Origins Education in Public Schools (Part 2)

 (for Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design, 

for neutrality in Worldviews and Religion)

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.

Since this is Part 2, first you should read Part 1 of
Critical Thinking (about worldviews, evolution & design)
in Public Education
, which is much shorter than this page.

    Part 1 has four sections and a transition:
      1) Worldview Balance in Education explains why absence does not produce balance; 
      2) Potential Dangers of Worldview Education looks at the benefits and dangers of critical thinking;
      3) Teaching Science in a Climate of Controversy is about empathy for teachers in tough situations;
      4) Origins Education in Public Schools (a sub-area homepage in the ASA Science Ed Website) outlines basic principles for science education, constitutional law, and public policy, and describes web-resources with different perspectives and proposing different answers when we ask important questions about Freedom and Responsibility, Legality and Constitutionality, Methods of Teaching, Educational Policies, and Young-Earth Views.
      Part 1 ends with Views and Questions, which is an introduction to Part 2 in the page you're now reading.

      Questions and Challenges
      This page describes principles and problems, and asks questions but does not claim to provide The Answers.  A search for satisfactory answers is difficult for a variety of reasons, including the challenges outlined in Part 1:  definitions of desirable goals for education vary widely, especially when some people (or all) think worldviews are involved, so instruction that is satisfactory for some will be unacceptable for others;  describing a theistic perspective requires explicit statements, but "not theism" is implicitly communicated when the possibility of divine action is always ignored;  there is disagreement about how to interpret the "no establishment" and "free exercise" clauses in the U.S. Constitution;  teachers are expected to perform tricky balancing acts, if we want them to provide strong intellectual guidance, but not exert "too much influence" on students, and to avoid religious "conclusions" in the public classroom, but not encourage religious relativism in students' private lives;  interactive discussions about controversial issues, with critical thinking and logical evaluations, can be (at its best) excellent for motivation and education, or (at its worst) it can be an effective way for a teacher to persuade and to impose personal opinions on students.

      Views and Questions
      My educational views, summarized in the final section of Part 1, raise questions.  For example,
      A. When we look at evolution, are there any scientific reasons for questions?
      B. What should a teacher do when critical evaluations of evolution raise questions in the minds of students, when they ask (either silently or aloud), "If it wasn't produced by natural evolution, then how was it produced?  Is there an alternative?"  /  How can we teach about "scientific support" in a "neutral, unbiased way"?  When we ask "what is the support?" and "what is neutral?" the answers aren't easy or simple, because the scientific questions are difficult and complex, and ideas about worldview-neutrality vary widely.
      C. I propose "teaching the controversy" about chemical evolution and biological evolution, where I think scientific questions are justified.  But I think the situation is different when we ask, "How old is the universe?"  How should we teach astronomical evolution and geological evolution, where controversy exists because many parents and students believe (mainly for nonscientific reasons) that the universe is young, even though scientific support for an old universe seems extremely strong, and questions don't seem scientifically justified?

      These questions, and others, deserve a deeper treatment than is possible in this page, so my goal is to share a few ideas that I hope will be educationally productive, and I won't claim to "tie it all up" in a neat package with no loose ends.  But my goal is limited, not just by the size of this page (so it will be a reasonable size for you to read) but because the problems cannot be solved in a way that is totally satisfactory for everyone.  If our goal is optimally satisfactory education — with "the greatest satisfaction for the greatest number" plus integrity in respecting the evidence and logic of science — then people with differing views must be willing to flexibly abandon some demands and gracefully accept some compromises, to respect other ideas and other people (even when we disagree), and to live with the reality of unresolved tensions.
      Each question above is examined below:  A  B  C .

    A — Reasons for Questions (in science and education)
      The first question is:  When we look at evolution, are there any scientific reasons for questions?  Let's look at two areas: biological evolution and chemical evolution.

      Are there any reasons for questions about biological evolution?
      Based on a logical evaluation of theories about biological evolution, are there any scientific reasons to question their truth?  Some scientists think there are reasons for questions about some aspects of biological evolution.  But prominent organizations for scientists and educators claim that the status of neo-Darwinain theories is extremely high, and there are no reasons for any doubt.  Why is there disagreement?  One reason involves the logical principles of scientific evaluation.
      the way it often is:  Much of the high status usually given to biological evolution (E) is due to an illogical shifting of support from strongly supported aspects of evolution — such as the micro-evolution of finch beaks or drug-resistant bacteria, or the small-scale macro-evolution of species that are new yet similar, or changes through time in the fossil record — to other aspects — such as a claim for Total Macro-E (for a large-scale totally natural production of all biocomplexity) — that are not as well supported.
      the way it should be:  Instead of viewing evolution as a "package deal" that must be completely accepted or completely rejected, we should avoid an illogical shifting of support so we can critically evaluate each sub-theory of evolution and give it the status it has earned based on the evidence.  For example, when we hear a claim that "evolution is a fact" we should ask whether "evolution" refers to some of the many meanings of evolution (if so, I agree) or all of the meanings (then I disagree, since I think there are reasons for questions about some aspects of evolution).  When making claims about evolution, clarity is important.
      {details about "how it should be" are in the appendix}

      When there are scientific reasons for questions, what happens?
      In an attempt to explain the origin of life, scientists propose a two-stage process of natural chemical evolution:  1) formation of organic molecules, which combine to form larger biomolecules;  2) self-organization of these molecules into a living organism.  For each stage , scientists are learning that what is required for life is much greater than what is possible by natural process.  The huge difference has motivated scientists to creatively construct new theories for reducing requirements and enhancing possibilities, but none of these ideas has progressed from speculation to plausibility.
      How is this question taught in public schools?  Usually, biology textbooks make two statements about the origin of life:  A) Since there are reasons to be humble about our current scientific knowledge, they say "we don't yet know how life began by natural process." *  B) They assume and imply that, of course, "life did begin by natural process."  In the second statement, the science textbooks are refusing to be appropriately humble about naturalism when they declare that "it happened by natural process" despite the scientific reasons for doubt.  For example, the National Academy of Sciences confidently asserts (in Science and Creationism, 1999) that "For those who are studying the origin of life, the question is no longer whether life could have originated by chemical processes involving nonbiological components.  The question instead has become which of many pathways might have been followed to produce the first cells."  Despite the waffle-words ("could have" and "might have been") that avoid technical falsity, the implication that "it did happen naturally" is strong and clear.
      * But textbooks often do "spin doctoring" by describing the science in a way that makes the support for chemical evolution seem stronger than it actually is.

