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KENNETH R. MILLER

Remove stickers, open minds

ISN'T EVOLUTION a theory? Of course it is. So why did a federal district court judge last week order a board of education in Georgia to remove stickers from biology textbooks that seemed to tell students that evolution was just a theory? Is this a case of censorship? Is a closed-minded scientific establishment trying to keep evidence against evolution out of the classroom? Is a federal court telling educators that evolution is now federally protected dogma?

The answer is far simpler. The judge simply read the sticker and saw that it served no scientific or educational purpose. Once that was clear, he looked to the reasons for slapping it in the textbooks of thousands of students, and here the record was equally clear. The sticker was inserted to advance a particular set of religious beliefs -- exactly the argument advanced by the parents of six students in the district who sued the Cobb County Board of Education to get the stickers removed.

So what's wrong with telling students that evolution is a theory? Nothing. But the textbook they were using already described evolution as a theory, and I ought to know. Joseph Levine and I wrote the biology book Cobb County's high school students are using. Chapter 15 is titled "Darwin's Theory of Evolution." Hard to be clearer than that. So why did the Cobb County Board of Education slap a warning label inside a book that already refers to evolution as a theory? Cooper hit correctly he wrote that "by denigrating evolution, the school board appears to be endorsing the well-known prevailing alternative theory, creationism or variations thereof, even though the sticker does not specifically reference any alternative theories."

Exactly. What the sticker said was that "Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things." The problem with that wording is that evolution is both a theory and a fact. It is a fact that living things in the past were different from living things today and that the life of the past changed, or evolved, to produce the life of the present. Recent news reports the discovery of a new mammalian fossil in China that has a small dinosaur in its stomach. This fossil is a fact -- clear evidence that some early mammals were able to prey upon dinosaurs, at least little ones. And it is just one of millions of fossils that support the fact that life has changed over time, the fact of evolution.

How did that change take place? That's exactly the question that evolutionary theory attempts to answer. Theories in science don't become facts -- rather, theories explain facts. Evolutionary theory is a comprehensive explanation of change supported by the facts of natural history, genetics, and molecular biology.   Continued...

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