Misrepresentation of Alternatives

Some school textbooks make the case for evolution more convincing by the way in which they present the alternatives to evolution. This is done in several ways: 

  • failing to mention any alternatives to evolution
  • presenting alternatives as purely religious and without scientific merit
  • presenting belief in evolution as an all-or-nothing issue

In these ways, evolution is presented as the only credible theory of origins so children have no alternative but to believe it. This is a powerful method of persuasion. Even if pupils have doubts about the evidence textbooks give for evolution, it is still greater than any evidence they are given for other theories. They have no choice but to believe in evolution.

Failing to mention alternatives to evolution

Some textbooks only present the theory evolution to school children, and do not tell them about any current alternative views which scientists hold. Examples of such textbooks include: 

  • Longman GCSE Biology. (Bradfield, P., and S. Potter. 2002)
  • Biology for OCR A. (Bryan Dawson and Ian Honeysett. Heinemann. 2001) 
  • Advanced Human and Social Biology. (Toole, G., and S. Toole. 1997. Stanley Thorne) This notes that evolution is not the only explanation of the origins of the many species which exist on earth but it does not say anything about the other explanations
  • AQA GCSE Biology. (Vic Pruden, Jennifer Burnett, Judy Crane, Christine Woodward. Hodder and Stoughton 2002) which claims that early in the 20th century… Darwin’s ideas were almost universally accepted. (page 106).
  • Biology for Higher Tier (Beckett and Gallagher, Third Edition, Oxford University Press, 2001), which only talks about historical religious objections to Darwinism
  • Biology 2. (Jones, M., and J. Gregory. 2001. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge)

Presenting alternatives as purely religious and without scientific merit


Other textbooks do present alternatives to evolution, but describe them as being purely religious and without any reasoned scientific basis. In these texts, evolution (apparently based on facts and empirical data) is contrasted with religious beliefs (apparently only based on ideology and faith). 


Here are some examples found in current textbooks:When, in 1859, Charles Darwin first published his ideas…his book was met with horror by many people. The idea that species might change was not only against people’s religious beliefs, but also against their instinctive beliefs…Worst of all was the suggestion that humans might not have been created as humans, but evolved from something similar to a monkey or ape. It is not surprising that these views provoked controversy and impassioned argument. Indeed, in some communities and religious groups they still do today. (Advanced Biology. Jones, M., and G. Jones. 1997. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.) 
Darwin’s book … is not accepted by some religious groups even today. (p. 351, GCSE Biology Third Edition. D. G. Mackean. John Murray, 2002)

Some believe that the world and all species were created in six days of 24 hours’ duration. They reject any other possible views and rely absolutely on inspiration, meditation and divine revelation…Science concerns itself only with observable phenomena and as such will never be able to prove or disprove special creation. (p. 879, Biological Science 1 and 2. Soper, R. (Ed.) Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.)
These statements are true as far as they go, but on their own are not sufficient to fairly describe the alternatives to Darwinism. In the absence of other alternatives to evolution, they make it seem that the only objections to Darwinism are purely religious. This claim is made explicitly in A-Level Biology by Phillips, W. D., and T. J. Chilton (Oxford University Press 1994):

Evolution is controversial not so much because the scientific evidence is in any doubt, but because some people do not like or refuse to accept its implications in a religious or philosophical context.
By making it seem as if the debate over evolution is purely one of science versus religion, textbooks are promoting a common caricature which is simply not true. The most extreme manifestation of this is in Scientifica: Time Surfers by Louise Petheram (Nelson Thornes 2004 ).

This textbook, for 11-12 year old children represents non-Darwinists by a fictional interview with a creationist clergyman who is rude and aggressive. His closing comment is that black people “don’t even look like humans”. This is followed by an interview with a polite, modern “expert on human evolution” who reassures us that black and white people are in the same species.  