      Should we ever question the authority of scientists?
      In science education we accept the claims of physicists about theories of motion.  Therefore, shouldn't we also accept the analogous claims of biologists about theories of evolution?  A physics teacher feels a responsibility to persuade students that current theories are true, so why shouldn't a biology teacher also do this?  Why should the authority of scientists be accepted (and used as a justification for persuasion) in one case, but questioned in the other?
      Because this argument for evolution depends on analogy between two situations that are similar in some ways but different in others, we should logically analyze the similarities and (especially) the differences.  In this case there is an important difference when we ask, "Are there scientific reasons for caution?"  For some aspects of evolution, but not motion, a logical analysis of evidence seems to provide reasons for critical questions.
      But are these questions really justified?  Most evolutionary biologists claim that their only questions are about HOW, but not WHETHER, Total Macro-E occurred.  To support their claim that doubts are not scientifically justified, they point to the absence of serious questioning in their own scientific journals.  But is the absence of questions due to an absence of evidence, or a reluctance to look at the evidence?  One illustration of reluctance is the experience of a scientist whose questions were rejected by an editorial board because "our journal... believes that evolutionary explanations of all structures and phenomena of life are possible and inevitable."  {Mike Behe's Adventures with Science Journals}
      If there are reasons to suspect that cultural-personal factors are hindering the objectivity of evaluations within the community of biological scientists, there are reasons to wonder whether we should uncritically accept everything this community claims.  If internal self-checks are hindered, it seems wise to listen with an open mind to critics of the majority.  Of course, even if most biological scientists have a strong bias in favor of neo-Darwinism, this bias does not mean that neo-Darwinism is false.  But it does provide a reason for caution.
      If we don't uncritically accept the majority consensus, what is the alternative?  We can be open-minded when listening to critics of the majority, and by using careful analysis we can try to determine what the evaluation status of Total Macro-E would be with an unbiased science based on pure logic.

      Will critical thinking hinder learning?
      Advocates of critical thinking about evolution want students to learn more about evolution, not less.  We want students to understand the sub-theories of evolution and their inter-relationships.  This understanding will serve as a foundation for careful evaluation.  And if this leads to a humility about the biological evolution of biocomplexity (or a chemical evolution of the first life) it might be educationally useful.
      By encouraging students to think that MAYBE (not just YES or NO) is an acceptable outcome for a scientific evaluation, is a teacher advocating a postmodern relativism which asserts that "because scientists cannot claim certainty, they can claim nothing"?  No.  The concept of rationally justified confidence is useful in helping us avoid the extremes of arrogant overconfidence or silly skepticism, as explained in a page that asks, Should Scientific Method be EKS-Rated?  {EKS has replaced X, to fool the filtering programs}

      But will critical thinking about evolution decrease its usefulness as a unifying concept in biology?  No.  This usefulness will remain if students understand the sub-theories of neo-Darwinian evolution — such as natural selection, macro-E speciation, fossil progressions, and common descent — but are willing to think critically about a grand theory of Total Macro-E by undirected natural process because, even though Total Macro-E is essential for a naturalistic worldview, it is not essential for biology.
      Would nothing make sense if...?  We should critically examine the famous statement of Dobzhansky, that "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."  What are the intended meanings of the two key words?  Does "evolution" refer to some combination of evolutionary sub-theories, or Total Macro-E?  And does "nothing" mean that in every area of biology (from biochemistry to local ecology), nothing makes any sense if we question any aspect of Total Macro-E?  If this is the claim, I think it is claiming too much.

comment and IOU:  Eventually (but I'm not sure when) all sections in this page, especially for Question B, will be edited and condensed.

    B — Worldview Implications in Origins Education
      In the second question above, I say "WHEN students ask..." not "IF they ask..." because, no matter what teachers do, worldview questions will arise in the minds of students.  If teachers try to "teach only science" and they adopt the conventional naturalistic view of science by assuming that "everything happened by natural process," the implications will not be worldview-neutral.  But a teacher who describes non-naturalistic alternatives will move explicitly into worldview territory.  Since there are problems with every approach, what should a teacher do, and how?  Let's look at some problems and options.

     What about theistic evolution?  "Even though I'm not a proponent of theistic evolution, I think... so I'm a questioner and a defender."
      As described earlier, I think "a Judeo-Christian theist has a wide range of options — in the many variations of theistic evolution (evolutionary creation), old-earth creation (my view), or young-earth creation — and is free to follow the evidence and logic of science wherever it leads."  How are the scientific and theological components of these theistic views — TE, oeC, yeC — typically treated in public education (by teachers and in textbooks, and in policies recommended by educational organizations) and are these treatments worldview-neutral?  The first section below (about natural process and theology) shows how instruction can treat all of these views (but especially TE) unfavorably, and the second (about naturalism and miracles) is about the treatment of oeC and yeC.

