An exercise in critical thinking

Should schoolchildren be allowed to use the theory of evolution as a subject for an exercise in critical thinking? Should they be allowed to discuss both the strengths and the weaknesses of the theory of evolution?

Should schoolchildren be allowed to use the theory of heliocentrism as a subject for an exercise in critical thinking? Should they be allowed to discuss both the strengths and the weaknesses of the theory of heliocentrism?


I wonder at what age the theory of evolution is taught in sufficient detail to allow for a thoughtful evaluation of it. I imagine they can begin to grasp the age of the earth by learning about fossils in earlier grades. But even adults often have a fuzzy grasp of very large numbers so some work might ought to go toward building up an appreciation of just how long ago is a million or a billion years.

But Laura raises a good question. There is no value in treating the actual status of the earth’s rotation within our solar system as if the naive intuition of being at its center were as good a view as heliocentrism. What does have value is helping kids past the naive assumption once their brains are ready for it.

Hi Laura, you havent answered my question. A simple yes or no will suffice.

Hi Mark, I assume from what you’ve written that your answer would be no.

I would say no, because children (and the vast majority of adults) lack the requisite background in the established consensus science to actually do such an evaluation, so anything presented as “an exercise in critical thinking” would not actually be critical thinking of their own, it would really just be teaching them to parrot the evaluations of adults who think evolution has “weaknesses.”


That’s right more or less, but I was really saying that it would depend more on their level of cognitive development and the detail to which the theory of evolution had been successfully learned. Seems like a college level discussion for specialists to me.

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She answered your question. The answer to her question is the answer to your question. Both are established scientific theories with vast amounts of data supporting them.

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Hi Boscopup, no actually she didn’t answer my question. I assume from your response that your answer would be no?

Hi Mark, Should we then avoid exposing children to the theory of evolution until they are old enough - college or university - in order for them to be able to understand it?

Hi Christy, so at what age do you think children should be exposed to the theory of evolution?

Heavens no. The evaluative discussion is very high order and would best take place in a philosophy of science setting after students had exposure to wide range of scientific theories. The natural order of things is to understand how things work and the basis for those understandings. There is no reason to delay unpacking the great many demonstrable findings which lead to the theory of evolution.

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I homeschool and my kids were “exposed” to the theory of evolution in nature documentaries and science books when they were in elementary school. It’s not like they have to be able to understand all the mechanisms to understand important evolutionary concepts like fitness and adaptation. I don’t have any problem teaching evolution as scientific fact. It is a theory (in the scientific sense, which means model with great explanatory power that makes sense of multiple lines of evidence and known facts about the world) that is being refined and investigated and better understood, which is what science does.

I feel like this ID argument that children should be taught to “evaluate” evolution and shouldn’t learn about it until they can is the equivalent of saying that children should only learn about vaccines when they are academically and intellectually equipped to read all the recent studies on vaccine efficacy, analyze statistics from around the world on the positive and negative effects of vaccination programs, evaluate all the biochemistry of vaccine research, and all potential ethical questions involved. And then, instead of being taught to trust expert consensus on vaccines, they should be told to “think critically” and come to their own conclusions, which if they are really thinking, will look just like the adults who buy into a bunch of conspiracy theories about vaccines.

That is not how science is taught. Children learn age appropriate concepts about accepted facts. They learn about the scientific method and how scientific consensus is established and why science is trustworthy. It is only if they choose to specialize in a field, get the necessary expertise that would go into contesting consensus that they get to “evaluate” the science personally.


I think that the theory should be taught as the atomic theory has been taught in my high school in the 80s–outlined for its strengths and the struggle folks went through to find that it was true. On the way, you get to know the people who had to sift through the data and choose the right kind. Thus, kids get to learn not only the strengths and weaknesses of a theory, but also how to think innovatively and critically.

I do not think an anti-atomic theorist (if there are any), an anti vaxxer (there are many), or a Christian or Muslim YEC (there are many of both religions, based only on their sacred scriptures) should be allowed to critique atomic theory, immunization/health care theory, or science, in mainstream schools.

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Hi Christy, do you tell your children that there are some scientists that have questions about the theory of evolution, or do you teach it to them as an irrefutable fact?

Hi Randy, I find it interesting that people when responding to this question about evolution feel the need to bring in things like heliocentricity, atomic theory, immunization etc etc. Anyway, I assume from you response that your answer would be no?

She did answer your question, just as Jesus answered questions from the Pharisees when they were trying to trick him. :slight_smile:

But no, I don’t see any reason to teach kids to question an established scientific theory. I homeschool my kids, so they’re already learning about evolution (and my 4 year old knows that dinosaurs lived 65+ million years ago when humans weren’t around yet). They do know that some people think differently, as my church teaches YEC. But I’m showing them the evidence and teaching them the truth that God has shown us in His creation.

I also teach my kids that the earth is not flat. I don’t waste time digging into flat earth conspiracy theories. My kids know there are people who believe the earth is flat, but I’m not wasting time teaching them the supposed physics those people will use to defend a flat earth view. Why would I do such a thing? There are many more useful things to learn.


I teach my children that all scientists have questions and are always testing and refining their models as new data and ways of testing data come to light. So, for example, now that entire genomes have been mapped, scientists are asking different questions about evolution and refining their understanding of it in ways that were not possible before genomes were mapped.

I do not teach them that the theory of evolution has competition from any other scientific model, because it doesn’t. Questions about evolution are on the edges of the theory, not in the center. Unless massive amounts of data have been grossly misinterpreted by millions of experts with far more training than my children or I will ever have, evolution is not going to be “refuted.” I teach my kids there is a difference between overturning consensus and refining theories. Facts in my mind are propositions. Evolution is not a fact per se, it’s a scientific model that makes sense of facts. It is a fact that the model of evolution is accurate and the best one we have, and therefore, I teach them evolution is true. Heliocentricity is a true. The ancient earth is a true. Tectonic plate activity is true. Anthropogenic climate change is true. Vaccines working is true. There are questions and open areas of investigation around the edges in any area of science.


Hi Mr Mayers, Thanks for your note. I’m afraid that I can lead to misunderstandings if I answer it as “no.”

Evolution is a very established theory, similar on many levels to atomic and medicine studies. As a result, it is a disservice to give students the impression it is not well established. However, there’s no room for a belief that isn’t willing to be questioned. In fact, presenting the strong evidence, the personal stories of the investigators, and the reasons why they rejected mistaken theories actually helps students to think on both sides of the fence. A professor who is willing to address questions (as two did from my YEC perspectivein college) with a kind, understanding and patient manner, treating them as reasonable and thoughtful individuals, helps improve the respect for truth. I am sorry I miscommunicated. Thanks for your discussion

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Boscopup, I’m not trying to trick anybody, I am asking a strightforward question. I see again, that a subject that has nothing to do with my question is being included - the flat earth. BTW, in case you are wondering why I have raised this question it is because atheists are telling me that there is no way that evolution should ever be a subject for a critical thinking exercise in schools. I was interested know if biologos agrees with them. The answer appears to be yes, biolgos does agree with them.

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