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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Catholic resource centre provides article rating Darwinism level in textbooks

A Catholic teacher sent me this link to the Catholic Education Resource Center, which provides a reprint of an article by Jonathan Wells from a couple of years ago, rating the biology textbooks used in Catholic (as well as other) schools.

One prong of the intelligent design controversy has been the "mindless recycling" (Stephen Jay Gould's words) of false drawings of embryos and other tendentious evidence that make Darwinism appear much more solid than it really is. (Essentially, in an effort to bolster Darwinism, the drawings were distorted and the evidence was used selectively, to make that vertebrate embryos appear much more alike than they really are.)

I am glad to see that the Catholic world is beginning to wake up to some of these problems. For far too long, the code phrase has been "Catholics have no problem with evolution," which unfortunately translates, all too often, into "Catholics do not question the bilge. They leave it to fundamentalists, who are easily discredited." That appears to be changing.

Wells, the author of Icons of Evolution, is probably the most vituperated of all the ID guys, principally because of his careful exposure of the textbook myths. Myths like the embryo drawings are sometimes retailed by otherwise skilled and reliable scientists — because these myths have been retailed for so long that you would have to go far back into the history of minor subspecialties in biology, as Wells did, to find uncontaminated sources.

On the other hand, the fake embryo drawings have been known to be fake for a century, as Gould admits. So why were they reproduced for so long?

Having worked in the textbook publishing industry, I can tell you one reason: In textbook publishing, the rewards go to the people who are most skilled at not upsetting the apple cart. Anyone who had published accurate drawings (which do not show nearly as much similarity in the embryos, and then only at a middle stage where much of it may be accidental), would be financially punished for creating a problem. Textbook publishers compete to see who can uphold the consensus most slavishly, not to see who can most efficiently correct wrong information that teachers are currently comfortable with.

But Wells suggests another reason as well:

According to the news media, only religious fundamentalists question Darwinian evolution. People who criticize Darwinism, we are told, want to bomb science back to the Stone Age and replace it with the Bible. The growing body of scientific evidence contradicting Darwinian claims is steadfastly ignored. When biochemist Michael Behe pointed out in The New York Times last year that the embryo "evidence" for evolution was faked, Harvard Darwinist Stephen Jay Gould admitted that he had known this for decades (as noted above) — but accused Behe of being a "creationist" for pointing it out.

Now, although Behe supports the idea that some features of living things are best explained by intelligent design, he is not a "creationist" as that word is normally used. Behe is a molecular biologist whose scientific work has convinced him that Darwinian theory doesn't conform to observation and experimental evidence. Why does Gould, who knows Haeckel's drawings were faked, dismiss Behe as a creationist for criticizing them?

I suspect that there's an agenda other than pure science at work here. My evidence is the more or less explicit materialist message woven into many textbook accounts. Futuyma's Evolutionary Biology is characteristic of this, informing students that "it was Darwin's theory of evolution," together with Marx's theory of history and Freud's theory of human nature, "that provided a crucial plank to the platform of mechanism and materialism" that has since been "the stage of most Western thought." One textbook quotes Gould, who openly declares that humans are not created, but are merely fortuitous twigs on a "contingent" (i.e. accidental) tree of life. ...

It's hilarious that we are now hearing been-there/stuck-there commentators sounding alarmist warnings that the people who are complaining about misrepresentation in the textbooks want to introduce propaganda. If they did, believe me, it would merely be business as usual for the textbooks. But those who oppose the fake embryo drawings really want to get the propaganda out. The Wells article conveniently provides examples and pictures of textbooks, so you can check what you or your kid is using. If the book doesn't appear on this list, use the index to look up "Haeckel" and "embryos" to see if the book has corrected material or not.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.
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