      Does "natural" mean "without God"?
      A normal-appearing natural event can be interpreted theistically, atheistically, or in other ways: deistic, pantheistic, animistic,...  For a theist, natural does not mean "without God" (because God designed and created nature, and constantly sustains nature) and it does not mean "without control" (because God can guide nature so one natural result occurs instead of another natural result).  A theist believes that a supernatural God is involved in natural process, so an atheistic claim that "only nature exists" should be called naturism, not naturalism.
      When scientists discover that natural properties are "just right" for life-allowing natural processes — such as the production of sunshine (due to the size of nuclear and gravitational forces, mass-energy conversions,...) and the chemistry of DNA and proteins — a theist (TE, oeC, or yeC) proposes that God is responsible for this clever design of nature.  A theory of TE proposes that God designed nature so it would naturally produce not just stars (in astronomical evolution) but also life (in chemical evolution) and complex life (in biological evolution), so nature would be totally self-assembling by natural process.  A theory of oeC proposes that God designed nature to be totally life-allowing, but only partially self-assembling.
      A scientific theory of neo-Darwinist biological evolution can be combined with differing interpretations, including an atheistic interpretation (claiming that nature was not designed by God, and evolution was not guided by God) or a theistic interpretation (proposing that nature was designed by God, and natural process might have been guided by God).  /  Why do I say "might have been" guided?  A deist thinks God designed the universe but then took a "hands off" approach and has not influenced its history.  A theist thinks God has influenced history in ways that appear natural and/or miraculous, and a Christian believes in miracles during salvation history, but a theistic evolutionist (who thinks there were no miracles during formative history) can think that formative history either was or wasn't guided by God, partially or totally.

      If we define natural as normal-appearing, we cannot distinguish between natural process that is guided and unguided.  Our theories about divine guidance of natural process — does guidance occur always, usually, occasionally, or never? and is it partial or total? — are theological, not scientific.
      Despite this limitation on scientific knowledge, the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) recently declared that "natural" does mean "without God."  In their Statement on Teaching Evolution, adopted in April 1995, NABT stated that natural evolution was an "unsupervised, impersonal" process.  In the first board meeting at their annual convention in October 1997, a request to remove these two words was unanimously rejected.  Later in the convention, the board met again and removed the words.  These actions lead to an interesting question:  How could intelligent educators and scientists adopt this statement (for more than 2 years) and reaffirm it (in a board meeting when it was called to their attention) without realizing that they were making a logically unjustifiable theological statement when they declared that natural process is "unsupervised" and therefore "without control and without God"?  These decisions indicate a lack of understanding (about theology and science *), and perhaps even some hostility toward religious perspectives.
      The NABT statement was especially hostile toward a theory of theistic evolution, because it affirmed a claim that "God doesn't do anything during the process of natural TE," although deism (with God designing nature so E would occur and then letting it occur without supervision) is a possibility.  This theological criticism of TE is made by many who propose yeC and by some (but not me) proposing oeC or intelligent design.  But if theistic evolution is impossible, then evolution is atheistic (or deistic), and teaching it is equivalent to teaching atheism or deism.  Because of this, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), whose primary goal is to promote pro-evolution education, supports TE as a valid theological option.  And in 1997, Eugenie Scott (director of NCSE) played a major role in persuading the NABT board members to remove "unsupervised, impersonal" from their statement.  {NABT stories}
      * The dangers of scientism — of using science to answer questions that cannot be answered by science — are described in a page about the compatibility of science and Christianity.

      Educational Naturalism
      When students learn, from a teacher and textbook, that "science says everything happened by a natural evolutionary process," is this conclusion — which says oeC and yeC are false — based on science (with evaluations based on evidence and logic) or naturalism (with methodological naturalism requiring that "natural evolution" is the only acceptable conclusion)?  Are there any reasons for scientific questions?
      When a teacher and textbook claim to "teach only science" and they adopt a naturalistic methodology for science, do they "teach more than science" due to an implication that "nothing but natural process in formative history" implies "nothing but natural process in all of history"?  Some connections between science/methodology and worldviews are summarized in these excerpts from another page:
      There are two rational ways to view historical science and miracles.  Among scientists and philosophers who are Christians, some support one approach and some think the other is better.  In one approach,... Christians view MN-Science as one aspect of an open search that considers all possibilities without imposing restrictions on theorizing... [and they] adopt MN-Humility by recognizing that a non-naturalistic theory might be correct.  In another approach, proponents of open science... replace rigid-MN (which requires a naturalistic conclusion) with testable-MN by treating MN as a theory that can be tested, not a conclusion that must be accepted.  With either approach, Christians can view science as a valuable resource that should be respected as an "expert witness" in our search for truth, but should not be the "judge and jury" when we're defining the way the world is, what is and isn't real, what can and cannot happen.
      In principle, an open search (with MN-Science plus MN-Humility) is logically acceptable.  In practice, usually the result is not satisfactory because even when MN-Humility is acknowledged (which is rare) it is not effective.  Why?  Think about what happens when a "non-scientific" design theory and a "scientific" non-design theory both claim to describe the same event, such as the origin of life.  Due to the cultural authority of science, the nonscientific theory is not respected because most people assume that, for a theory about nature, "not scientific" means "probably not true."  Instead, the scientific theory (which must be a naturalistic theory) is assumed to be more plausible, even if the scientific evidence does not support it.  And in a classroom where "only science is taught," only naturalistic theoris are taught, and these are taught as "the conclusion of science."
      In principle, methodology and philosophy can be independent.  In practice, they are interactive and each influences the other.  In principle, an open search (conducted with MN-humility) can prevent the naturalistic methodology of MN-science from influencing our philosophical views of "the way the world is, what is and isn't real, what can and cannot happen."  In practice, methodology often influences our thinking because naturalistic assumptions automatically become naturalistic conclusions about "the way the world is according to science," and many people are influenced by science.  Are young students especially vulnerable to this influence?
      an application in education:  If, by their silence (*), teachers and textbooks allow the worldview-implications that "no miracles in formative history" (which is the only possible conclusion in naturalistic science) implies "no miracles in all history including human history" so "religions which claim miracles are wrong," then for students there can be an implication that Christianity is wrong (since it claims many miracles, especially the resurrection of Jesus), and the public education is not worldview-neutral.  {* Teachers and textbooks allow these worldview-implications by their silence, when they don't explain why the implications are unjustified. }
      If naturalism is true, there is no miraculous-appearing divine action in history.  An elimination of divine action (in our worldview-theories about reality) is more thorough when it is extended to natural-appearing events, when teachers and textbooks allow an implication that "natural" means "without God" and "without control," as discussed below.

