Re: Fwd: Alvin Plantinga's paper

Ed Brayton (
Sat, 16 Jan 1999 15:27:09 -0500

Moorad Alexanian wrote:

> The teaching of evolution in public schools gives rise to questions about
> the way it is taught, the philosophical assumptions being made, etc. I will
> use the teaching of the Big Bang theory in physics classes to illustrate my
> point. It would be totally absurd to say that when teaching physics to all
> who need it, it is essential that we teach the Big Bang theory of the origin
> of the physical universe for otherwise none of the physics would make sense.
> I believe the same can be said when teaching biology, zoology, etc. I ask
> you, how essential is it for the true understanding of such disciplines that
> evolution be taught at all? What would happen if the theory of evolution
> would be totally barred from our school systems? I believe that nothing
> would happen, science would continue to proposer, technology would be
> unhindered, medicine would flourish, etc.

I am at a loss to understand what connection this has to the message to which it is
intended to reply. I did not address the question of whether evolution should be
taught in public schools or not, I only addressed the position taken by Dr.
Plantinga that sets up a basic right not to have ideas presented in public schools
that conflict with their own beliefs. It is this position that seems to me to be
poorly thought out and impossible to apply in a consistent manner.

As to your position here, I think I would disagree with it as well. It is, of
course, possible to teach physics without teaching about the big bang, and possible
to teach biology without teaching evolution. A biology class could simply be a
series of memorization exercises whereby students are taught how to categorize data
into phyla, class, order, and so on. But is this a complete education? Do we do
justice to the field of biology if we do not mention that the unifying theory of the
field is the theory of evolution? Would we do justice in physics to not mention
relativity or quantum mechanics? Sure, we could teach the very basics of every
discipline without dealing with the ideas that explain all of that data, but are we
then really educating them about science? Science is not merely the collecting and
filing away of little bits of data. A scientist isn't merely a librarian trying to
organize discrete units into an organized system of classification. The goal of
science is explanation, and explanation means theorization. To teach any field of
science without teaching about the theories that unify the field and explain the
evidence is to divorce science education from the primary end of science as a

How would you go about teaching biology without teaching evolution? Would you not
mention it at all, or mention it only in passing?