Removing Darwinian evolution from textbooks will lead to increased superstition, experts warn

The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) recently decided to remove the Theory of Biological Evolution from the Class 10 curriculum

Evolution of Man Artist: Karen Humpage (Photo: Getty Images)
Evolution of Man Artist: Karen Humpage (Photo: Getty Images)


Experts have voiced their concern that the decision to remove Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution from 10th-grade textbooks may help propagate superstitious beliefs and irrational practices among children as they grow up.

The Theory of Evolution, proposed by the English naturalist, explains that all living beings evolved through natural selection, which favours inherited traits that improve an individual's ability to compete, survive, and reproduce.

The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) recently decided to remove the Theory of Biological Evolution from the Class 10 curriculum.

This move was met with opposition from over 1,800 scientists, science teachers, and educators from renowned institutes such as Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), and Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), who have written an open letter raising their concerns regarding the matter.

"We are concerned with the exclusion of the teaching of Darwinian evolution from the 10th standard curriculum, as seen in the information," the letter reads.

Calling the decision a "travesty", evolutionary biologists believe the theory is so fundamental and basic that one cannot understand any aspect of the natural sciences without calling forth the concepts of the Theory of Evolution.

"The very existence of life in diverse forms, ecological interactions within and between groups, the relationship between living organisms and their immediate surroundings can't be explained without invoking evolution," Amitabh Joshi, Professor & Chair, Evolutionary and Organismal Biology Unit, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bengaluru, told PTI.

"Sir Peter Medawar, the Nobel Prize-winning immunologist, is famous for having said in his 1977 book, The Life Science, that for a biologist, the alternative to thinking in evolutionary terms is not to think at all!" Joshi recalled.

Unlike anatomy or biochemistry, which branch out of biology, evolution is a perspective that renders sense to all factual information gleaned from biological research, added L. S. Shashidhara, Director, National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru and Professor, Biology, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune.

"Evolutionary theory provides that logical framework for understanding biological diversity and dynamics and elevates them beyond just being a collection of interesting facts about species generally," Shashidhara told PTI.

The decision to remove the chapter on evolution will deprive students of a fundamental understanding of biology, which is essential to their education as informed citizens, he added.

The Theory of Evolution is as integral to biology as understanding how the human body functions, and it should be included in the curriculum for all students before they specialise in different subjects in higher classes.

"The exclusion of the Theory of Evolution from the curriculum would be a travesty to the notion of a well-rounded secondary education," said Joshi.

"It would be unfair for the vast majority of students who choose to specialise outside of biology to be deprived of exposure to a concept that is immensely important to forming one's scientific worldview," he explained.

Sudha Acharya, Chairperson of the National Progressive Schools Conference (NPSC) and Principal of ITL School in Dwarka, New Delhi, said removing the theory from school textbooks would leave a significant gap in the child's education.

"Awareness of basic concepts across subjects is important for the child to develop and have life skills, regardless of what the child chooses to specialise in," Acharya told PTI.

"Further, leaving out these concepts in school curriculum compels the child or students to turn to coaching centres, in turn, giving these centres more power and strength," she noted.

In 2018, scientists had condemned the then Union Education Minister Satyapal Singh's demand to remove the Theory of Evolution from the school curriculum.

"The theory is vital in helping us understand our place in the biosphere, our relationship with other human groups and species, and the importance of diversity in humans and all other life forms," said Shashidhara.

"The inclusion of Darwinian concepts in the curriculum is crucial for cultivating scientific temper, which is mandated by our Constitution, " according to the experts.

The biologists expressed their concern that children would not be able to make their own judgments when they encounter things beyond their comprehension.

"For instance, how would they explain the extinction of dinosaurs, the similarities between humans and other mammals, and the chemical basis of life across various organisms, from tiny bacteria to large banyan trees to humans, elephants, and whales?" Shashidhara said.

"Darwin's theory of evolution showed that there was no need to resort to supernatural explanations to understand the diversity, relatedness, and adaptedness of life forms, or human origins," he added.

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