      Implicit Arguments and Explicit Explanations
      Occasionally an atheistic worldview is explicitly stated, as when Carl Sagan (winner of awards for science education) opened Cosmos by asserting that "The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be."  And atheism (or deism) can be expressed more subtly, as in the NABT's statement that natural process is unsupervised.  More often, however, atheism/deism is implicitly communicated, even if this is not intended, when "no theistic action in scientific descriptions of the universe" implies "no theistic action in the universe."  Due to these implications, ignoring religious perspectives (as in a simplistic policy of "teaching only science") does not produce a neutral balance.  Implicit arguments can be intentional or (as is usually the case) unintentional.
      Whether implicit arguments are intentional or unintentional, these arguments can be persuasive because only one view is presented, with no opportunity for counter-argument.  Usually, a student is not even aware that an argument has been made.  Because the arguments are hidden, they are not critically analyzed, so fallacious reasoning can survive and thrive.  To minimize the impact of implicit arguments, teachers (and textbooks) need to provide explicit explanations

      The five paragraphs above explain why "teaching only science" will not achieve worldview-neutrality, and the section below explains why teachers (and textbook producers and policymakers) face pressures from many directions.  In my opinion, explicit explanations are necessary if education is to be worldview-neutral, but a teacher who does this may become involved in controversy (and expensive lawsuits by the ACLU if instruction is not sufficiently pro-evolution) so for self-protection there is a strong incentive to avoid the explicit worldview-explanations that might decrease implicit worldview-arguments.

      The remainder of this part of the page (re: Worldview Implications in Origins Education) will:  describe Perceptions and Pressures;  explain why a Design Theory is not a Creation Theory;  share some ideas that might be useful in constructing origins education that is more balanced and worldview-neutral.

      Perceptions and Pressures
      A Christian has a wide range of options — in the many variations of yeC, oeC, and TE — and is free to follow the evidence and logic of science wherever it leads.  But scientific freedom is limited for a person who thinks Christianity requires that the earth is young, or evolution is false, or that miracles in formative history are theologically impossible.  Similarly, an atheist (or an agnostic who wants to remain agnostic) has no options and no scientific freedom, since only one conclusion is acceptable: some type of natural evolution (chemical and biological) somewhere in the universe, with no action by God.  And even among scientists who have scientific freedom, there are differing views about the results of scientific evaluation and the status of evolutionary theories.
      Sometimes people with one view become concerned about public education when they think their own view is not treated favorably enough, or that other views are treated too favorably.  Since some people holding each view are concerned about education, pressures to change education (or not change it) come from many directions, from people with differing views.  When there are multiple sources of pressure, it can be confusing for educators (for teachers, policy makers, and textbook producers), and trying to please everyone can be a difficult challenge.  Teaching Science in a Climate of Controversy (which is the title of a 64-page booklet published by ASA in 1986) is an accurate description of the situation.

      a Design Theory is not a Creation Theory
      If you receive a radio signal — 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17,... — and you think, "probably this long string of prime numbers was not produced by undirected natural process," you are proposing a theory of intelligent design.
      Four types of DESIGN-action are:  (A0) design-and-creation of our universe (at "time = 0") with its natural process,  (A1) undetectable guidance of natural process during history,  (B) detectable design-action during history, by a supernatural agent (B1) or natural agent (B2).  Most people define a design theory as "B", the claim that a particular feature (an object, organism, system, situation,...) was produced by empirically detectable design-directed action during history, and this is the "design" that is controversial in education.  { Definitions of DESIGN and design are broad and narrow, respectively. }
      The most common concerns about design are religious.  But a design theory is not a creation theory.  A basic design theory can be supplemented with details (about the designer and design-action) to form theories about supernatural creation (by God or...) or natural non-creation (as in a theory proposing that evolution on earth was intelligently designed and directed by space aliens who evolved before us).  A basic design theory — which does not propose divine action, but does acknowledge it as a possibility — does not try to distinguish between creation and non-creation.  Instead, it just claims that "design-directed action did occur."
      A basic (non-supplemented) design theory is limited to claims that can be scientifically evaluated.  For example, Michael Behe says: "Most people (including myself) will attribute the design to God, based in part on other, non-scientific judgments they have made. ... From a scientific point of view, the question [who is the designer?] remains open. ... The biochemical evidence strongly indicates design, but does not show who the designer was."  As a person, Behe says "I think the designer was God."  But as a scientist, he says "the evidence doesn't show who the designer was."

      Options for Instruction
      So far, with the exception of one suggestion — that "to minimize the impact of implicit arguments, teachers (and textbooks) need to provide explicit explanations" — this part of the page (about worldviews in origins education) has simply described problems.  Are there any totally satisfactory solutions?  Not in the near future, in most schools, because "instruction that is satisfactory for some will be unacceptable for others," and vice versa.  Therefore, I'll simply share ideas that might be productive when we're thinking about ways to improve the neutrality of our educational philosophy and the quality of our thinking and teaching, but I don't claim to have "solutions" for the tough problems.  Here are some of my personal reflections about origins education:

      In my summary of Worldview Balance in Public Education I say that "effective teaching... depends on the integrity and skill of individual teachers who think carefully, with wisdom and courage, about desirable goals, who build a solid foundation by adequate preparation and planning, and who carry out their plans with sensitivity and respect."  In origins education, part of the "adequate preparation and planning" is to think very carefully about what to say — and what not to say — about worldview implications.  This part of the teaching process is extremely important, even though in the science classroom it shouldn't take a long time or be a central theme.

