Newswise — The current debate in Kansas over how to teach evolution gives credence to "quack science" and endangers good science education when it is most needed, says a Swarthmore College evolutionary biologist. He also dismisses claims that evolution is "just a theory" that science textbooks should treat as unsound or open to debate.
"Evolution is a 'theory' like gravity is a 'theory,'" says Associate Professor of Biology Colin Purrington, who teaches a class on evolution every fall. "The low-budget remake of the Scopes trial that is currently taking place in Kansas will make educated Kansans want to flee the state so that their children will not be subjected to quack scientific ideas such as intelligent design."
Kansas Board of Education officials began hearings on May 5 on whether to require that public school science instruction treat evolution as questionable and "intelligent design" as equally valid. A final decision is expected this summer.
"It's nearly impossible to teach evolution to children without coming under attack from religious fundamentalists who want to inject their beliefs into science curricula," Purrington says. "They say 'teach the controversy.' But to do that is akin to debating with Holocaust deniers. It just gives credence to something that is made up."
To combat what he sees as religious fundamentalism harming science education, Purrington has made available on the Web a series of resources for public school science teachers and their supporters. Included are news items on evolution cases around the country, a list of gifts for "brave science teachers," editorial cartoons, and t-shirts and stickers of Charles Darwin. He also plans to have his students design exhibits on evolution for children. [learn more at http://www.swarthmore.edu/NatSci/cpurrin1/evolk12/evoops.htm]
While his efforts have brought hate mail, Purrington says his outreach efforts to lay audiences are essential. "Educators can't afford to be apathetic about this," Purrington says. "Our kids' futures depend on their receiving quality education if they are to compete on a global stage."
Located near Philadelphia, Swarthmore is a highly selective liberal arts college whose mission combines academic rigor with social responsibility. Swarthmore, with an enrollment of 1,450, is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country.