Response to Zuidema

Creation Evolution Journal
Title: 
Response to Zuidema
Author(s): 
Stanley Weinberg
Volume: 
2
Number: 
3
Quarter: 
Summer
Page(s): 
22–30
Year: 
1981

Henry Zuidema's article on the treatment of creationism and evolution in biology textbooks refers to, among others, one of my books, Biology: An Inquiry into the Nature of Life (1977). His references to my work are accurate but incomplete, and this incompleteness-perhaps understandable in view of space limitations in journal articles-makes impossible a fair evaluation of the book. Therefore, I welcome the editor's invitation to comment on Zuidema's article.

Zuidema goes beyond the evaluation of particular textbooks. His references to aspects of publishing and to science-teaching strategies are calculated to provoke

- page 23 -

discussion and, therefore, make a useful contribution. I will make no comment on books other than my own.

Zuidema and I have different perspectives. He is a geologist and a journalist. He admittedly has no teaching experience below the university level (Zuidema, September 3, 1980). 1 taught biology for thirty years, mostly in high school, but also as an adjunct in several colleges. Therefore, we approach the issues from different backgrounds, and these differences show.

A Description of the Text

Of the thirty chapters that comprise Biology: An Inquiry into the Nature of Life, five are concerned entirely or largely with aspects of evolution. Evolution appears in many other chapters as well and, indeed, is a theme throughout the book. Thus, the coverage of evolution, in extent and depth, is at least comparable to that in the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) versions and, I believe, is substantially greater than in any other high school biology text. So, the book cannot be said to slight evolution. By not making the least mention of this feature in a report that purports to deal with textbooks' treatment of creation and evolution, Zuidema misrepresents the nature of my book.

Chapter fifteen, entitled "The Origin of Species," is mainly a thorough exposition of Darwinism and neo-Darwinism. The chapter also includes a discussion of creationism, perhaps the most extensive in any evolution-oriented textbook. A brief history of the creation-evolution controversy, from the period preceding Darwin through the more recent Scopes and Epperson cases, is included. This historical treatment conforms to a second theme that runs through the book: demonstrating the changing and ongoing nature of science by describing the historical development of various fields of biological inquiry. The rationale and demands of the creationist movement are described. There is also a table presenting creationist arguments against evolution and the responses of evolutionists.

No theory of creationism is presented; to my understanding, no such theory exists. There is no support for creationism. Indeed, the book says:

As a result of Darwin's work, scientists generally came to reject special creation. Then and now, most biologists have accepted the theory of evolution through natural selection as the only reasonable explanation for the origin of different kinds of living things.

Despite this clearly stated position, Zuidema not only seems distressed by the mere discussion of creationism in a biology text but is especially distressed by the comparative table.

- page 24 -

I view "scientific creationism" as a religious doctrine posing as science, not as an authentic scientific theory comparable and equivalent to evolution. I oppose requirements that mandate the teaching of creationism, with its supernatural base, in the public schools. In view of this position, why do I incorporate discussions of creationism in my textbooks and in my teaching? This question is explicitly answered in the book in a statement directed to the students:

The issue of creation versus evolution concerns you not just as a biology student but as a citizen and a prospective voter. You may have to help decide what should be taught in the schools of your state and your community.

A View of Science Education

The creation-evolution controversy is not a scientific issue, but it is a public issue of considerable current significance. It is generally recognized that the high school's basic function is general education, not technical specialization, and that high school courses are obligated to educate not only in their respective disciplines but in language skills and citizenship as well. I regard discussion of creationevolution as education in citizenship. Therefore, I do not subscribe to the notion put forth by Zuidema and certain other pro-evolutionists that any discussion of creationism in science classes—or in science textbooks—is verboten. The real question is not whether creationism should be discussed but how it can be handled with accuracy, fairness, and responsibility. Let me address this question.

It is an axiom familiar to all competent teachers that to reach the kids at all we have to address their real concerns. Felt needs was the term used by the Teachers College school. The BSCS guidelines (1978) state this well-established pedagogical truism in somewhat more formal language: ". . . information that has important personal implications for the learner is inherently more interesting and learned more thoroughly than isolated facts that have no practical application." Creationism certainly is interesting and important to many high school students. It is the one topic about which they come to the biology course with strong preconceptions and deep concern. Zuidema seems to assume that high school students are isolated, or can be isolated, from the problems of the society around them. Perceptive teachers are aware that this is not the case; yet, too often our schools, for whatever reason, carefully shy away from involvement in many of the problems that most concern the students, including the creation-evolution controversy. This reticence is one probable reason why so many of our vibrant youngsters, who are turned on by sports, cars, extracurricular activities, social life, dating, and the like, are bored to death with the academic side of school.