      One approach is to simply use critical thinking about evolution, without mentioning design, and this may be the safest approach (as a self-defense strategy to avoid controversy) for a teacher or school district.
      But in a more rational societal context, if our primary goal was a high quality of education, teachers would help students learn more.  In origins education, worldview implications are unavoidable, and students will ask (either silently or aloud) important worldview questions.  As explained above, clear explanations (done very carefully) can be a useful approach.
      Another approach — mere science — would focus on accurate understanding and logical evaluation of two origins theories: mere naturalistic evolution and mere intelligent design, where "mere" indicates that a "metaphysically stripped down" version of each theory, with minimal religious implications, is discussed.  In doing this, a teacher should be aware of the wide range of implications (psychological, sociological, theological,...) associated with every origins theory, and then make a decision that — although a brief-and-neutral "explanation without evaluation" may be legal and educationally useful — these nonscientific implications will not be emphasized in the classroom.  Instead, the focus will be on scientific evidence and logical evaluation.
      But in a "mere science" approach, what should a teacher say about evolution that is naturalistic (and possibly atheistic) and intelligent design that may be non-naturalistic (and possibly theistic)?  Although mere evolution and mere design are not explicitly religious, they may have religious implications for students.  Many students, whether or not they are vocalizing their internal questions, will be curious about the religious implications of evolution and design, which can be (but don't have to be) associated with atheism and theism.  How can a teacher handle these questions in a way that is informative — so students are not forced to "fill in the blanks themselves" by guessing what they think a teacher is intending — without crossing over the line into persuasion?
      Of course, a public school teacher should avoid persuasion for (or against) the religious beliefs of students.  And the goal of instruction can be a maximum understanding (by students) of evolution, rather than a maximum persuading (of students) about evolution.  Either with or without explaining the concept of intelligent design, maybe a teacher can adopt a "some but not too much" approach by carefully describing the components of evolution and explaining that within each religion there are differences of opinion about each component, and that these debates (although interesting and important) will not be part of the classroom discussion, which will focus on science.

      The concepts of MN-science, MN-humility, testable-MN, nondesign and design, open search, and open science (summarized above) can be introduced by waiting for a topic, such as the origin of life, when humility is scientifically justified, and then explaining how MN-science ignores the possibility of design-action, and why occasional design-action (either natural or supernatural) is compatible with nondesign (involving only undirected natural process) for most events.  Or, as discussed above, a less educational but safer alternative (for teachers and school districts) is to just have an objective evaluation of naturalistic nondesign theories without mentioning design.

      In a public school in the U.S., a teacher/textbook cannot TEACH religion, but can TEACH ABOUT religion.  Teaching About Religion in Public Schools explains this important distinction, and what teachers can and cannot do, and how they can do it in a way that is educational and legal.
      But teaching about religion can be controversial even when it's legal.  For example, I think that more than one position (yeC, oeC, TE) can be compatible with Christianity, but this is A Christian View (my own), not The Christian View, and some Christians think only one position (typically yeC) is allowed by the Bible.  Therefore, even saying "you're free to think flexibly and follow the evidence where it leads" can cause trouble for a teacher.
      A discussion of controversial questions can be motivating and educational, but we should also consider The Potential Dangers of Worldview Education in Public Schools and the personal consequences that may occur for teachers who become entangled in controversy.
      During explanations (or discussions), important ideas from major viewpoints should be expressed accurately (with no weak, distorted "strawmen") so the ideas can be understood and evaluated.
      A respect for religious perspectives, with an absence of "faith versus reason" implications, is important.  Without respect, a discussion of important ideas can be harmful.  With respect and wisdom, it can be helpful and educationally productive.

      Finally, here are two ideas that may be useful to consider:
      Design of the Universe?  When scientists discover that natural properties are "just right" for important natural processes, a theist proposes that God is responsible for this clever design of nature.  But this does not prove that God designed the universe, and to explain a universe that is "just right" for life there are two currently plausible to explain fine tuning and "anthropic principle" observations: a single universe (that was designed) or an immense number of universes (that may or may not be designed).
      Why isn't God more obvious?  Why is there any evidence... that might lead some rational people to propose "atheistic evolution" as an explanation?  Perhaps.....  Or maybe.....  Or maybe a "veiling of miracles" during the creation process is one aspect of a state of uncertainty intended by God, who seems to prefer a balance of evidence, with enough logical reasons to either believe or disbelieve, so... we have freedom to choose what we really want, and an opportunity to develop the "living by faith" character that is highly valued by God, with a trust in God serving as the foundation for all thoughts and actions in daily living.  { These ideas might be useful to accompany an explanation of why "natural" does not necessarily mean "without control and without God," to explain why God might choose to use natural process rather than miracles. }

      In this page, the focus is on education in public schools.  But many of the questions and ideas are also relevant for Christian education, in private schools or home schools, as you can see in ORIGINS EDUCATION and CHRISTIAN EDUCATION.

    C — How should we teach about "age of the universe" questions?

      • The third question is:  How should we teach astronomical evolution and geological evolution, where controversy exists because many parents and students believe (mainly for nonscientific reasons) that the universe is young, even though scientific support for an old universe seems extremely strong, and questions don't seem scientifically justified?

      Here is another statement of the problem, from the home-page for Origins Education:
      4E. Young-Earth Views
      When trying to design instruction that is responsible, legal, and balanced, how can educators cope with questions about young-earth creationism and the tensions that arise due to a mismatch between its strong popular support (mainly in some parts of the Christian community) and weak scientific support (across a wide range of fields, from astronomy and geology to physics and biology)?

