John G. West Political Scientist and Cultural Critic

Intelligent Design Critic Calls For Teaching the Controversy by Reading Darwin

Published at Evolution News

Intelligent Design critic Larry Arnhart has a thoughtful essay in Inside Higher Education encouraging students to learn about the controversy over Darwin by reading Darwin. Arnhart writes:

Why not introduce our students to this debate by having them read Darwin’s own writings in their biology classes? We could teach the controversy by teaching Darwin.

Arnhart seems to think that his idea won’t be acceptable to either proponents or critics of intelligent design. Yet his proposal is something a number of ID proponents have advocated for some time.

I agree with Arnhart that reading Darwin is a fine way for students to engage the issues surrounding evolution. In fact, in my Social Darwinism course we spend the first several weeks reading Darwin’s Descent of Man along with some modern proponents of neo-Darwinism. Reading Darwin is also something long advocated by John Angus Campbell, co-editor of Darwinism, Design, and Public Education (Michigan State University Press).

Arnhart’s proposal deserves serious reflection and discussion. Of course, there are some issues that need to be worked out. It’s true that reading Darwin’s writings such as The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man provides a great introduction to many issues surrounding the theory of evolution. But Darwin represents only one side of the debate. If one is serious about “teaching the controversy” one needs to let Darwin’s critics speak in their own voices as well, and that means that readings from Darwin need to be paired with readings by his most thoughtful critics. Arnhart writes that he has done that in his own university courses. Well and good. But readings from Darwin’s critics need to be a part of any serious proposal to “teach the controversy.”

There is one part of Arnhart’s essay that requires a clarification, because it doesn’t get Discovery Institute’s science education policy exactly right. Arnhart writes:

Proponents of intelligent design at the Discovery Institute…have adopted the rhetorical argument of “teaching the controversy.” They recommend teaching the theory of evolution by natural selection along with intelligent design theory, so that students are fully informed about all sides of this debate.

In fact, Discovery Institute recommends teaching evolution by natural selection but also scientific criticisms of the theory. It does not recommend that schools require intelligent design. This is the policy we have supported in Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Texas, Pennsylvania, Kansas, and a number of other states. We do support the right of teachers to voluntarily discuss intelligent design, but we do not advocate this as a school board policy or state legislative policy. That is one reason we opposed the Dover School District policy from the start—well before there was any lawsuit. For a statement of our rationale on this point, see the letter we sent to the Pennsyvlania legislature opposing a bill on teaching intelligent design earlier this year.

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.
Discovery Institute