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Why teach opposing views?

mgz24's picture


Why Teach Opposing Views?

Schools should not be deciding whether to teach either evolution or creationism.  This should not be an either/or question; instead they should be a package deal.  Schools should be forced to teach the two.  In order to live in a society that can have peaceful discussions about disagreements, and sensitive topics we need to erase easily removable ignorance.  By teaching students both evolution and creationism we will provide them with a well rounded base, from which they can not only decide what to believe, but can also build the rest of their biological knowledge. 

There are many people in our country who are pro-evolution and many who are pro-creationism.  Just because these ideas oppose one another, does not mean that they both do not have valid arguments, or that one is more legitimate than the other.  In fact the two sides share some arguments.  The main commonality between the arguments for both evolution and creationism is in the belief that both “stories” can be applied to other things.  Creationists believe that their story instills other values and can help to form other ideas, while evolutionists believe that their story can be applicable outside of the biological world, which is evidenced in the fields of cultural or social evolution, or the evolution of literature. 

Creationism is the trickier of the two to back up.  This is because the majority of non-believers want fact-based evidence as an argument.  Generally the first counterargument to creationism (for only public schools) is that it is a religious belief and therefore is in conflict with the separation of church and state.  Apply this problem to a private school in which there is no separation of church and state issue, however, and the pro-creationism argument does not get any easier, because people like facts, and creationism does not have that.  Contrary to popular belief, however, the lack of hard facts does not delegitimize the argument.  Creationism is based upon a real and legitimate set of beliefs, and their proof is written in the bible. 

Evolution, on the other hand, has the easy argument to make because they have empirical data.  There are numerous examples that could be used as concrete proof that evolution is “true” and should be taught in schools.  I’m going to use the example of “bloodless” fish that live in the Antarctic.  In his book The Making of the Fittest, Sean Carroll looks at Icefish in Antarctica.  These fish have clearly evolved from their cold-water ancestors to eliminate the hemoglobin in their blood (red blood cells) because it was no longer necessary to take in enough oxygen.  The fish instead evolved different mechanisms to be able to ingest a sufficient amount of oxygen.  This change, which can be seen not only by looking at close living relatives, but also by looking at DNA sequences, shows clearly how these fish have evolved. 

The decision of what to teach in schools should not, however, be based on the arguments that either side can provide, but rather should rely on the education of the students.  In terms of science, evolution is the basis for all of biology, and therefore if a student is going to take any other biology course in the future, they are going to need a base in evolution.   In terms of general educational value, and life skills, it is always important to learn the opposing views.  A young student cannot be expected to be able to form their own beliefs or views if they are not presented with all of the sides of an argument.  This idea of learning conflicting theories is an educational view of all subjects not just in the evolution vs. creationism debate.  This idea of teaching both sides of the argument is becoming more accepted, as can be shown in a bill passed in Kentucky, encouraging teachers to discuss “the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories” (Kaufman); and in Texas, where the School Board now “require[s] that teachers present all sides of evidence on evolution” (Kaufman).  These are only two are examples of the many bills that are in existence, and show that we are taking steps in the right direction.

Another important piece is looking at the current criticism of the current teaching modes.  One state representative who introduced the bill in Kentucky said, “kids are being presented theories as though they are facts” (Kaufman).  He makes a valid argument with this idea.  Evolution is often taught as the “truth”, which goes against basic scientific principles.  In science there is no truth.  Ideas and theories in science can be proved to be false, but they can never be proved to be 100% true, because we can never know what will happen tomorrow.  That being said, scientists are also often too quick to proclaim that creationism is false.  There is no proof that says that all organisms evolved in the same way.  If you were to look at creationism as a scientific theory, to disprove it you would need specific proof that shows that creationism did not happen.  Simply having proof that shows another theory is possible is not sufficient data for disproving a theory. 

A final group that must be looked at is the group of teachers who are hesitant to teach something they do not believe in.  Or those who only want to teach the “safe” thing.  This group is the “‘cautious 60%’ who avoid controversy by endorsing neither evolution nor its unscientific alternatives” (Bakalar).  The argument that must be provided for this idea is to make a parallel to teaching a History class.  The majority of History teachers do not support Nazi or white supremacist ideals, but those topics are still taught in all History classes.  If we were to look at the evolution vs. creationism argument as a so-called historical, current event would both sides then be taught?

Overall current debates are still biased to one side or the other.  And while there is movement towards teaching both evolution and creationism, most of this movement is coming from creationists who want to see evolution challenged.  As can be seen, however, this combination teaching, where students are able to learn both creationism and evolution will be best, not only for the students, but also for the society.  Although, at the moment, it is difficult to imagine these subjects being taught without a bias, it is still important for both to be shown, so that maybe this new wave of students will show in the future that if you have a base in conflicting views, eventually they can be shared without a bias. 










Works Cited

Bakalar, Nicholas. “On Evolution, Biology Teachers Stray from Lesson Plan.” New York Times 7 Feb. 2011: n. pag. The New York Times Reprints. Web. 11 Feb. 2011. <‌2011/‌02/‌08/‌science/‌08creationism.html?scp=1&sq=on%20evolution,%20biology%20teachers%20stray%20from%20lesson%20plan&st=cse>.

Carroll, Sean. The Making of the Fittest. N.p.: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007. Print.

Kaufman, Leslie. “Darwin Foes Add Warming to Targets.” New York Times 3 Mar. 2010: n. pag. The New York Times Reprints. Web. 11 Feb. 2011. <‌2010/‌03/‌04/‌science/‌earth/‌04climate.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=darwin%20foes%20add%20warming%20to%20targets&st=cse>.



Serendip Visitor's picture

There is no controversy,

There is no controversy, scientifically speaking. Send your kid to a religious school. Tell me, if evidence isn't 'fact-based,' what is it? Is it still evidence at all? This article is rubbish.

Paul Grobstein's picture

Science and history: teaching the controversy

Interesting argument, usefully bolstered by thinking about history classrooms.  But mentioning Nazism (for example) in a history class isn't the same thing as advocating it.  Is there perhaps something different, or perceived to be different, about a science class?  Is "teaching" evolution for some reason perceived as advocating it?  Ditto re "intelligent design"?  Can one "teach the controversy" in science, as in social science? Should one?