, such as those of Lamarck, Malthus, Wallace, Buffon, and Darwin.

‘They will become scientifically literate by learning the process of scientific inquiry and seeing the way science changes as a result of new discoveries and theories. …

‘Why, then, is the word itself not used in the draft of the curriculum, when the concepts are there? The unfortunate truth is that “evolution” has become a controversial buzzword that could prevent some from reading the proposed biology curriculum comprehensive document with multiple scientific models woven throughout. We don’t want the public or our students to get stuck on a word when the curriculum actually includes the most widely accepted theories for biology. Ironically, people have become upset about the exclusion of the word again, without having read the document.’2

‘Graduates will be unfit for college’—says the backlash

  • ‘A national embarrassment for Georgia’, an assistant professor at Emory University suggested.3

  • The proposed standards ‘would make it harder to broach the subject in the classroom,’ warned the New York Times.4

  • ‘Teaching biology without evolution is like teaching chemistry without the periodic table,’ said one letter to the editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.5

  • College-bound Georgia students won’t get advanced placement credit for biology, ‘regardless of test score,’ insists a biology advisor at the University of Georgia, in a letter to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution editor.6

The ugly attacks follow an expected pattern, almost like it’s the ‘party line.’

The real problem

It’s amazing how hard it is to get the real story, when it comes to debates about teaching evolution in public-school classrooms.

What are they hiding?

To be honest, in the various state debates (see Q&A: Education), both sides often appear unwilling to lay out all the facts, goals, and biases that they bring to the table.

On the one hand, state curriculum developers don’t publicize the fact that they want to leave room for the teaching of ‘intelligent design theory’ (see our views on the Intelligent Design Movement) as an alternative to evolution. They don’t admit the obvious—that they have reworded direct references to the anti-Christian, anti-biblical concepts of molecules-to-man evolution and ‘billions of years as fact.’

On the other hand, the evolutionary zealots are even more unwilling to lay it all on the line. They won’t admit that the teaching of millions of years of death before Adam is not science, but an interpretation of history based on unsupported assumptions, and it directly attacks the integrity of God’s Word and its authority over our lives. Such honesty isn’t popular in conservative ‘Bible belt’ states like Georgia.

Worse, the evolutionary zealots are guilty of ‘equivocation,’ failing to admit that there are two popular meanings of evolution: (1) ‘biological change over time,’ which scientists on every side of the debate have always accepted, and (2) the formation of completely new creatures over millions of years, converting primordial soup into prime ministers.

It’s the second meaning of evolution that open-minded educators simply don’t want to be taught as fact.

Just teach students how to think.

Everyone recognizes the challenges that Christians face in changing how evolution is taught in secular classrooms. Educators are terrified of being labeled as ‘religious zealots’ (as they already have been in this incident).

But the answer is not just to remove the word evolution.

Education is supposed to teach students how to think, so they need to be exposed to all the facts, along with the assumptions required to interpret the facts.

So, obviously, it’s important for students to learn the whole history and philosophy behind ‘Darwinian evolution,’ which has had such a powerful impact on Western civilization, reaching far beyond the laboratory to every area of the culture [See Darwin’s real message: Have you missed it?].

It’s just as wrong to pretend that goo-to-you evolution is ‘fact’/‘science’ as it is to argue that evolution is a mere ‘buzzword’ or a ‘neutral’ topic.

No, all students need to recognize the vast difference between operational science, which deals with the ‘here and now’ and can be repeated in experiments, and historical science, which depends on assumptions about events that we cannot observe or repeat (see ‘It’s not science’).

Teach about evil, don’t hide it.

The Bible itself emphasizes the need for Christians to be ‘wise as serpents.’ God’s Word never glosses over evil, but exposes it for what it is (including its logical consequences). Moreover, the Scriptures command Christians to be ready to give answers, which is a major theme of [our ministry] (1 Peter 3:15).

Therefore, [our ministry] believes that all students, whether studying at home, private school or secular government schools, should learn the details about evolution. We simply argue that students should get the whole truth, so that they can evaluate the claims of evolutionists intelligently.

It is our contention that the facts make a whole lot more sense when interpreted from the Bible’s framework of history, rather than from the ‘millions of years’ framework (see Faith and facts). So why restrict students from essential data and interpretive tools (including biblical history) which have been foundational to the rise of modern science in the West (see The Creationist Basis for Modern Science)?

Published: 8 February 2006

References and notes

  1. MacDonald, M., Georgia may shun ‘evolution’ in schools: revised curriculum plan outrages science teachers, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, <www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/0104/29curriculum.html>, 29 January 2004. Return to text.
  2. Georgia Department of Education, The truth about GA’s biology curriculum, <www.doe.k12.ga.us/doe/media/04/012804.asp>. Return to text.
  3. MacDonald, M., Cox: ‘evolution’ a negative buzzword, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, <www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/0104/30evolution.html>, 30 January 2004. Return to text.
  4. Jacobs, A., Georgia takes on ‘evolution,’ New York Times, <www.nytimes.com/2004/01/30/education/30GEOR.html>, 30 January 2004. Return to text.
  5. Doyle, S., The final straw, under Reader opinions at www. ajc.com <www.ajc.com/opinion/content/opinion/letters.html>, 29 January 2004. Return to text.
  6. Palevitz, B., Key point of biology, under Reader opinions at www. ajc.com <www.ajc.com/opinion/content/opinion/letters.html>, 29 January 2004. Return to text.