In the Beginning…Were the Facts: What Happened CBS?

Author: David Buckna, Danny Phillips
Subject: Politics
Date: 02/20/1997

The first report on the September 22nd (1996) edition of the CBS newsmagazine “Sunday Morning”, hosted by Charles Osgood, was aptly titled: “In the Beginning”.

The story, as reported by Terrence Smith, focused on 15 year- old high-school student Danny Phillips, who had challenged Colorado’s Jefferson County school board to withdraw “The Miracle of Life”, a NOVA public television production, from his biology class because it portrays evolution as fact, rather than theory.

The video includes such statements as: “The first organized form of primitive life was a tiny protozoan.” and “From these one-celled organisms evolved all life on earth.”

Danny Phillips told Smith: “I object to the teaching of evolution as factual. I wanted to stop something that was not just against my religious beliefs, but something that wasn’t good science.”

Note that Danny did not say he objected to the teaching of evolution as theory.

However, the CBS report gives viewers the distinct impression that Danny wanted creation taught in Jefferson County schools, which is not the case at all. Ever since the controversy began, Danny has never asked for a balanced treatment of creation with evolution.

Why did the CBS editors snip out Danny’s opening comments to the board: “This is not a creation verses evolution debate…. I don’t want creationism in the schools, nor have I ever asked for that.”

What did Danny actually want? He had simply asked that schools stop censoring scientific evidence that runs counter to evolution. He cites examples such as the actual fossil record of life on earth, with its absence of intermediate forms.

On the program, Eugenie Scott, the National Center for Science Education executive director, commented: “If Danny Phillips doesn’t want to learn evolution, well, he’s going to be less educated than if he does. He should learn evolution. If he doesn’t want to accept it, that’s his own business. But his views should not prevail for 80,000 students who need to learn evolution to be educated.”

Note how Ms. Scott creates the impression that Danny 1) didn’t want to learn about evolution, and 2) was attempting to prevent 80,000 students from learning about evolution.

“And that’s the way it is”, as CBS veteran news anchor Walter Cronkite used to say.

Or is it?

When the actual facts of Danny Phillips’ challenge to the board are examined in their proper context, even Walter would have to admit the CBS editors’ spin on the story was “the way it isn’t!”.

As evolution is the only theory of origins that can be taught in science classrooms throughout North America, students and teachers with the courage to even suggest the emperor may have no clothes should have the freedom to pose critical scientific questions of evolution in science classrooms. In practice, one wonders how often it actually occurs.

What follows is a suggested Origins of Life policy for school boards throughout Canada and the U.S. to consider:

“As no theory in science is immune from critical examination and evaluation, and recognizing that evolutionary theory is the only approved theory of origins that can be taught in the [province/state] science curriculum: whenever evolutionary theory is taught, students and teachers are encouraged to discuss the scientific information that supports and questions evolution and its underlying assumptions, in order to promote the development of critical thinking skills. This discussion would include only the scientific evidence/information for and against evolutionary theory, as it seeks to explain the origin of the universe and the diversity of life on our planet.”

If such a policy was adopted in school districts, it would go a long way to avoid the charge by some that evolution is presented to students as fact, rather than theory. <Link to Related Web Site>

Do not, they say, ask students to learn fact, but teach them to think. “O, Thinking—what intellectual crimes are committed in thy name. How can man think if he doesn’t know?” (W.E. McNeill).

* David Buckna is a public school teacher in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada

Update:

What follows is the full text of a speech written by 16 year- old Danny Phillips, prepared for his address to the Jefferson County School Board on February 20, 1997. Due to time restrictions, a portion of the speech was not delivered, but appears here in its entirety:

TO: JEFFERSON COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD (DENVER)

As some of you are aware, the 1920’s hosted the very famous “Monkey Trial” in Dayton, Tennessee. A substitute biology teacher, by the name of John Scopes, volunteered to help the ACLU challenge a Tennessee statute forbidding the teaching of anything other than biblical creation in the public schools. The defense for Scopes argued that the statute opposed freedom of education and science. At the trial, Scopes said, “Education, you know, means broadening, advancing, and if you limit a teacher to only one side of anything the whole country will eventually have only one thought, be one individual. I believe in teaching every aspect of every problem or theory.”

Scopes believed in teaching science, not the philosophical viewpoints of others. I agree with him that evolution should not be outlawed from the schools. However, today it is obvious that the tides have turned and now instead of outlawing evolution and teaching creationism, the schools teach evolution dogmatically and outlaw any information that might discredit that so-called theory. To this, I do object.

I, once again, don’t want creationism taught in the schools.

That, is my belief. What I do want is for the schools to educate – to broaden and advance – not teaching only one side. All I am asking for was what Scopes asked for – freedom, where every aspect of every problem or theory is unbiasedly discussed and where all students are taught all of the facts.

Why are you so afraid of this? Why is it so radical to tell students what evolutionists, including Darwin himself, have so openly admitted? Am I wrong to ask that evolution be treated like everything else in science? Should it not be empirically tested and subjected to criticism? Is evolution immune from that?

Now scientists don’t like my request because it challenges the dogma that is fundamental to their philosophical viewpoints about nature, and I don’t like evolution because it challenges my own philosophical views. So I understand how scientists feel, but when they are allowed to brainwash students with their dogma, I must object! It is entirely inappropriate to teach anything in science without honestly acknowledging its problems. There is no religious purpose in that, only the secular purpose to enhance the education of students. What is happening is that students are told that evolution is true, they are told that some people hold different views, and then they are given only the evidence in support of evolution. Is this science? I think not. Science is about looking at all of the facts! So, why not teach students the facts – all of them – and let them decide which philosophical assumption fits better? It is proven that when students are permitted to do this, their educational experience is greatly enhanced with increased knowledge and interest.

Why is anyone afraid of this? If the evidence for evolution is so strong, what do scientists have to fear? By not allowing the discrediting information in the classrooms, scientists are almost openly admitting that evolution cannot stand up under a proper scientific test. Now, I don’t want to destroy evolution, all I want is for students to be able to decide for themselves based on all of the information available. Is that so wrong?

I also understand that for students to be successful in science they need to understand the viewpoints of the majority of modern scientists. I don’t object to teaching them what scientists believe. I do object, however, to not teaching the challenges to evolution. Students can understand the current thought, and yet make up their minds for themselves. If you are so sure that they would come to the same conclusion as the current thought, than permitting my request for freedom shouldn’t be any problem.

Now let me close by saying this. I am not here tonight for my own good or for some religious crusade. I am here for students, like those at my school, who believe evolution because of false and misleading information like the horse series which scientists threw out almost a hundred years ago. It scares me when impressionable students are falsely made to think that a belief, which goes against a lot of scientific evidence, is the best explanation for everything they see. If you can’t give students a scientific explanation that fits the facts, then don’t give them your philosophical assumptions. Why can’t you just teach every aspect of every problem or theory? I look around and find it incomprehensible to believe that everything came about by chance. Why are you so afraid to allow other students to come to that same conclusion without pressuring them to believe otherwise with a one-sided story? Why are you so afraid of truth?

Danny Phillips

[Danny plans to write another letter to the Jefferson County school board in March 1997. Stay tuned!]