Eighty-one years after the Scopes “monkey trial,” the religious right is still trying to control the public school science curriculum. It doesn’t matter that the anti-evolutionists have been routed in court. Nor does it matter that the National Academy of Sciences,the country’s most prestigious scientific organization, has described the theory of evolution as “thoroughly tested and confirmed.” During 2005, anti-evolution legislation was introduced in at least a dozen states. As the contributors to this book repeatedly remind us, the battle over teaching evolution isn’t going away anytime soon.
Edited by Eugenie Scott and Glenn Branch, the executive director and deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, the book consists of six chapters, each of which examines anti-evolutionism from a distinct perspective—historical, scientific, theological, legal, pedagogical, and political. Taken together, the chapters portray a movement that has proved incredibly resilient, able to reposition and relabel itself as circumstances have demanded.
When, for example, attempts to introduce “creation science” into the curriculum were turned back by the courts in the 1980s, anti-evolutionists shifted to promoting “intelligent design.” Now that intelligent design has also run into legal obstacles, they have resorted to “critical analysis,” which variously calls on teachers to “critically analyze evolution,” to teach the “strengths and weaknesses of evolution,” to teach “the full range of views” about it, and to teach “evolution as theory not fact.”
Anti-evolutionists sometimes refer to this as “teaching the controversy.”But as far as mainstream scientists are concerned, thereis no controversy. They say it is just as inappropriate to teach that evolution is scientifically weak and controversial as it would be to teach that the Earth is flat, or that humans and dinosaurs coexisted, or that intelligent design is valid science rather than dogma in disguise.
Although many may not realize it, we are in the midst of a struggle to preserve sound science education. A recent survey by the National Science Teachers Association found that 30 percent of responding members had felt pressure to omit evolution and related topics from their teaching, while 31 percent had felt pressure to include nonscientific alternatives to evolution. It is crucial to resist such pressure, whether it comes from parents, community groups, administrators, or school board members. Reading this book is a good start.
Howard Good is coordinator of the journalism program at the State University of New York at New Paltz. His latest book is Inside the Board Room: Reflections of a Former School Board Member (Rowan & Littlefield Education, 2006).
A version of this article appeared in the December 01, 2006 edition of Teacher as Book Reviews