A VOICE FOR EVOLUTION AS SCIENCEFrom PSCF 44, (December 1992): 252. Background Science teachers should stress the consistent use of precisely defined scientific terms. Otherwise, students cannot develop an accurate comprehension of scientific knowledge and practice.
Science teachers and scientists concerned about the future of science should (a) recognize the limited scope of science and resist exploitation of science by persons with political, philosophical, or religious agendas; and, while celebrating scientific accomplishments, (b) point out unsolved problems and encourage the investigation of such problems.
In its fiftieth year (1991), the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) of over two thousand scientifically trained members wishes to go on record in support of the above statements, through an appropriate resolution passed by the ASA Executive Council. As ASA members have explored both their engagement in scientific inquiry and their commitment to the Christian faith, many have sensed problems in the way biological evolution is taught in primary and secondary schools. Noting that at least two major court cases (McLean v Arkansas Board of Education, 1982; Edwards v Aguillard, 1987) have designated "scientific creationism" (or "creation science") as religious doctrine masquerading as science, the ASA judges it equally important to recognize "evolutionary naturalism" as another essentially religious doctrine masquerading as science. Evolutionary naturalism employs the scientific concept of evolution to promote an atheistic and materialistic view that nature is all there is.
In the current climate of controversy over science teaching in public schools, stretching the term evolution beyond its range of scientific usefulness promotes the establishment of evolutionary naturalism. Besides inviting reaction from proponents of scientific creationism, such careless usage also erodes support of sound science education among the broader population of theists, to the detriment of the whole scientific enterprise.
In "The Meanings of Evolution" (American Scientist, Vol. 70, pp. 529-31, Sept-Oct 1982) biologist Keith Stewart Thomson identified three commonly employed meanings of the term: (1) the general concept of "change over time"; (2) the hypothesis that all "organisms are related through common ancestry"; (3) a theory setting forth "a particular explanatory mechanism for the pattern and process" described in (1) and (2).
Other meanings range from (4) a scientifically focused concept of populations adapting to changing environments, to (5) a religiously value-laden tenet of naturalistic faith, that "Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind" (George Gaylord Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution, 1967, p. 345.). Science educators should not only distinguish among diverse meanings of evolution but point out that the degree of certainty rightfully associated with them varies widely.
A Voice for Evolution As Science
On the basis of the considerations stated above, and after polling the membership on its views, the EXECUTIVE COUNCIL of the AMERICAN SCIENTIFIC AFFILIATION hereby directs the following RESOLUTION to public school teachers, administrators, school boards, and producers of elementary and secondary science textbooks or other educational materials:
BECAUSE it is our common desire to promote excellence and integrity in science education as well as in science; and
BECAUSE it is our common desire to bring to an end wasteful controversy generated by inappropriate entanglement of the scientific concept of evolution with political, philosophical, or religious perspectives;
WE STRONGLY URGE that, in science education, the terms evolution and theory of evolution should be carefully defined and used in a consistently scientific manner; and
WE FURTHER URGE that, to make classroom instruction more stimulating while guarding it against the intrusion of extra-scientific beliefs, the teaching of any scientific subject, including evolutionary biology, should include (1) forceful presentation of well-established scientific data and conclusions; (2) clear distinction between evidence and inference; and (3) candid discussion of unsolved problems and open questions.
(Text of Resolution Adopted by the Executive Council of the American Scientific Affiliation, December 7, 1991)