      I haven't begun work on this section yet, but here is an excerpt from my page asking How old is the universe?

      The Educational Results of Young-Earth Creationism
      In the past four decades, since the revival of flood geology in 1961, prominent advocates of young-earth views have framed the origins question as "Christianity versus atheism" with Christianity represented by only young-earth creation, with old-earth creation excluded from consideration.  In American education, the practical results have been:
      1) an increase in the perceived plausibility of evolution, because in a scientific competition that includes only two models (old-earth evolution and young-earth creation) evolution will "win points" simply because it proposes an old earth, and the abundant evidence for an old earth becomes evidence for evolution;
      2) a decrease in the willingness of science teachers to criticize evolution based on scientific evidence and logical evaluation, because teachers don't want to give credibility to the young-earth (and young-universe) theories that have usually accompanied criticisms of evolution, and because they assume that the legal prohibitions against teaching young-earth creationism also apply to any serious questioning of evolution.

      Young-Earth Views in Christian Education
      In many Christian private schools and most Christian home schools, students are taught that a young-earth view is the only acceptable view.  There is little opportunity for educationally valuable "Monday and Tuesday" discussions in which students hear the best evidence and arguments for different views, and learn how to logically evaluate these views.  Yes, there are Potential Dangers with Worldview Education in Public Schools but in a Christian school (private or home) a teacher can provide spiritual support.  As explained in Christian Education for the Whole Person,
      "Exploring ideas is especially interesting when, in an effort to get accurate understanding, you get the best information and arguments that all sides of an issue can claim as support.  A conflict of ideas is inherently dramatic, and the evaluative thinking it stimulates is an opportunity to learn valuable skills for life.  In contrast with protective isolation (by trying to avoid contact with all non-approved ideas), supported exploration will help children learn the skills they need for intellectual self-defense.  They will be confronted with many challenging ideas from peers, authorities, and media, while living in the modern world.  Although you cannot protect children from exposure to ideas, you can protect them against indoctrination if you help them develop skill in evaluating the merits of different ideas. Compared with protective isolation, supported exploration is more educational because there is more learning and thinking.  But exploring ideas is educationally useful and spiritually edifying only when it is done wisely and well, in a secure environment with adequate support.  The level of exploration should be adjusted for a child's maturity, since topics and resources that are useful and edifying for an older child might not be appropriate for younger children.  You should provide emotional and spiritual support through love and prayer, and intellectual support by showing that Christian perspectives are rational and are useful for improving quality of life."

      More (an I.O.U.)
      Eventually, these ideas (and others) will be explored in the area for Christian Education in the Church, School, and Home:
      Many people in your church will find "origins" a fascinating topic, but it could be emotional and controversial, and maybe even divisive.  We'll look at what you can you do to make origins education an edifying experience for more people, to help them improve their understanding and attitudes, to put the WHEN and HOW questions in proper perspective so they can focus on WHO.
      In principle, private Christian schools can teach any way they want.  In practice, it can be difficult to decide which principles and methods will produce the most effective educational experience for students.  What resources, frameworks, attitudes, and techniques are useful for origins education in Christian schools?
      Compared with other types of schooling, instruction in the home allows more freedom.  In what ways can parents take advantage of this opportunity?  What origins information is provided in the textbooks commonly used in home schools, and what supplements are available?  What are the advantages — in searching for truth, defending the faith, and living by faith — of two educational approaches: protective isolation and supported exploration?

The expanding-and-revising of this section will continue later,
including Two Perspectives on Design (Logical and Sociological) that will be written later.


      Methodological Naturalism (rigid and testable) in our Search for Truth
      Currently, most scientific inquiry is restricted by methodological naturalism (MN), which requires that scientific theories must propose only natural causes.  With this restriction, the inevitable conclusion — no matter what is being studied, or what is the evidence — must be that "it happened by natural process."
      Is MN the best way to do science?  It depends on what really happened in history.  Imagine two possible worlds: one has a history of nature with all events caused by natural process, while the other has a history that includes both natural and non-natural events.  In one of these worlds a closed science, restricted by MN, must inevitably reach some wrong conclusions.  By contrast, in either world a non-MN open science will allow, although it cannot guarantee, reaching correct conclusions.
      Imagine that we're beginning our search for truth with a logically justifiable humility, by refusing to decide that we already know — with certainty, beyond any doubt — which kind of world we live in.  If we don't know whether history has been all-natural, maybe scientists should:  (a) begin by assuming, consistent with MN, that "it happened by natural process," and  (b) consider this MN an assumption to be tested (testable-MN) instead of a conclusion that cannot be questioned (rigid-MN).  With this open-minded approach, scientists are free to follow the evidence-and-logic wherever it leads, and if it leads to a non-MN conclusion this is allowed.

      What is design?  Is it religious?
      If you receive a radio signal — 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17,... — and you think, "probably this long string of prime numbers was not produced by undirected natural process," you are proposing a theory of intelligent design.
      Four types of DESIGN-action are:  (A0) design-and-creation of our universe (at time = 0) with its natural process,  (A1) undetectable supernatural guidance of natural process during history,  (B) detectable design-directed action during history, by a supernatural agent (B1) or natural agent (B2).  Most people define a design theory as (B), the claim that a particular feature (an object, organism, system, situation,...) was produced by empirically detectable design-directed action during history, and this is the "design" that is controversial in education.
      The most common concerns about design are religious.  But a design theory is not a creation theory.  A basic design theory can be supplemented with details (about the designer and design-action) to form theories about supernatural creation (by God or...) or natural non-creation (as in a theory proposing that evolution on earth was intelligently designed and directed by space aliens who evolved before us).  A basic design theory — which does not propose divine action, but does acknowledge it as a possibility — does not try to distinguish between creation and non-creation.  Instead, it just claims that "design-directed action did occur."
      A basic (non-supplemented) design theory is limited to claims that can be scientifically evaluated.  For example, Michael Behe says: "Most people (including myself) will attribute the design to God, based in part on other, non-scientific judgments they have made. ... From a scientific point of view, the question [who is the designer?] remains open. ... The biochemical evidence strongly indicates design, but does not show who the designer was."  As a person, Behe says "I think the designer was God."  But as a scientist, he says "The evidence doesn't show who the designer was."