Suppose the biology teacher—and the biology textbook—refuse to discuss creationism, as Zuidema wishes. We then leave troubled kids to the mercies of the

- page 25 -

extramural creationists. In this circumstance, who is more likely to reach the kids, evolutionist biology teachers or creationist pamphleteers? We should teach evolution with thoroughness, while at the same time explicitly recognizing the existence of objections to it—whether valid or not. This is what my text tries to do.

I am not alone in holding these views. Earl D. Hanson, a teacher at Wesleyan University, says: "A head-in-the-sand attitude that science textbooks should contain only science is dangerously ill-informed regarding the need of an informed public regarding . . . such confrontations as those engendered by the creationistevolutionist issue" (1980). John Horn, a biology teacher and a witness for the defense in the recent California Segraves trial, said on the witness stand:

"I have several students who bring their Bibles to class.... We discuss it back and forth.... I've had students prepare papers on [creation versus
evolution], and we've had debates in class."

"Do students have to accept evolution to get a good grade?" the defense asked.

"No, not in my class.... A child only needs to understand what is presented, not believe it" (Hilts, 1981).

At San Diego State University, Frank Awbrey and William Thwaites teach a course in creation-evolution about which Zuidema also has strong reservations (August 11, 1980). Leading creationists are invited to the class to present their views, to which the instructors respond. The course was instituted after a student gave a paper on creationism in another biology class. To the shocked amazement of the other instructor and his colleagues, a large part of the class was persuaded that there was indeed a good case for creation and that the validity of the evolution theory was much in doubt. Thwaites's ironic comment was: "And this was after four years of studying scientific biology!" When Thwaites and Awbrey initiated their course, there were objections from their evolutionist colleagues. After several years, according to Thwaites, the critics have finally come around to the view that offering this course is both appropriate and useful (Thwaites, 1981).

A final illustration comes from my own experience. Several months ago, I taught evolution as a guest teacher at Ottumwa High School in Iowa. In one class, about two-thirds of the way through the discussion, a girl who had been silent until then raised her hand and said bluntly, "I think evolution is a crock." I asked her why she thought so. A dialogue ensued, which the rest of the class followed with absorption and with occasional interjections. Just before the bell, the girl who had initiated the exchange said with some astonishment, "Gee, you've made me think about this."

That, of course, was my intent. Like Horn, I never require that students must agree with my ideas and beliefs, even were such a demand feasible. I have no right to expect this; the students' minds are their own. All that t ask—all that I can ask—is that students try to acquire accurate information bearing on the question

- page 26 -

at issue and then think rationally about the question and the evidence. The students have every right to their own ultimate conclusions.

I have already noted that my text, which is used in Ottumwa High School, reminds students of their citizenship obligations. This point is not an academic abstraction but is a realization of a concrete necessity and a forecast of things to come, as is evident in Iowa, particularly in Ottumwa. For five years the state has been the focus of a sharp creationist-evolutionist confrontation (Gerlovich, 1980). The state senator from Ottumwa was a sponsor of the 1979 creationist bill. In the most recent election, Ottumwa chose a new state representative, who is now on the legislative committee which has been charged with the issue and who is pro-evolution.

This situation is not unique to Iowa. These matters concern young people everywhere. Is the girl, whom I previously quoted and who will soon reach voting age, likely to be a better-informed citizen had she not participated in the creation-evolution discussion that I led?

Strategies for Dealing with Creationism

Creationism is troublesome because of its persistence as a significant public issue. For years scientists simply ignored it. They regarded any concern with it as unimportant, unworthy of their attention, a possible intrusion into their valuable research time, and likely to involve them in unpleasant and unwelcome political activity. As a result of the scientists' inertia in this area, as well as the creationists' own shrewd campaigns, creationism flourished.

In the past few years, many scientists have come to realize their error. In growing numbers they write and speak on creationism, deal with it in their courses, debate creationists, lobby legislators, and carry on similar defensive activities. These activities have helped to resolve creation-evolution issues in several state legislatures. In the past two years, of creationist bills in about twenty states, only the Arkansas bill was passed, and it is now being challenged in a lawsuit.

