Debating evolution

As the debate over evolution and creation continues among public school officials across the country, some religious groups and even scientists are now shifting their stances and adopting more inclusive attitudes. This is a welcome change from the less compromising factions that have characterized the debate in the past.
Students must learn that “facts” are often just the judgment and consensus of the learned majority. This is true in any discipline. Public schools, out of self-protection, dodge and evade many controversial topics. But in the case of teaching evolution in the classroom, introducing controversy might be the key to avoiding it. Schools can partly diffuse the heated debate — which continually arises in school boards across the country — by introducing evolution as merely the majority opinion of the scientific community.
Teachers too often introduce scientific information as pure fact, as if the standard peer evaluation process did not really exist among scientists. The theory of evolution is simply a theory. Any student who grasps this simple concept will have a much better understanding of the complex nature underlying progress and human discovery.
Fortunately, some schools in Alabama and Oklahoma have included disclaimers warning students that evolution is not a proven theory. This is a significant step toward a more accurate portrayal of scientific knowledge. But students need more than cautious words in a textbook. Teachers should actively facilitate discussions that question the reliability of theories. When confronted with evidence, students should be taught to instinctively ask, “When is a fact a fact?” Critical perspective is the basis of all inquiry.
Many states are also making a change for the better. A disclaimer adopted by the Tennessee school board reads, “Students are urged to exercise critical thinking and gather all information possible and closely examine each alternative toward forming an opinion.” All Tennessee teachers must quote the article in class before addressing evolution.
Students can learn a lot about the scientific process from alternate opinions on how we came to be. They will learn that many experts dismiss literal creationist stories in favor of biological and chemical alternatives. But, most importantly, they will discover that science is continually on trial. Facts are disputed and theories are revised in ongoing debates.