      The usual questions about the controversial type of design — is it testable, is it productive, is it scientific, is it religious, can it be proved? — are discussed in a page asking, Can a design theory be scientific?

      Are there any reasons for doubts about biological evolution? (Part 2)
      Earlier, Part 1 of this section summarized the basic ideas:
      Based on a logical evaluation of theories about biological evolution, are there any scientific reasons to question their truth?  Some scientists think... but prominent organizations for scientists and educators claim that... there are no reasons for any doubt.  Why is there disagreement?  One reason involves the principles of scientific evaluation.
      the way it often is: ...
      the way it should be: ...

      And now it continues,

      I suggest that you read more about "the way it should be" in Logical Evaluation of Origins Theories which has five sections; the first four are Comparisons and Definitions, The Many Meanings of Evolution, The Many Meanings of Creation, and Logically Valid Comparisons;  and it ends with Shifts of Meaning:

      How to Produce a Shift
      evolution-shifts:  Often, support is illogically shifted from a strongly supported meaning of evolution — such as basic "old earth" progressions in the fossil record, small-scale micro-E changes (like those that produce drug-resistant bacteria), or minor macro-E (that produces "new yet similar" species) — to a less strongly supported meaning (like a large-scale natural production of all biocomplexity and biodiversity, a Total Macro-E).
      creation-shifts:  Evidence against young-earth creation is often shifted onto old-earth creation, and the important scientific differences between two old-earth theories (independent creation and genetic modification) are ignored.
      With an evolution-shift the implied support for evolution increases, and with a creation-shift the implied support for creation decreases.  But in each case the shift (and associated implication) is not logically justified.

      How to Avoid a Shift
      minimizing evolution-shifts:  Each evolutionary sub-theory (as described in Section 2) is supported by different evidence, and should have different plausibility.  We need conceptual clarity.  The sub-theories of evolution should be precisely defined and their relationships should be carefully analyzed, because if there is only "evolution" it is easy to assume that evidence for some aspects of evolution necessarily provides strong support for other aspects.  When we estimate the plausibility of an extrapolation from micro-E to Total Macro-E, there should be a rigorous evaluation for each step connecting the intermediate levels.  This evaluation should be based on tight logic, not loose language that allows a transfer of support from one level to another.  { Perhaps advocates of evolution can make a strong case, based on the mechanisms proposed in neo-Darwinian theories, for moving from lower levels of E to Total Macro-E, but the process of "extrapolating between levels" should be explicitly acknowledged. }
      minimizing creation-shifts:  We should understand what each creation theory proposes, then compare these theories with each other and with theories of evolution, to see where they agree and disagree.  In a comparative evaluation we should focus on the differences between competitive theories, instead of wasting time on questions where both theories agree.  When we ask, "Does this evidence really matter?", we see that most of the evidence typically proposed in support of evolution is irrelevant when comparing Total Macro-E with old-earth creation by genetic modification, or with a basic theory of intelligent design.
      Strong support for Total Macro-E requires strong answers for tough questions:  1) How many mutations and how much selection would be required, how long would this take, and how probable is it?  2) Could a step-by-step process of evolution produce systems that seem irreducibly complex because all parts seem necessary for performing the system's function, and there would be no function to "select for" until all parts are present.  {details about irreducible complexity}
      Another question, related to irreducible complexity, is even more challenging:  Could a nonliving system naturally achieve the minimal complexity required to replicate itself and thus become capable of changing, in successive generations, by natural selection in neo-Darwinian evolution?  { This question is independent from neo-Darwinian theory, which simply assumes the existence of an organism that could reproduce, and doesn't try to explain how the first life became alive. }

      As explained above, some of the perceived support for evolution comes from creation-shifts.  To avoid this, we should avoid combining questions about evolution into an all-or-nothing package deal.  Instead, each question should be evaluated on its own merit.  Is evolution impossible because the earth is too young?  Is it implausible because "irreducibly complex" biochemical systems could not be produced in a step-by-step process of natural selection?  These two criticisms are independent.  But even though the extremely strong evidence for an old earth should have no effect on our evaluations of irreducible complexity, there is a tendency for advocates of "evolution as fact" to ignore logical principles — by saying "it's just those silly creationists again, and we've already falsified their young-earth theories of geology and biology" — and avoid tough questions about the mechanistic details of Total Macro-E.

      Explaining and Evaluating
      According to the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution, the government should not "establish" religion or prohibit the "free exercise" of religion.  In American public schools, is it legal to explain theories in which divine action is either proposed (as in young-earth creation, old-earth creation, or theistic evolution) or allowed (as in intelligent design)?  Yes.  Even the National Center for Science Education — a group that defines its goal as "working to defend the teaching of evolution against sectarian attack,... to keep evolution in the science classroom and 'scientific creationism' out" — seems to agree, when they say that legally "a teacher can teach about religion (though not advocate it)... one can discuss controversies involving religion, but it would not be proper to take sides. (source)"
      As usual in origins education, however, things aren't this simple.  Does the legal status change if, as recommended above, the sub-theories of evolution are being evaluated?  Although only creationary theories are explicitly religious, all origins theories (including intelligent design and naturalistic evolution) can have religious implications.  When a component is evaluated, theories taking a position on this component (either affirming or denying it) are being evaluated.  Does this mean that the associated religious implications are also being evaluated?  This is a difficult question.