Yet, creationism is almost untouched in its area of greatest strength—local communities and local school systems. In this arena, creationists have no need of supportive legislative enactments or of court decisions. Let me give an example of how things work. In a community that I know well, the president of the school board told two successive biology teachers that they had every right to teach evolution—but not in that district if they wanted to keep their jobs. The first teacher left for another job at the end of the school year. The other is still there, unhappily not teaching evolution. Community pressure does the trick. In how many thousands of school districts across the nation do similar conditions prevail?

Although the creationists lack any substantial support in the scientific community,

- page 27 -

they claim the support of at least half of the general public (Bliss, 1981). From my own observations around the country, I find the creationist claim persuasive. In 1942, Oscar Riddle found that half of the nation's high schools did not teach evolution. In the 1960s, Troost found that, of 363 high school teachers he surveyed, half said that they taught evolution only as one of several alternative theories of the origin of life (Henig, 1979).

How can the scientific and educational communities deal with such aberrations with respect to evolution? It seems to me that the ultimate answer must be education-public adult education, better teaching in our schools and colleges, better teacher training. Topics treated should include: the nature of science; the nature of creationism; what evolution is, what it is not, and the evidence on which it stands. Discussion of creationism is an essential component of such a program. Creationist propaganda is effective and cannot be countered by indirection; it must be dealt with directly and explicitly. For this reason, I feel that efforts by Zuidema and others to constrain discussion—discussion, not support—of creationism are not only ill-advised but are self-defeating as well.

Discussion Does Not Mean Approval

I support evolution as the best available explanation of the variety of life on earth. But I do not treat it as untouchable dogma that cannot be examined or criticized. Evolution can stand up to any thorough, honest, and searching inquiry -including criticism from creationist sources. Zuidema characterizes any such inquiry as support for creationism. His objection is idiosyncratic. Would any competent working scientist object to rejection of authority and dependence on the evidence-characteristics of science that I stress? Do scientists assert the perpetual immutability of any scientific theory? Science endeavors to be open, skeptical, and self-correcting. Its theories are subject to criticism from any source, and, when the theories fail to respond to criticism, they cease to be scientific.

In controversial areas, science is skeptical enough to suspend judgment, sometimes for centuries. But science does not sit on the fence forever. As evidence accumulates, a consensus develops that certain theories have been adequately verified, such as the round earth and the heliocentric solar system; these theories then enter into the body of scientific knowledge and into school curricula. The alternatives-the flat earth, the geocentric universe-are rejected as unfounded. Schools do not teach them, and few people are unhappy about this. Any individual who wishes to hold to the obsolete alternatives is perfectly free to do so, and small numbers of people are so committed.

Creationism is a somewhat special case. Someday, perhaps, it will join the many other obsolete hypotheses that have been discarded as prescience or nonscience by the public. I do not expect to live to see that distant day. On the basis

- page 28 -

of overwhelming evidence, science long ago rejected creationism as an unverified and obsolete hypothesis. Creation-evolution is no longer a scientific issue. But creationism's many devotees do not accept the consensus; they keep creationism very much alive as a significant public issue.. Students, especially, do not know the evidence upon which science bases its consensus. Therefore, with each new generation of high school students, the issue must be addressed anew and the evidence again examined critically.

Science today has acquired an unfortunate public image as dogmatic, authoritarian, and elitist, and it thereby suffers. Stephen Gould comments that the irresponsible behavior of some scientists has contributed to this poor image (1981). It seems to me that the schools can help to restore the more authentic image of science as an open and responsive discipline. Many -good biology teachers, including Horn, use the creation-evolution controversy as a medium for teaching this concept of science. The material in my book is designed to facilitate such classroom discussion; teachers tell me that the material works.

Of course, a high school class has limited time to spend on any single topic. It is especially difficult to provide for exhaustive investigation and discussion of a controversial issue. The extent of the discussion must vary with the interest and background of the students and the judgment of the teacher. To provide a substantial amount of material in condensed form, I resorted to the comparative table that distresses Zuidema. As a pedagogical device, the table is excellent; as a graphic device, it is unfortunate. Its two-column format makes it look like the creationists' two-model pattern-which it is not. The table does not equate creationism and evolution as alternative theories of equal weight. It does quote arguments against evolution and responses thereto-a very different thing.

Taken out of the context of the chapter of which it is an integral part (where else do we see the out-of-context technique at work?), the table may be misrepresented as support for creationism. Then creationists, such as John N. Moore, gloat, and pro-evolutionists, like Zuidema, rage. To obviate such misunderstandings, the table will not appear in future editions. I will try to achieve the same pedagogical end through textual discussion.

