The More You Know

Should school boards silence the debate over evolution?


Some time ago, a highly charged argument was set in motion. It pitted evolution against the Creation. One side of this debate relies on scientific inquiry, and the other relies on ancient mythological texts. That's my view. That's what I intend to teach my children.

Yet I have no interest in foisting this curriculum on your kids. Nor am I particularly distressed that a creationist theory may collide one day with the tiny eardrums of my precocious offspring.

Which brings me to the Texas Board of Education's recent landmark compromise between evolutionary science and related religious concerns in public-school textbooks.

The board cautiously crafted an arrangement that requires teachers to allow students to scrutinize "all sides" of the issue. This decision is widely seen as a win for pro-creationists—or wait, are they called anti-evolutionists?

"Texas has sent a clear message that evolution should be taught as a scientific theory open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can't be questioned," explained John West, who is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, which is an anti-… a Charles Darwin-hating group that argued that students in Texas should have a right to review "all of the evidence."

What damage is there in challenging assumptions and "dogma"? None, of course. We should be fostering critical thinking in our youth. Allowing an inquiry into evolution, I believe, will almost certainly confirm its existence in the minds of millions of children.

Next up: a critical analysis of the existence of God in public schools.

But there is a deeper problem here. Why are so many allegedly tolerant and science-loving Americans aghast at the notion that their beliefs will be scrutinized in schools? Are school systems reflections of the population's diverse viewpoints or places of political control? Should school boards shut down debate on a topic that millions of Americans still disagree on?

Until we jettison the antiquated one-size-fits-all public education system, the majority of students will endure some seemingly preposterous objections to fact, useless sex and/or abstinence programs, historical textbooks that are mockeries of history, and/or truly questionable science employed for ideological purposes.

Which one works? Which one is true? Which one is better? It's often a matter of perception and largely irrelevant. What do parents want their children taught—or, perhaps, which controversial ideological topic would they like to avoid—is the real question. Why should a 1-vote majority on a school board resolve an issue for an entire community?

I wish everyone believed in the overwhelming evidence of evolution, but that's not the case.

Not long ago, board members in Texas removed a textbook reference asserting that the universe is about 14 billion years old (based, I assume, on an episode of "Nova"), because the board's chairman believes that God created the universe less than 10,000 years ago (based, no doubt, on faith alone).

On the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, Gallup conducted a poll that showed only 39 percent of Americans say they "believe in the theory of evolution," while 25 percent of Americans say they do not believe in the theory. Thirty-six percent don't have an opinion. (My hope is that 36 percent does not have an opinion regarding evolution as I do not have an opinion about other indisputable scientific truths, such as osmosis and the yeti.)

The most sensible solution, of course, would be to permit parents a choice so that they can send their kids to schools that cater to any brand of nonsense they desire—outside of three core subjects.

The left never will allow any genuine choice in our school systems. So it seems highly disagreeable and political to trap kids in public schools and, at the same time, decide where schools fall on controversial issues.

To scrutinize "all sides" is no sin. And in the decidedly collective school systems we've set up for our diverse population, it's the best solution we could hope for.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Visit his Web site at