Saturday, October 13, 2012

Global Warming and Evolution Conjoined

In 2007 the logo for NCSE (National Center for Science Education) was redesigned. It featured an original sketch by Charles Darwin depicting his concept of the tree of life. NCSE is unabashedly oriented toward promoting evolution in our educational system. Their efforts in this area may be characterized as militant and extensive. Their science education dimension, described by NCSE as “The Nature of Science,” assumes a distant back seat in their classroom. The primary mission of NCSE is to promote evolution and another issue currently acquiring equal importance for them. Under their logo is this statement: Defending the Teaching of Evolution and Climate Science. The conjoining of these two topics produces an interesting marriage.

Evolution has been promoted by secondary science educators for over a half-century. Around 1960, the National Science Foundation supported the development of the BSCS (Biological Sciences Curriculum Study), partly to reclaim the perception of lost ground in US public science education following the crisis produced by Russian science and technology advances. During the 1950s, my sophomore high school biology instruction stressed anatomy and scientific classification of living things along with basic physiology. While many biologists believed in evolution, the teaching of evolutionary theory was practically non-existent. It took a back seat in our classrooms.

Classroom biological topics could be considered to have their foundation in more traditional scientific method prior to the pivotal discoveries of the 1960s. Hypotheses were advanced to explain observed common phenomena, but grand and creative theories were not in evidence. Not many topics in secondary school biology content were controversial, but nevertheless, change was underway.

Beginning in 1960 evolutionary theory began to be ascendant. The theory of “molecules to man” evolution developed as a conceptual framework of life origins and began to be advertised as consistent with all known data. Much of the data originated in our newly discovered genetic knowledge of DNA and RNA. The genetic code was cracked in the 1960s and seemed to unify biology educators’ concepts of the secrets of life. Observations of the diversity of living forms together with the progression of the fossil record joined the newly discovered genetic discoveries and seemed to support Darwin’s 100-year-old revolutionary and evolutionary idea. Most life science educators were only too happy to endorse evolution on this basis.

Turning to climate science, we note that no single discovery in climate science could match the impetus evolution had been accorded in our educational system. It had long been known that earth began to warm somewhat beginning about 1850. Much more data gradually became available about slow changes in our climate during the past 160 years. More scientists began to note the warming phase we seemed to be entering. A few researchers raised questions about the warming climate and a few raised the possibility that warming was anthropogenic. Global warming, however, was low on the educational radar screen.

Evolutionary theory began to be popular in our secondary classrooms following the era of the Russian Sputniks. That theory was presented as the “sum total of established thought which was consistent with all data.” The latter quote is a popular definition of a scientific theory.  Earlier emphasis on anatomy, physiology, and classification (taxonomy) did not lend itself to development of the grand theory “molecules to man evolution” was turning out to be.

Lately there is a new kid on the block in secondary science education. It is called climate science and is powerfully energized by the concept of anthropogenic global warming. Some school districts already struggle with their desire to teach students the scientific controversy concerning global warming. The national Common Core Standards Initiative is working to formulate national science standards for the first time in fifteen years. Some science education groups are working diligently to incorporate broad climate change topics into the curricula. The disagreements are reminiscent of school district disputes over evolution beginning several decades ago and continuing to this day.

Recently the influential NCSE, whose executive director is Eugenie Scott, published this statement: “In 2012, in response to teachers that they were coming under fire for teaching global warming and other climate change concepts, NCSE decided to support the teaching of climate change in addition to evolution. Both evolution and climate change are well-accepted by scientists as being based on sound research, but the percentages of members of the public accepting these sciences is sharply lower. There are organizations dedicated to decreasing the acceptance and teaching of evolution and/or climate change: another parallel. NCSE has decades of experience helping teachers cope with political and other pressures against the teaching of evolution; we believe this experience is transferable to the problems involved in the teaching of climate change.”

Research into these topics would be overwhelming for most Christian laypersons who desire simple answers to complex problems. The first complex problem we mention is that since the breaking of the genetic code in the 1960s, our knowledge of life, its wonder, and its complexities has proliferated geometrically. Questions on evolutionary theory are not settled by “the sum total of established thought consistent with all data.” Even scientists who believe in evolution acknowledge that science does not operate this cleanly. Discoveries in biological science have raised significant questions about the strength of evolutionary theory, much to the dismay of evolutionists who steadfastly hold to their naturalistic worldview.

Climate scientists who claim majority support for anthropogenic global warming from the population of climate scientists they cite may recognize the controversies about global warming conclusions are, indeed, worthy of their attention. The frequent citation of consensus on this issue is a subject of unease, given the acknowledged agenda-driven quality of the subject. Analysis drives us to a renewed analysis of errors of reasoning and how those errors impact our conclusions. Scripture deals with questions of origins. It also addresses questions of significant weather phenomena, including storms in the Holy Land and Middle East. We must not discount inerrant scripture as it comments on both questions.