from The Textbook Letter, January-February 1997

Editor's File

William J. Bennetta

Addison-Wesley's Achievement

There are scientific theories, and there are "other theories."

The scientific theories are explanatory principles that have been tested and confirmed. Each scientific theory is a structure of ideas, confirmed by preponderant evidence, that explains a body of observations and thus explains some aspect of nature.

The "other theories" are Bible stories. The expression "other theories" is one of the obfuscatory locutions that creationists employ when they try to promote the teaching of biblical myths in science classes. They use it in lines like these: "If students learn about the evolution theory, they have to learn about other theories too," or "If schools don't teach other theories about the universe, they shouldn't teach any theories at all."

I have explained the meaning of "other theories" so that you can fully appreciate the creationist sloganeering that appears in Addison-Wesley Biology, a book that Addison-Wesley sells for use in high schools. In both the original version (issued in 1994) and the current version (dated in 1996), evolutionary biology is introduced in chapter 13. And in both versions, the material at the end of chapter 13 includes this "portfolio" exercise:

1. There are opponents to the scientific theory of evolution. Conduct library research on the various beliefs and on the evidence for other theories about the origin of life.

For sheer frugality, that's hard to beat. In a single short item, doubtless based on some creationist handout, the Addison-Wesley writers have done three of the creationists' favorite routines. They have conflated theories with mere "beliefs," as if those were equivalent. They have promoted one of the creationists' baffle-phrases -- "other theories." And in keeping with the creationists' established practice, they have falsely equated "evolution" with "the origin of life." Wow!

William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes often about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.


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