It is the most plausible theory we have, and it is supported by a good deal of evidence.
Teaching Evolution in Schools Essay
What happened after these preliminary remarks was quite remarkable. With everything set up and ready to go, and with cameramen and other technicians standing around with nothing to do, Truman announced that there surely must be some area of disagreement between the atheist and the Christian.
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So maybe we could debate that topic, if only we could figure out what it was. For twenty minutes or so Truman tried—and I mean he really tried—to find something to debate. But to no avail.
The evolution debate in the United States
We agreed that the core of the problem was not really religion or science per se but the intrinsic nature of tax-supported, compulsory education. For one thing, someone must decide what qualifies as a respectable scientific theory suitable for teaching children, and in state schools that decision will be made by state functionaries. Official pronouncements of this sort, which are then implemented by coercive means, are an insult to a free society that prides itself on free and open discussions about controversial matters.
Did this mean that I would defend the teaching of irrational doctrines in schools? Absolutely, provided those schools were purely voluntary institutions financed by voluntary means. My defense here was essentially no different than my defense of the many irrational ideas presented in countless books, articles, and other media. Historically, the defense of a free press and free speech was predicated on the conviction that free and open competition in the realm of ideas will promote the progress of knowledge, however nutty many of those ideas may be, and however offensive some readers may find them.
So why should schools operate by a different standard? Suppose a private Christian high school teaches creationism, with the result that many of its graduates enter college believing that evolutionary theory does not hold up. So what? The world of science will not collapse; and, at the very least, defenders of evolution will be motivated to brush up on fundamentals so they can better defend their own theories.
A little competition is always a good thing, especially in the realm of ideas, and there is no reason to suppose that authentic science has anything to fear from competition. This proved a futile quest. After additional probing yielded nothing except more agreement, a frustrated Truman gave up.
Teaching Evolution in Schools Essay
He said we had nothing to debate and told us all to go home. He also expressed regret that the preceding conversation was not filmed, since that would have made a fascinating show in its own right. Truman said that he never expected to see a Christian creationist and an atheist evolutionist agree on this hot-button issue.
I added that many of the conflicts between secularists and Christians over freedom of religion are solely the result of political interference and would disappear if government stayed out of ideological controversies altogether, whether in science or in other fields, and let the invigorating breeze of unfettered competition operate in the formulation and transmission of ideas.
And that was that. The debate was never filmed. Earlier today June 30 I recorded a podcast interview with a freethinking broadcaster. This should be available in a week. After covering some details about my first book, Atheism: The Case Against God , I explained my disappointment with how many modern freethinkers have reacted to a number of recent incidents, such as the Christian baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, and various Christians who have claimed that some provisions of Obamacare violate their religious freedom.
With the exception of libertarians, many secularists and freethought organizations have come down on the side of government coercion instead of defending the Christians who have been compelled, under penalty of law, to act against their religious beliefs. I said that if anyone should be sensitive to the violation of religious freedom, it should be freethinkers, since that minority has historically been a primary target of religious persecution.
Give to government the power to ignore or override the right of free association, according to which we should be free to interact or not to interact with others according to our own convictions, and it will only be a matter of time until freethinkers themselves are the victims of the selfsame laws which they now support. This is not to say that Christian protesters are exempt from criticism, such as those who object to gay marriage, or those who fight tooth and nail against removing overtly Christian symbols from government property. Government property? We know from our survey work that most of the teachers in the cautious middle are not necessarily there because they fundamentally disagree with evolution.
A number of other factors are at play. Some may not feel confident enough in their own content mastery to weather the questions students could raise. However, these practices, while certainly core to the scientific endeavor, must be framed appropriately. To have students debate whether evolution is true is not an appropriate exercise, whereas an exercise in evidence-based debate about the relative importance of punctuated equilibrium and gradualism would certainly be welcome. But knowing the difference between a good and a not-so-good lesson is not always easy and requires a commitment and investment in professional development—but that can be hard to come by.
Teachers are on the frontline of science education but they get little thanks for it. When science grades are low, we blame science teachers—even as administrators and local governments steadily reduce resources while increasing demands. When polls suggest that the public has a poor grasp of scientific issues, whose fault is it? Those darn science teachers. To that end, NCSE is building a new, national network of teachers—NCSEteach—that will bring science teachers together, allow educators to connect with one another and NCSE staff , guide them to good-quality and well-vetted resources, share stories of how they have dealt with challenges to science education, and also connect them to early career scientists as partners in advancing the scientific enterprise.
Our goal is to give science teachers the support and respect that they need to teach science forthrightly even when there is societal pressure not to.
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