There are plenty of ways to teach evolution in a high school science class. And Brandon Pettenger of Arroyo Grande High School in California doesn’t seem to know any of them.
He thought it would be appropriate to watch the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate in the classroom… and then have his students summarize blog posts on Creationist websites.
Any attempt to teach that there is a controversy about evolution is similarly fraught with legal peril. Evolution is as much a fact as gravity. There are not two sides of the evolution argument for Pettenger to present. Teaching a controversy about evolution is like teaching about the controversy that exists between chemistry and alchemy, or astronomy and astrology, or voodoo and medicine. These examples sound ridiculous because they are — there is simply no controversy. There exists only scientific fact and evidence, and a religious belief that rebels against such evidence. One can, indeed must be taught in public schools. The other cannot.
There’s a common misunderstanding, even among atheists, as to why Creationism shouldn’t be taught in school. If we want students to be scientifically literate, why not teach them about this “controversy” so they can be informed? The answer is simple: When you allow one kind of Creation myth into the classroom, where do you stop? Why teach Christian mythology and not that of any other religion? Ultimately, the Biblical story is as reliable as anything else you can pull out of your ass. That may be good enough reason for your pastor to promote it, but science teachers are supposed to have standards.
When some parents wrote to Pettenger about their concerns, he dismissed them entirely, responding:
I understand that you might be worried I am teaching religion in a public school science class which is not the case. There is debate within the scientific community about how to answer the question where did life come from. I feel it would be a disservice to my students not to present both sides of the argument. We are investigating the main theories that are presented in this debate and the evidence used to support those claims. I am very clear beforehand that I am a Christian but I am trying to present the scientific evidence. It is up to each student to decide for themselves which side they believe based on the evidence. I will be asking each student to write an argumentative essay stating their position in the debate and to support their position with scientific evidence. I am trying to give students tools to use in their essays.
That boldfaced part shows his own ignorance on the matter. There’s no debate at all in the scientific community about whether natural selection and evolution are valid. Where life came from is separate question altogether. More importantly, though, there just aren’t “both sides of the argument.” There’s one side supported by evidence… and several made-up stories that don’t belong in a science curriculum.
Plenty of court cases have said Creationism and its variants have no business in the classroom, so there’s a legal precedent here, too.
The letter asked the Lucia Mar Unified School District to investigate the allegations and take appropriate disciplinary action. The district has agreed to conduct an investigation.
Let’s hope they reach a quick conclusion and put a stop to this immediately.