These caricatures are very misleading. Very few people make a purely religious argument against Darwinism, and those that do have better arguments than those presented here, mainly focused around the ethical implications of Darwinism. 

Material focusing exclusively on religious objections to Darwinism obscures the fact that there is a genuine controversy over the scientific evidence for evolution.

In addition, though textbooks frequently mention the religious aspects of some objections to Darwinism, it is rare for them to acknowledge that Darwinism itself has religious aspects. In an unusual exception, the authors of one textbook published in 1993 admitted that “an element of faith” is needed to believe some aspects of evolutionary theory (Biology: Principles and Processes, Roberts M., Reiss, M., Monger, G., p. 718). However, when this textbook was released as a new edition in 2000, this sentence was taken out (Advanced Biology, Roberts M., Reiss, M., Monger, G. p. 735).

So some textbooks fail to mention scientific objections to evolution, fail to mention the element of faith needed for belief in evolution, and even fail to portray religious objections which some people hold against evolution in a fair manner. 

Presenting belief in evolution as an all-or-nothing issue
Textbooks commonly give pupils an all-or-nothing choice over evolution. They can either believe that all of life has evolved from a common ancestor, or they can believe that no evolution occurs, and species have not changed at all since they were created. 

This all-or-nothing approach is false. It is entirely possible to believe that the basic types of organism are highly dynamic, yet that all life has not evolved from a common ancestor. Indeed, this perspective is arguably more parsimonious than the hypothesis of a universal phylogenetic tree. Textbooks try to use the good evidence that there is for small-scale evolution to push pupils into believing in molecules-to-man evolution. If simply exposed to the scientific data, pupils might reasonably conclude that they will believe in small but not large-scale evolution. But textbooks do not give them this option. 

Textbooks often teach that people who do not believe in molecules-to-man evolution believe in the fixity of species. This is the idea that all modern species were created, have never changed, and are not capable of change. For example, in this textbook extract below, not only is the only alternative to the two evolutionary theories given as explicitly religious, it also involves belief that an organism’s adaptive features …were present fully formed at the moment of creation. 
Theories of evolution1 Special Creation. Many religions teach that species were created by God and have existed on the Earth unaltered from generation to generation. According to this view, an organism’s adaptive features are inherited from its ancestors and were present fully formed at the moment of creation. The essential elements of the theory are not open to scientific investigation and cannot be tested. Other evolutionary theories accept that species characteristics do change and that all present day species are derived from a few very simple types of organism which first arose from non-living material more than 300 million years ago.
2. Inheritance of acquired characteristics…In some respect this theory is an attractive one but there is no experimental evidence to support it…
3. Neo-Darwinian theory. A coherent and plausible theory of evolutionary change was first described in detail by Charles Darwin…

(GCSE Biology Third Edition. D. G. Mackean. John Murray. 2002)

Special creation with fixity of species and no micro-evolution, is commonly mentioned in textbooks.

Darwin’s book …denied that there was a ‘fixity of species’. (p. 351, GCSE Biology Third Edition. D. G. Mackean. John Murray. 2002)According to creationism, all species present on Earth today have remained unchanged since they were created by God. Darwin’s theory of evolution contradicts this belief.  (page 436, Advanced Biology. Kent, Michael. 2000. Oxford University Press, Oxford)

This view is not held today by any creationist group, and even before Darwin it was by no means universally held. Indeed, Darwin’s botany tutor, John. S. Henslow (1796-1851), believed that there was considerable diversity within the kinds of organism which God created.

By contrasting molecules-to-man evolution with a view of species fixity which is impossible to hold scientifically, textbooks misrepresent the choice faced by pupils in their beliefs about their own origins.

Conclusion

The ways in which some textbooks present evolution and its alternatives are neither fair nor scientific. Rather than teaching pupils to think critically,  these textbooks are indoctrinating them using poor arguments. School children should be given the opportunity to properly understand different views on our origins, so that they can come to well informed conclusions about this important issue.