Candi Cushman is an education analyst for Focus on the Family.
As Darwin's 200th birthday approaches, the 1960 classic Inherit the Wind—featuring a teacher charged with the crime of explaining evolution—will likely be shown in many classrooms. At the time of its release, the movie was celebrated as an eloquent protest against attacks on freedom of thought.
But if the film were reproduced to reflect today's events, there'd have to be a role reversal. This time the person sitting in the prosecution box would be an educator who dared to challenge any part of Darwin's theory.
Reports are regularly surfacing of well-respected professors and scientists being ostracized, denied tenure and even fired for daring to openly conjecture that there might be evidence of design in nature, and that perhaps life is not just the result of accidental, random chance.
Just to name a few victims in recent years—there's the astrobiologist who published more than 60 peer-reviewed papers, and yet was denied tenure at Iowa State University after highlighting evidence of design; the biologist at George Mason University in Virginia who lost a teaching contract after delivering a lecture on the topic; and the high school biology teacher in Washington who was reassigned to earth science after daring to present both sides of the debate.
Those leading our public education systems constantly proclaim their love of diversity, tolerance and academic freedom. But actions speak louder than words.
And these actions also beg the question—what are they really afraid of?
If you listen to those defending this suppression, you'll hear similar refrains: We must stop sinister attempts to sneak religion into schools; we must save students from substandard science teaching. And anyway, they claim, there's nothing to debate about Darwinian evolution. It was all settled as fact long ago.
First of all, if secularists were more in touch with people of faith, they'd realize what a ridiculous assertion it is to say they want religion endorsed in public classrooms. Actually, most in the faith community don't want government educators teaching their kids about God. Common wisdom is that the government would get it wrong.
The majority of parents do, however, want their kids to examine all the scientific evidence, to engage in critical thinking and to have classrooms that aren't simply a carbon copy of political correctness. In fact, recent polls reveal that a majority of Americans (nearly 70 percent according to a Zogby poll) want students to receive objective classroom instruction on this issue—both information for and against Darwinian evolution to be presented.
The fact is, none of the educators who've incurred punishment for discussing this issue were asking for religion to be promoted in classrooms. The high school biology teacher, for instance, didn't even mention the word "God." They were simply asking that honest, academic debate based on actual evidence be allowed.
This is not about religion or people's personal beliefs. This is about the freedom to examine the empirical evidence regardless of where it may lead. Evidence for intelligent design should not be censored simply because it could lead to someone concluding there is a God, just as evidence for Darwinian evolution should not be censored because it could possibly lead to atheism. There should not be a double standard.
The claim that discussing critiques of Darwin's theory will cripple students academically is also illogical. If schools really want to foster a rigorous learning environment, it only makes sense that they encourage free inquiry and debate. After all, if Darwinian evolution is really so unassailable and proven beyond reasonable doubt, then can't it withstand a few academic challenges? Students should be allowed to hear all the evidence - and teachers should have the free-speech right to teach about controversies within the scientific community.
Problem is, some people want to deny there is a controversy. They claim there is no room for new evidence, no room for discussion, no room for any debate, period. They assert that all known reputable scientists believe Darwin's theory of evolution is indisputable.
But that's just not true. More than 700 scientists have signed their names on a petition (launched by The Discovery Institute in 2001) stating their skepticism that natural selection can sufficiently account for the complexity of life. The statement says that there "is scientific dissent" that "deserves to be heard." Among the nationally acclaimed signers are a professor of chemistry at Rice University, the director of a computing research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and an emeritus professor of chemistry at Penn State who is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences.