December 13, 2005

A MERE PRODUCT OF ITS TIME (via Kevin Whited):

The Fear of Teaching Darwin (Larry Arnhart, 12/13/05, Inside Higher Ed)

The endless debate over the teaching of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution has now moved from the high schools to the universities. In this debate, the advocates of “intelligent design theory” say that this should be taught as a scientific alternative to Darwin’s theory. It’s time to consider radical ideas for resolving this dispute.

I have a proposal. Why not introduce our students to this debate by having them read Darwin’s own writings in their biology classes? We could teach the controversy by teaching Darwin.

I suspect, however, that this proposal will be rejected by almost everyone in this debate, because both sides — the proponents as well as the critics of evolution — have a deep fear of teaching Darwin. [...]

[I] cannot see that there would be anything wrong with having students weigh the evidence and arguments for themselves by reading selections from Darwin’s own writings — particularly, The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. Surely, the proponents of evolution couldn’t object to having students read Charles Darwin. And yet this could also satisfy the proponents of intelligent design, because Darwin presents intelligent design theory, which he calls the “theory of creation,” as the major alternative to his theory.

In The Origin of Species, Darwin frames the fundamental debate as a controversy between two theories — the “theory of creation” (or the “theory of independent acts of creation”) versus the “theory of natural selection” (or the “theory of descent with modification”). He indicates that until recently “most naturalists” — including himself — have accepted the “theory of creation,” which says that each species has been independently created by a Creator. But Darwin thinks that now we have a better theory — a “theory of natural selection,” which says that although the general laws of nature might have been ultimately created by a Creator, those general laws allow for the natural evolution of species through natural selection of inherited variations. Consequently, there is no need for special interventions by a Creator to design each species and each complex organic mechanism.

Darwin thinks that neither theory can be conclusively demonstrated. [...]

Darwin acknowledges the many “difficulties” with his theory, which turn out to be the very problems that are commonly stressed by proponents of intelligent design theory. But while Darwin admits that these “difficulties” are so severe as to be “staggering,” he tries to resolve them, while arguing that the “theory of creation” has its own difficulties. [...]

[G]enerally I have found that most university biologists are opposed to using Darwin’s writings in their classes and allowing their students to study the debate over intelligent design. A few years ago, I noticed that the biology department at my university was offering a course on “The Evolution/Creationism Debate. ”I went to the class and found that it was for biology majors planning on teaching high school biology. At the first meeting of the class, the students were told that they would not be reading any of the publications by proponents of creationism and intelligent design because all of this writing was “crap.” Instead, they would memorize the standard arguments defending evolution so that they could respond to those “ignorant parents” who might object to their teaching. But doesn’t this actually play into the hands of the intelligent design proponents by confirming their claim that the teaching of evolution to students has become indoctrination without freedom of thought?

Mr. Arnhart's idea is excellent, though it's obvious from what he's said that Darwinism belongs in a history of ideas or philosophy course with Creationism and ID, not in a science class. And the idea should be expanded so that students are presented the context in which Darwinism was invented, so that they can see that it was simply a product of the zeitgeist, as Edward Larson does reasonably well in his book, Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory:
Essential to Darwin's conception was a modern worldview influenced by ideas of utilitarianism, individualism, imperialism, and laissez-faire capitalism. Of course Malthus was a utilitarian-minded political economist who championed the laissez-faire ideal. Darwin also read the writings of Adam Smith and other utilitarian economists who presented individual competition as the driving force of economic progress. Perhaps most important, he lived in a society that embraced this view....

Stripped of its a priori claims to scientific truth, Darwinism is a fascinating example of how our prevailing philosophical paradigms create the "science" that we choose to believe in at any given moment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 13, 2005 10:30 AM

You still haven't told me why whales have hip bones.

Posted by: Amos at December 13, 2005 10:53 AM

University faculty (outside of St. John's College, perhaps) are unlikely to assign Darwin's books for reading. It would take too much time away from explicating Das Kapital.

Posted by: Axel Kassel at December 13, 2005 11:35 AM

> You still haven't told me why whales have hip bones.

Why not? They're not hurting anything. Code reuse is popular among many intelligent designers.

Posted by: Guy T. at December 13, 2005 11:38 AM

Sure, let 'em read Darwin's Origin. Just make sure they get to Chapter 6-- and make sure that read it in context of present discoveries, like molecular motors.

Posted by: Steve from DOUBLE TOOTHPICKS at December 13, 2005 11:49 AM

amos, whales have hip bones for the same reason leftists have delusions of grandeur -- the maker has a great sense of humor.

or: "some modern whales have a pair of bones embedded in their tissues, each of which strengthens the pelvic wall and acts as an organ anchor. I knew that evolutionists generally claim that these small, yet purposeful structures are vestigial (left-over) organs. They choose to believe that each bone of the pair is all that is left of the pelvic bone of the whales ancestor which, according to evolutionary doctrine, once walked and ran on land. They believe this even though these strips of bone have a known function, differ in males and females, and are not even attached to the vertebral column. I also knew that people are sometimes born with abnormalities such as an extra finger, or an extra rib, but no evolutionist claims that we evolved from a six-fingered ancestor. Whales could be born with a little extra lump of bone which evolutionists therefore insisted was a throwback corresponding to a second limb bone."

Posted by: piltdown whale at December 13, 2005 12:31 PM

Who cut the tail off of my tail bone?

Posted by: AllenS at December 13, 2005 1:09 PM

Antonio Alfonseca begs to differ:

Posted by: oj at December 13, 2005 1:43 PM

That's some family emblem.

Posted by: Mike Beversluis at December 13, 2005 2:04 PM

They won't let biology students read Darwin for the same reason the Pope doesn't let Catholics read the Bible.

Posted by: Rick T. at December 13, 2005 2:07 PM

Forget "The Origin of the Species". Go directly to "The Descent of Man". Now that might cause some hysterics in biology class. Or anthropology class. Or history class. Or whatever class is appropriate.

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 13, 2005 3:04 PM

must be a pain buying gloves and shoes :) that condition would be a boon to yakuza members.

Posted by: piltdown whale at December 13, 2005 4:12 PM

All this fuss over biological Spencerianism.

Posted by: Lou Gots at December 13, 2005 4:35 PM


Origins of WWII?

Posted by: oj at December 13, 2005 5:01 PM

SAN DIEGO, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- A Harvard researcher has solved a long-standing marine mystery: why does the narwhal whale have an eight-foot tooth emerging from its head.

The tooth, or tusk, emerges from the left side of its upper jaw and its unique spiral, asymmetry, and odd distribution among most males and some females are all unique expressions of teeth in mammals.

The narwhal, growing up to 15 feet in length and weighing between 2,200 and 3,500 pounds, lives in the Atlantic portion of the Arctic Ocean and, in fewer numbers, in the Greenland Sea.

Nweeia determined the tooth has hydrodynamic sensor capabilities, capable of detecting changes in water temperature, pressure and particle gradients. Nweeia said there's no comparison in nature and certainly none more unique in tooth form, expression, and functional adaptation.

darwinists are now searching the ocean bottoms for signs of a prehistoric swimming unicorn.

Posted by: piltdown whale at December 13, 2005 5:34 PM


Explain this.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 14, 2005 12:40 PM



But not an explanation.

It is also worth noting that phsyics students don't read Principia when learning classical mechanics.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 14, 2005 12:58 PM


Which isn't a product of intelligent design?

Posted by: oj at December 14, 2005 3:27 PM