BEYOND BELIEF: Let’s teach science in science class

Feb. 12 marked the 202nd anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. His original theory of evolution by natural selection has been refined as scientists have made more discoveries about the evolutionary process. Still, it remains clear across the scientific community that Darwin laid the foundation for our understanding of the origins of life on Earth.

The scientific consensus on evolution is overwhelming, but only about 39 percent of Americans believe in evolution. How can that be?

According to a recent study by Penn State University, we aren’t teaching evolution in school. Of the 926 high school biology teachers polled, about 60 percent said they do not teach evolution in class, and if they do, they only touch on it briefly. Only about 28 percent actually teach it as the central theory of biology, and about 13 percent openly endorse biblical creationism in the classroom.

Many of the teachers who shy away from evolution said they do so to avoid conflict with kids and parents who believe in creationism. That means the irrational beliefs of certain families have so infiltrated the school system that some science teachers are afraid of teaching valid science.

Political correctness could be partially to blame. By concerning ourselves with safeguarding the feelings of religious people in our public debates, we may have softened our defense of the legitimate science of evolution. I have heard countless arguments in the news questioning the validity of evolution, but I rarely hear a satisfactory retort.

A common argument made by creationists is that evolution is an unproven theory and is therefore too unreliable to be taught in school. This is extremely misleading and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how science works. Other theories that aren’t and can’t be proven include cell theory, the germ theory of disease, and the theory of Continental Drift. Even Newton’s law of gravity cannot be proven by science.

There are no “proven” theories. There are theories that have been disproven and theories that are supported by empirical evidence. And so far, there have been countless discoveries supporting evolution and not one shred of evidence contradicting it. But even if it was possible to prove evolution it is likely creationists would still refuse to accept it because doing so would undermine the legitimacy of the Bible’s word.

Science is apolitical and indifferent to preference, as our public discourse about it should be. A scientist doesn’t set out to prove or disprove his own personal beliefs. He sets out to discover the truth about the natural world. If his discovery happens to contradict his beliefs, it is the duty of the scientist to revise his beliefs, not his findings.

This is exactly what Darwin, formerly a devout Christian, did when he made his famous observations about the origin of species. And just as science makes no concessions to one’s feelings, we must stop making concessions to those who refuse to accept reality. We must encourage our science teachers to teach science.

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BEYOND BELIEF: Let’s teach science in science class