Religious Views

One pair of arguments cited in the table deals with religious views. Zuidema asserts that no discussion of religion belongs in a biology textbook (August 18, 1980). He adds that various evolutionists with whom the has worked rarely talked about their religious views. I accept the latter statement, and I feel that I should have made the point myself.

On the other hand, it would not be difficult to compile a long list of respected evolutionist scientists who have publicly stated their religious faith in a

- page 29 -

creator who works through the process of evolution and another list of clergy and other devout persons, of many faiths, who have put themselves on public record as accepting evolution and opposing the creationist "equal time" doctrine. I will spare the patient reader such lists, but I would like to cite just two names. Gould pays a gracious tribute to his teacher and friend, Kirtley Mather, as a distinguished evolutionist and an outspoken Christian (1981). Also, in April, 1981, biologist Kenneth Miller debated creationist Henry Morris at Brown University. Miller eloquently described his Catholic faith as entirely consistent with his commitment to science and his acceptance of evolution.

These private religious convictions are entirely outside of science, which deals only with the natural world and never with the supernatural. But they are very relevant to creation-evolution as a public issue. Many creationists resort—frequently, widely, and effectively—to the argument that evolution is unavoidably synonymous with atheism. This defamatory charge should be responded to wherever and whenever it surfaces. Science is neither theistic nor atheistic; religious belief or disbelief is simply not on its agenda.

Is a high school textbook a proper place to deal with these matters? I think it is, always provided that they are relevant to a scientific or quasi-scientific issue and that they are dealt with objectively and factually. The kids have already heard the creationist statement; why is it not proper to also expose them to the response of some evolutionists? The courts have carefully distinguished between objectively and dispassionately teaching about religion and indoctrinating in a particular religious faith. The former is acceptable and proper in a public school; the latter is unconstitutional and unacceptable. My brief treatment abides by this legal and ethical doctrine. Teachers have found the treatment helpful in clearing the air on a sticky subject.

Resolving Differences

Zuidema is a battle-scarred veteran of the struggle to defend the integrity of science. Yet, in view of his limited teaching experience, I find his obiter dicta, as to what does and does not belong in a textbook, to be unrealistic and inappropriate.

Zuidema has generously mentioned my involvement in the defense of evolution. We are on the same side, although we differ as regards how best to achieve our common aim. He has done a service by raising some issues that are significant for science policy and science teaching. It would be well if we could resolve our differences in technique. Divisiveness in the still-thin ranks of pro-evolutionists is not helpful.

The cover letter, which came to me from the editor along with Zuidema's manuscript, was signed with the hope: "Yours for a lively journal." I echo these

- page 30 -
words. Open minds and open discussion are essential to the progress of science and education.

Bibliography

Biological Sciences Curriculum Study. 1978. "Guidelines for Educational Priorities and Curricular Innovations in the Areas of Human and Medical Genetics." BSCS Journal. 1:1.

Bliss, Richard. 1981. Jack Van Impe television program.

Gerlovich, Jack A., et al. June 13, 1980. Letter, "Creationism in Iowa." Science. 208:1210.

Gould, Stephen Jay. May 1981. "Evolution as Fact and Theory." Discover, p. 34.

Hanson, Earl B. January 1980. Letter. Bioscience. 30:1:4.

Henig, Robin Marantz. September 1979. "Evolution Called a 'Religion,' Creationism Defended as 'Science.' " Bioscience. 29:9:513.

Hilts, Philip J. March 6, 1981. "Science Teacher Says Evolution Taught Carefully." Washington Post.

Riddle, Oscar. 1942. The Teaching of Biology in the Secondary Schools of the United States. Washington, DC: Union of American Biological Societies.

Thwaites, William. May 4, 1981. Personal communication.

Weinberg, Stanley L. 1977. Biology: An Inquiry into the Nature of Life. Fourth edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Zuidema, Henry P. August 11, 1980. Personal communication to David Kraus.
—— September 3, 1980. Personal communication to David Kraus.
—— August 18, 1980. Personal communication to Stanley L. Weinberg.

About the Author(s): 

Stan Weinberg has thirty years experience as a high school and college biology teacher and is the author of several textbooks. He has served as vice-president and director of the National Association of Biology Teachers and as president of the New York Biology Teachers Association.

Copyright 1981 by Stanley L. Weinberg

This version might differ slightly from the print publication.