McGrath on Evolution and Indoctrination

No doubt, many around these parts will see this as a bad thing, but I think it’s very good that a Christian religious studies scholar is calling out–and forcefully–the ‘teaching the controversy’ canard (italics mine):

Is it “indoctrination” if we teach the history of the Holocaust and do not give equal time to the deniers of the Holocaust?

Is it indoctrination if we teach astronomy and make no mention of astrology?

Is it indoctrination if we teach the heliocentric view of the solar system without giving equal time to geocentrists?

Asking for equal time for “alternatives” to evolution is in exactly the same category. It is asking that a point of view with nothing but questions and complaints to offer be treated as the equal of a scientific field of research that has been remarkably productive and consistently confirmed by all sorts of evidence not available when the theory was first formulated. The media makes much of being “fair” in trying to always hear another side of the story, and there is something indeed laudable about checking to see if there is an opposing viewpoint. Too many of us forget to do that, and forget too often. But not every opposing viewpoint has merit, and the reason we have education standards is to ensure that educators do not waste time on nonsense to the detriment of things that are truly important, valuable, and (ultimately) true.

Couldn’t have said it better myself (although more cursing would have been involved).

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12 Responses to McGrath on Evolution and Indoctrination

  1. Sigmund says:

    Why would anyone ‘around these parts’ think its a bad thing?
    James McGrath is one of a number of moderate Christians who take this approach. It’s strange to think that what he’s suggesting is out of the ordinary (its pretty much exactly the same approach that most protestant and catholic theologians take in the non US western world).
    I doubt that anyone would decry him for saying the blindingly obvious about evolution just because they may disagree with him on other aspects of his religion.

  2. Embiggened Cromulence says:

    I’m curious what the alternatives would be if they would ‘teach the controversy’ in home economics, health, gym, and homeroom. Any suggestions?

  3. tresmal says:

    “a scientific field of research that has been remarkably productive and consistently confirmed by all sorts of evidence not available when the theory was first formulated.”
    Very nicely put.

  4. Mark Mancini says:

    Here! Here!
    Even if some patrons of these blogs aren’t of the religious type, there’s no question that McGrath speaks the truth and I think that’s enough for most (if not all) of them!
    Oh, and as for Embiggened Cromulence’s question, I think it’d go as follows:
    -Home Economics: Some people believe that child abuse is a good thing…better start teaching some of the more effective methods.
    -Health: Give equal time to such theories such as ‘bones eat blood and digest it much like the stomach digests food’. Also, some civilizations have maintained the belief that sex does not cause pregnancy: good news for teenagers!!
    -Gym: Those who believe that ‘excersize is counter-productive’ ought to be teaching the next generation of athletes! It’ll make the olympics very interesting in a few decades..

  5. fostert says:

    Never been to this blog before. I came here from Digby. I like it. It’s good to see scientists defending science. I’m a physicist rather than a biologist, but we’ve all got to stick together now. You’ve earned yourself a bookmark.

  6. geoff says:

    We need to remember that indoctrination occurs ALSO when ONLY evolution is taught. A properly educated person has weighed the evidence of all sides of an idea, and come to an understanding which is something they can fully commit to, defend, argue, etc.
    The problem is when we say “the americans went to the moon” and then do not look at the evidence which suggests they did not. Or if we say “there can not be a bigfoot” and never investigate the evidence to contrary. We end up teaching that there is a “truth” and this can not changed. We end up believing and living in a finite world full of people who cant think, and are not permitted to think for themselves.
    What a horror of a world that would be.

  7. Looney says:

    Silly, evolution was invented by a religious studies scholar. They have always been the most passionate advocates.

  8. Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD says:

    The problem is when we say “the americans went to the moon” and then do not look at the evidence which suggests they did not.

    Evidence? What evidence? Should we spend time teaching every failed idea ever to pop into the mind of a human? How much time should we spend presenting the “evidence” for a flat earth, or a geocentric earth, or a hollow earth?

  9. llewelly says:

    Off topic, but the moon hoax is best explained here .

  10. I went back through my earlier blog posts on Intelligent Design and was surprised how many there were. I have a run-down of the major ones at
    I’ll have to do another round-up on posts related to young earth creationism sometimes soon…

  11. Sid G. says:

    Anyone who wants a perfect example of how to present alternative explanations within a rational framework is urged to find and read Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolution. It presents the story of the evolution of physics as an explanation of reality and requires some outside reading if you’re not already familiar with the topic. He very patiently and methodically (the Monty Python phrase ‘.. in Excruciating Detail…’ comes to mind!) demonstrates the truth-seeking mechanisms of the scientific method using historical examples and biographical sketches of participants over the ages, all held together by the common goal they all shared, to answer the question “Why”.
    It is of no use to put creationism toe-to-toe against evolution and expect students of any age to come away with a net increase in knowledge. However, if you properly place creationism in its context of religious faith-based reasoning, using logic to derive and extend a set of unchallenged (and unchallengeable) assumptions that are often considered absolute, immutable and universal by true believers, if you present this method of thinking about the world in contrast with the inherent uncertainty of the scientific method, that self-correcting, self-modifying network of experiment and observation-based assumptions and theories, in which nothing is certain except that every theory is an approximation, THEN you might have a valid environment in which real learning could take place.
    The alternative to Darwinian evolution is not creationism, it is Lamarkian evolution, it is the idea of spontaneous generation of vinegar worms, the idea that rats and mice will spring full grown if you place soiled rags into a glass jug. Do you remember the battle between Pasteur’s germ theory and the advocates of ‘Bad Airs’ as the cause of disease? The alternative to creationism, on the other hand, is not Darwinian evolution, but the scientific method itself. The reason why creationists and evolutionists cannot progress beyond simply disagreeing with each other is because the whole argument is placed in the wrong framework. We cannot continue to compare apples and oranges and become embittered because of their irreconcilable differences, we need to extend the discussion to the concept of fruits, if the poor students are to ever benefit from this sad misunderstanding.

  12. muhabbet says:


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