Art Battson

Teaching origins in the public schools is no simple matter. Ultimately, origins is a philosophical or theological issue based upon presuppositions, assumptions, and faith. The question for public school educators is whose presuppositions, assumptions, and faith should be taught. An implicit assumption that many scientists and science educators make is that the origin of life and the origin of all genetic information can be explained in purely mechanistic terms by appealing to chance and natural processes. This assumption is philosophical in nature and goes by many names: scientism, materialism, naturalism, or philosophical atheism. The bottom line for public school educators is to avoid indoctrination in any worldview: theistic or materialistic.

A good example of indoctrinating students in philosophical atheism under the guise of science education is the recently issued position statement by the National Association of Biology Teachers on the teaching of evolution:

"The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable, and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies, and changing environments."

The NABT doctrine has successfully drawn the line between a materialistic worldview and all theistic ones. Note that evolution is defined as "unsupervised, impersonal ... natural process." There is obviously no role for a Creator to even guide an evolutionary process. If educators take the NABT doctrine seriously, philosophical naturalism would become the officially sanctioned state religion in public school science classrooms. Something is constitutionally wrong with this picture. If the NABT wishes to establish private schools to push their philosophical agenda, more power to them. However, they should not expect the vast majority of the tax-paying public to fund the uncritical promotion of a worldview which is held by only 9% of the population. How can educators, caught between parents, principals, and the priesthood of the NABT, deal with this problem?

Students should first be taught the definition and limitations of the natural sciences. They should be told that if science is defined so as to exclude the empirical and historical possibility of intelligent design or divine intervention, then some form of naturalistic evolution is the only possible scientific explanation of origins. One does not need scientific data. One only needs to define away all other possibilities as non-natural. This is the job of the scientism's priesthood who must also make sure that criticisms of their materialistic "creation" stories are not allowed on the playing field.

Although science is limited to the study of natural phenomena and creation is by definition non-natural, it does not follow that unsupervised, impersonal natural processes are sufficient to account for the origin of life or the origin of all genetic information. In fact, natural processes may exist which would have prevented a naturalistic origin of life or have prevented the transformation of one major body plan into another without intelligent design or divine intervention. To assume that chance and natural processes are sufficient, in and of themselves, is to make a philosophical leap of faith which does not belong in the public school science classroom. What then should science educators teach in our public schools?

The ideal position for both scientists and science educators to take is a philosophically and theologically neutral one. Such a position would neither assume the existence or non-existence of God. If God exists, which is a logical possibility even for the agnostic scientist, then He may have created through natural processes or He may not have. He may have guided evolution or He may not have. He may even have created basic kinds of plants and animals and given them a limited ability to change, and the ability to divide themselves into subtypes losing the ability to interbreed. Because it is historically possible that God intervened in natural history to create new lifeforms or infused new genetic information into existing lifeforms, it is possible that nature is discontinuous and that natural history could be described more accurately as a forest of life than a tree of life. It is even possible that natural processes prevent or inhibit major evolutionary change. One can eliminate these historical and scientific possibilities by defining them away, but science and science education would suffer in the process. The goal of science is not to explain the origin of everything in purely materialistic terms, it is rather to most accurately describe the natural processes that do exist, even if they prevent major evolutionary change from occurring.

One of the great ironies in science is the conflict between Darwinian theory and natural history. As Stephen Jay Gould put it,
"The history of most fossil species include two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism:

1) Stasis - most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they disappear; morphological change is usually limited and directionless;

2) Sudden appearance - in any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and 'fully formed'." (1)

Creationists typically err when they attempt to explain the fact of "sudden appearance" in terms of a special act of creation. Although it may well be an obvious inference to a creation event and evidence of a natural discontinuity, scientists cannot appeal to non-natural explanations. Rather, the purpose of science is to most accurately describe natural processes--the regular and repeatable patterns found in nature. Sudden appearance is not regular, predictable, or repeatable. One might ask why the sudden appearance of the major groups (e.g., new phyla in the Cambrian explosion) is even considered natural at all.

The error made by philosophical naturalists is the insistence that the "sudden appearance," not just of new species, but of major new body plans, phyla, and classes, can be explained in purely mechanistic terms. Ironically, the error of both creationists and evolutionists is the inability to recognize that stasis is the true subject of scientific investigation. It is the pervasive pattern of natural history based upon observable and repeatable data that requires a scientific explanation. As Gould puts it, "Stasis is data." (2) He may believe that the history of life on earth was the result of an unsupervised, impersonal, and unpredictable natural process, but he knows data when he sees it.

One thing is obvious. Stasis, or lack of major evolutionary transformation from one body plan into another, is scientifically demonstrable. It is observable in the fossil record. Microevolution does not extrapolate to account for the origin of the phyla. Darwinian diversity does not account for the disparity of the major body plans. The natural behavior of genetic mechanisms is to repair mutations, prevent major transformations and to produce descent with limited variation. Even natural selection acts to preserve stasis by eliminating useless incipient and transitional stages. This has been obvious since Darwin first proposed his theory. In his book, Darwinism: The Refutation of a Myth, Soren Lovtrup points out that "some critics turned against Darwin's teachings for religious reasons, but they were a minority; most of his opponents ... argued on a completely scientific basis." He goes on to explain:

"...the reasons for rejecting Darwin's proposal were many, but first of all that many innovations cannot possibly come into existence through accumulation of many small steps, and even if they can, natural selection cannot accomplish it, because incipient and intermediate stages are not advantageous." (3)

Whether or not creation or evolution (evolution in the sense of major transformations of species from one phylum into another by purely naturalistic means) is ever taught in public schools, stasis definitely should be. Stasis is data.

We must stop arguing over the false dichotomy inherent in the creation/evolution controversy and teach students what Gould terms "the ordinary rules of stability." (4) If science is about anything at all, it is about ordinary rules.


(1) Gould, S.J. (1977)
"Evolution's Erratic Pace"
Natural History, vol. 86, May

(2) Gould, S. J. (1991)
"Opus 200"
Natural History, August, p. 16

(3) Lovtrup, S. (1987)
Darwinism: The Refutation of a Myth
Croom Helm Ltd., Beckingham, Kent, p. 275

(4) Gould, S. J. (1988)
"A Web of Tales"
Natural History, October, pp. 16-23


"On the Origin of Stasis By Means of Natural Processes"
Art Battson, UC Santa Barbara
"The Blind Watchmaker"
Professor Phillip E. Johnson, UC Berkeley
"Molecular Machines:Experimental Support for the Design Inference"
Michael J. Behe, Professor of Biochemistry
Lehigh University
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