      One approach — which was recommended in Ohio by the pro-design Discovery Institute — is to simply allow critical evaluations of evolution.

      Legal Questions
      Recent court rulings about how to apply principles from the U.S. Constitution limit what teachers can be required to do in the classroom, but place far fewer restrictions on what a teacher is allowed to do.  Saying that a school (or school board or state legislature) cannot require creationist teaching is not the same as saying that schools must forbid the discussion of any creationist concepts in the classroom.  And the definition of "teaching creationism" (which can be prohibited in the classroom) is narrower than is usually assumed, and should not be expanded to include every type of critical thinking about evolution.
      To learn more about origins education in American public schools, in the context of the U.S. Constitution and recent legal decisions, I suggest reading Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula: A Legal Guidebook (by David DeWolf, Stephen Meyer, and Mark DeForrest, 1999).  Their long page — which is actually a short book, graciously made available for free — offers a wealth of useful information about public education.  It is carefully written, and a careful reading will help you develop an increased depth of understanding.  Here is their basic conclusion, summarized (and oversimplified) in my own words:  Yes, it is legal for a teacher to provide evidence and to encourage critical thinking about evolution, when this is done with wisdom and skill.

     A home-page for Origins Education in Public Schools summarizes legal/constitutional principles and interpretations, and provides links to useful web-resources.

      Cultural-Personal Factors
      During all scientific activities, including theory evaluation, scientists are influenced by cultural-personal factors.  These factors include psychological motives and practical concerns (such as desires for respect and recognition, employment and funding), metaphysical worldviews (about the nature of reality), ideological principles (about "the way things should be" in society), and opinions of authorities (who are acknowledged due to expertise, personality, and/or power).  These factors interact with each other, and operate in a complex social context that involves individuals, scientific communities, and society as a whole.  Science and culture are mutually interactive, with each affecting the other.
      Recognize and Minimize:  We should recognize the influence of cultural-personal factors in science, and (in an effort to maximize the effectiveness of science in a search for truth) we should try to minimize the influence of these factors.  In science and education, we should want scientific theories to be evaluated by thinking that is unbiased and logical.

      Are evaluations of evolution being influenced by cultural-personal factors?
      There are reasons to suspect that three types of cultural-personal factors are influencing evaluations of naturalistic evolution:  A) currently, the scientific community accepts methodological naturalism so — no matter what the evidence indicates — every accepted theory must be a naturalistic theory;  B) for each person, an uncritical acceptance of evolution offers professional advantages in getting employment, funding, publications,...;  C) for some people — for atheists and rigid agnostics (who want to remain agnostic) — achieving personal consistency between nonscientific worldviews and scientific conclusions requires accepting some type of naturalistic evolution.

      Critical Thinking about Critical Thinking
      The National Science Teachers Association offers resources for evolution education (online and in print) that include The Creation Controversy & The Science Classroom, in which Craig Nelson describes "Effective Strategies for Teaching Evolution and Other Controversial Topics."  And the ENSI program (the "Evolution and the Nature of Science" Institute) is described by Nelson (and Martin Nickels & Jean Beard) in another paper that says, "Critical thinking skills should be the most fundamental part of any science course.  There are teaching techniques that emulate the critical thinking skills (the "scientific methods") which scientists use in evaluating the relative merits of alternative explanations."  Their program is based on sound principles of science and education.  I respect the quality their work, and I agree with most of what they say about the nature of science, principles for learning and teaching, goals of education, and methods of instruction.  But not all of it.
      For example, ENSI offers "Fair Tests: A Basic Model for Critical Thinking in Science (How Do Scientists Pick the Best Explanation?)" which is based on a valid principle of science: we should be impressed when different types of evidence lead independently to the same conclusion.  But the instructional activity they recommend ignores another important principle of logic:  we should compare strong versions of all competitive theories, not weak "strawman" versions. (*)  In this activity, they compare evolution with only young-earth creation and a weak version of old-earth creation that proposes independent creations and — even though old-earth creationists don't propose this — no subsequent change.  By including only these theories, they exclude the two scientifically strongest alternatives to evolution:  old-earth creation by macromutational genetic modification (followed by natural evolutionary changes), and a basic "minimal claims" version of intelligent design.  These omissions are a serious logical and pedagogical weakness.
      * This logical principle is one theme in my page about "the way it should be" when we evaluate origins theories.
      And even though they encourage teachers to "emphasize the tentative nature of all science" and to offer "open-ended activities where there is no teacher-imposed right answer at the end," one of their main goals is to persuade students that evolution (broadly defined, without precision) is true.
      an IOU:  Later, but not until 2011, my analysis of this program — which illustrates the typical approach (teach only evolution, and defend it vigorously) that now dominates origins education in public schools — will be done more thoroughly, and maybe other programs will also be analyzed.

      Do my views make sense?  Another page asks "Is old-earth creation logicaly inconsistent?" because it questions one consensus theory (about biological evolution, as explained above) but accepts another consensus theory (about age of the earth and universe).  I explain why old-earth creation is consistent because in a comparison of the two areas, re: evolution and age, we find major differences in:  1) views about the reliability of historical science,  2) scientific evidence supporting the consensus theory,  3) relationship between consensus and challenger theories, and  4) potential bias due to cultural-personal influences inside and outside the scientific community.

This website for Whole-Person Education has TWO KINDS OF LINKS:
an ITALICIZED LINK keeps you inside a page, moving you to another part of it, and
 a NON-ITALICIZED LINK opens another page.  Both keep everything inside this window, 
so your browser's BACK-button will always take you back to where you were.

Here are other related pages:

Critical Thinking (about evolution & design) in Public Schools: Part 1

homepage for Origins Education in Public Schools
(later, it will have pages by a variety of authors)

Logical Evaluations of Evolution

pages about Origins Questions by Craig Rusbult

This page is

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