Remove stickers, open minds
Page 2 of 2 -- Is evolution beyond dispute? Of course not. In fact, the most misleading part of the sticker was its concluding sentence: "This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered." Think about that. The sticker told students that there was just one subject in their textbooks that had to be approached with an open mind and critically considered. Apparently, we are certain of everything in biology except evolution. That is nonsense. What that sticker should have told students is what our textbook makes clear: Everything in science should be approached with critical thinking and an open mind.
The forces of anti-evolution will pretend that the sticker case is an example of censorship and that the sinister forces of science have converged on classrooms to prevent honest and open examination of a controversial idea.
There is great irony in such charges. As conservative icon Alan Bloom pointed out in his landmark book "The Closing of the American Mind," one of the worst forms of intellectual intolerance is to promote a false equivalence between competing ideas. Acting as though all ideas (or all theories) have equal standing actually deprives students of a realistic view of how critical analysis is done. That's as true in science as it is in the cultural conflicts.
Judge Cooper saw this point clearly: "While evolution is subject to criticism, particularly with respect to the mechanism by which it occurred, the sticker misleads students regarding the significance and value of evolution in the scientific community." Does it ever. In reality, evolution is a powerful and hard-working theory used at the cutting edge of scientific inquiry in developmental biology, genome analysis, drug discovery, and scientific medicine. To pretend otherwise is to shield students from the reality of how science is done.
What the removal of the sticker will do is not to close a window but to open one that will let students see a science of biology in which all theories, not just one, are the result of constant, vigorous, critical analysis. A science in which evolution is at the centerpiece of a 21st-century revolution in our understanding of the grandeur and majesty of life.
So, what should be done with those stickers, now pasted into thousands of textbooks? I'd pass along a suggestion I received from a science teacher in Cobb County itself: Glue an American flag on top of each and every one of them.
Kenneth R. Miller is a professor of biology at Brown University and coauthor of "Biology."