On 1st July 1838 British scientist Charles Darwin, biologist and explorer, presented a paper to the esteemed Linnean Society in London, on his theory of the evolution of both mankind and animal life. He followed this in 1859, after years of controversy from fellow scientists and the Church, with his book, On the Origin of Species. The fact that Darwin was claiming, with fossil and bone evidence to back him up, that life had evolved rather than been created by God, was highly controversial in the nineteenth century. Even with the catalogue of physical material supporting his theory of evolution and natural selection (often known as the survival of the fittest), it was still refuted by many. Today it is accepted as fact by most of us, but there do still remain those who will debate the truth of evolution and the way it challenges the story of creation found in the Bible.
For such religious reasons, despite the majority of the population believing that Darwin’s theory is fact, the subject of whether or not evolution should be taught in schools remains an emotive one for some. The struggle to teach evolution is at its most desperate in the USA, where in places even Biology teachers can be afraid to teach it. Indeed, A Penn State news report from 2014 even stated that, “despite 40 years of court cases ruling against teaching creationism in American public schools, the majority of high school Biology teachers are not strong classroom advocates of evolutionary Biology.”
In Science (2011), political scientist M. Berkman said, “Considerable research suggests that supporters of evolution, scientific methods, and reason itself are losing battles in America’s classrooms… Only 28 percent of those teachers consistently introduce evidence that evolution occurred, and 13 percent explicitly advocate creationism.”
The situation in America in 2018 is no more enlightened. Some states of America, such as Texas, Louisiana, and Tennessee, have passed laws that permit public school teachers to teach alternatives to evolution. Yet this desire to teach Creationism rather than Evolution comes just as scientists are concreting Darwin’s theory more solidly year after year. An article in Live Science for example, says that, “Evolution by natural selection is one of the best substantiated theories in the history of science, supported by evidence from a wide variety of scientific disciplines, including palaeontology, geology, genetics and developmental biology.” Preeminent scientist Theodosius Dobzhansky goes further: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”
While evolution is facing a lack of teaching in parts of the USA, it is taught in the vast majority of schools across the UK. In fact, in 2008, the Church of England issued an unexpected apology to Darwin himself. Reverend Dr. Malcolm Brown wrote, “Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still… But the struggle for your reputation is not over yet…”
The answer to this debate, which is clearly unlikely to be one hundred per cent agreed on in the near future, would surely be to teach both the theory of evolution and the story of creation to all school children across the world, no matter their religion or background. Only by laying out the evidence can people make up their own minds, rather than have their minds made up for them by the educational, religious or political situation in which they live.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.