Science is a discipline, not a belief or a theory

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By Jim Flynn

Recent headline No. 1: “Teachers may feel pressured to omit evolution.” Recent headline No. 2: Lawmaker (says) “Call evolution a theory.” Both headlines introduce stories about things gone goofy in public education.

The first headline’s story was primarily anecdotes about teachers caught between a state requirement to teach evolution and their fears of backlash from young-earth creationist parents and students.

The second story concerned a Florida legislator’s suggestion that the State Board of Education include the word “theory” in its revised science standards, which propose to substitute “evolution” for “biological changes over time.” Duh! The theory of evolution has always been a theory.

However, to make their point more emphatically, creationists want the subject matter called “the evolution theory,” instead of the science community’s settled parlance of “the theory of evolution.” Nit picking.

We’re unaware of any surveys of public sentiment as to whether evolution should or should not be taught in public schools, or whether an alternative theory merits inclusion.

More importantly we’d be surprised if one student, one parent, one school board member, or one state legislator in a thousand could hold a five-minute factual discussion about evolution or creationism (emphasis on factual).

Before you ask, our answer is “no.” Despite 23 years of education, we doubt we’d be able to hold forth four minutes in a factual discussion of supernatural creation, spontaneous generation, or natural selection. Probably not even three minutes.

The point is that public education shouldn’t be a battleground for competing belief systems.

There are hundreds of academic and scientific theories, including belief theory and faith theory. Those who wish to challenge them should do so in colleges and graduate schools, or join a scientific expedition to Africa.

John Henry Newman (1801-1880), one of our favorite educators, believed that no science is the whole truth. Newman believed Christian education provides missing elements, such as meaning, purpose, and principles, which fill out the wholeness of truth.

Make no mistake, although he was a highly educated Anglican priest who later became a Roman Catholic cardinal, Newman believed the purpose of education was to open young minds so they might digest, refine, and use knowledge.

Newman believed the first step in training students is the discipline of science – method, order, and system. Newman had no fear that scientific discipline might lead a student to conclude that Genesis was wrong, or that there is no God.

Persistent dismissal of the theory of evolution by today’s creationists and efforts to make intelligent design part of the science curriculum of public schools would have amused Newman. Creationism is not science.

The theory of evolution was developed scientifically. If it is in error, it will be disproved scientifically, as many other theories have been.

In the meantime, some creationists and politicians are willing to muddle the teaching of millions of public school students in a dispute with no educational value. Arguing evolution vs. creationism is as educationally significant as the dispute over whether Turkish girls should or should not wear headscarves in school.

Since before the time of Galileo, scientists have had to be careful when suggesting the earth is round instead of flat, or that the earth revolves around the sun.

Here in the 21st century, unapproved thoughts are still considered heresy in some circles.

In every age there have been those who suspect science is a conspiracy against the literal meaning of scripture. That kind of unchecked lunacy led to the Inquisitions of the 12th-, 13th-, and 16th centuries. Our public school curriculum shouldn’t be the setting for modern-day heresy hearings.

Darwin’s theory of evolution was not intended to be an attack on scripture or Christianity.

On the contrary, Darwin commented favorably on the work of missionaries he met during his travels. He was a life-long generous giver to his local church, which his wife and children attended, though he did not.

Darwin was just a private, quiet, kindly old scientist who propounded a theory which is taught in universities all over the world.

Jim Flynn was formerly a corporate counsel, served in military intelligence during the Korean War, and once aspired to be a newspaper columnist.