Should creationist objections to science be taught in school to promote critical thinking?

The short answer

No, not unless one wants to do the same for fringe objections to every mainstream discipline, and double the length of the school day doing so. If one genuinely wishes to promote critical thinking among students, there are far better ways to do so than by trying to shoehorn religious fringe objections into the already thin biology curriculum.

The longer answer

I. What would have to be taught

First, let’s note that if one were to teach critical thinking by having students examine fringe objections to the best current state of knowledge in each class, there would be no reason to limit oneself to creationist objections to evolution. One might just as well give as much time to alchemy as to chemistry, to parapsychology as to physics, to flat-earth theory as to astronomy, to hollow-earth theory as to geology, to alien archaeology as to archaeology and so forth. To add so much promotion of critical thinking to the mainstream curriculum without diluting students’ education to nothing, one would need at least to double the length of each school day. But surely the exhausted students would at least become experts at critical thinking after spending equal time on world history and Illuminati conspiracy theories.

II. The importance of learning about science

Everyone agrees that it is important for students to develop critical thinking skills. However, it also is important for students to learn the best current state of knowledge. If high school graduates do not know what Newton’s laws are or how natural selection works because they have spent so much time “honing their critical thinking skills” by learning about astrology, alchemy, parapsychology, and creationism, then the education system has failed.

Fortunately, as Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne (2005) point out, the dual goal of teaching students both critical thinking and the best current state of knowledge can be accomplished even in the science classroom without asking baffled K-12 students to try to make up their own minds between mainstream science and pseudoscience. Dawkins and Coyne explain that there is more than enough legitimate controversy within science to exercise students’ critical thinking skills without forcing educators to waste time on the claims of alchemists and creationists, about which there is no scientific controversy at all. In biology, for instance, students who are taught the debates about the units of selection and the validity of evolutionary psychology will have their critical thinking skills exercised while learning about real scientific debates; this is far better than forcing students and educators to waste valuable time on the claims made by anyone who has a religious axe to grind against modern science.


Dawkins R and Coyne J. 2005. One side can be wrong. The Guardian, 1 September 2005.