The country’s scientific community is seriously dismayed, if not visibly enraged, to see that the theory of biological evolution has been banished from the Secondary syllabus. It was first dropped as an interim measure for syllabus reduction during the Corona pandemic. But now the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has announced that it is dropped permanently as a step in ‘content rationalization’!
The celebrated scientist Charles Darwin provided a scientific explanation of evolution in the biological world, and this theory has been foundational in scientific thinking ever since. It was an integral part of the science syllabus at the 10th standard in India. The country’s scientific community feels that students will remain seriously handicapped in their thought processes if deprived of exposure to this fundamental discovery of science. Without this exposure, they would be deprived of developing a scientific bent of mind and rational thought process and thereby be vulnerable to non-scientific obscurantist propagation, which is going on full throttle in the country, courtesy of the fundamentalist-bigoted forces.
In the progression of human thought, there are milestones of triumph: the revolution in natural science that began with Copernicus, Galileo and Newton reached a great height with Darwin. While the first stage had led to a conception of the universe as a system of matter in motion governed by laws of nature, the latter, Darwin’s, extended the idea to the living world and showed that everything in the material world is changing, going through evolution following a law-governed process. The workings of the universe, from cosmic bodies to living beings, no longer needed to be attributed to the ineffable will of the ‘Creator’ (as narrated in the Bible and other religious scriptures) but were brought into the realm of science— an explanation of phenomena through natural laws.
Darwin was the first to see around distractions, misconception, and confusion and to combine it into a coherent, testable, and tenable theory. In a single stroke, the Darwinian theory of evolution unifies the realm of life, space and time, cause and effect, mechanism and physical laws. Darwin argued that organisms come about by evolution; he provided a scientific explanation, essentially correct but incomplete, of how evolution occurs and why it is that organisms have features such as wings, eyes, and lungs— structured to serve specific functions. Darwin’s theory says that all life is related and has descended from a common ancestor. The process of evolution produces a pattern of relationships between species. Evolutionary paths diverge as lineages evolve and split, and modifications are inherited, creating a branching pattern like a tree. Darwin observed: ‘‘The affinities of all the beings of the same class have sometimes been represented by a great tree. I believe the simile largely represents truth.’’
By studying inherited characteristics and other biological evidence, we can reconstruct and represent evolutionary relationships on a ‘family tree’. This tree of life represents the basic relationship that ties all life together. When a speciation event occurs, a parent species transmutes into a daughter species, or a single ancestral lineage gives rise to two or more daughter lineages. Several times in the past, biologists have committed themselves to the erroneous idea that life can be organized on a ladder of lower to higher organisms. In Darwin’s thesis, there is no ladder of life; there is, on the other hand, a natural branching of the life tree, at the base of which there is a presumption of the development of life from non-life, and the thesis stresses purely naturalistic, ‘undirected’, ‘‘descent with modification’’. That is, complex creatures evolved naturally from more simple ancestors over time.
In a nutshell, random variations occur within the population of a species; the beneficial variations are preserved because they aid survival —a process known as natural selection. Then beneficial variations are passed on to the next generation. Over time, beneficial variations accumulate, and the general result is an entirely different organism, not just a variation of the original. The fact that the biological world is constantly changing, that evolution is a law-governed process that does not require divine intervention, and that humans have evolved from some species of ape have been the cornerstones of rational thinking ever since Darwin proposed his theory of natural selection.
What Darwinism brought was a new way of looking at not only the organic part of our world but at nature in its entirety— a new insight into man’s position in this world, removing the idea of a Creator. Just as the motion of planets abides by natural laws, the evolution of species abides by the laws of natural selection. Theologian philosophers believed in progress and divine perfection in nature. The Darwinian view replaced these beliefs with the concepts of adaptation to the environment as a law-governed necessity.
Evolution is controversial because it affirms that man has descended in a lineage from animal ancestry. ‘‘Man in his arrogance thinks himself a great work, worthy the interpretation of a deity. More humble and I believe true to consider him created from animals.’’ Darwin wrote. Further, Darwin’s theory of evolution emphasizes a slow, gradual process. He wrote: ‘‘Natural selection acts only by taking advantage of slight successive variations, she cannot take a great sudden leap but must advance by short and sure, though slow steps.’’ The Darwinian thrust, in contradistinction to the Creationist thrust of all life at once, was that speciation, that is, the arrival of a new species from a pre-existing species, could happen only gradually, the change occurring only bit by bit. Darwin conceded that ‘‘If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.’’ Subsequent developments in biology have amply demonstrated that all complex organs (like the eye) can form by slight modifications occurring over generations through natural selection. Thus, Darwin’s theory provided the framework for the first credible naturalistic explanation for human existence, including the origin, function and nature of those capacities that enable us to ponder why we have the characteristics we do.
The storm the Darwinian revolution raised shook every nook of human thought, casting implications for man’s origin, his place in nature, and his basic ethical system as conceived at the time. No other scientific theory has had such a tremendous impact on man’s understanding of the world and himself. The greatest question for aeons of time – where we came from, who we are, where we might be heading – could now be answered; the foundation for it had been laid.
That is why many fundamentalist preachers even today fume over the mention of Darwin’s name. Anyone with a dogma to peddle will likely be taken umbrage at the Darwinian revolution. The ruling monopolists and its most obedient servitor like the RSS-BJP, suffering from the fear complex of anti-capitalist socialist revolution in this dying stage of ruthlessly exploitative capitalism, are hell-bent on ensuring that no rational thought process should guide the common people, including students. If a rational thought process takes hold of peoples’ minds, their ploy to arrest people within the confines of age-old obsolete creeds, obscurantism and religious blindness, as well as beliefs in supra-matter or supernatural entity, would be foiled. To an enquiring mind, a quest for experimentally verified objective truth would inevitably prove the futility of the communal doctrine of Hindutva and establish the unquestionable authority of science in finding the truth, whether in nature or society.
Hence, this nasty conspiracy to eliminate one by one the epoch-making scientific discoveries from the school and college syllabi and replace them with fabricated mystic explanations cooked in the kitchen of RSS-BJP. This is a feature of fascism which is looming large in the country. So, expressing these concerns, the scientific community has issued an open letter signed by more than 4000 scientists, science teachers, educators, science popularizers and rational-minded citizens condemning this directive by the NCERT. It demands that Darwin’s theory of evolution should be taught with adequate importance in the 9th-10th standards. We fully support their demand and call upon all to raise a united voice against this notorious conspiracy to strip education of its essence.
An appeal by over 4000 scientists and intellectuals against exclusion of Darwin’s theory of evolution from curriculum
We, the undersigned, have learned that sweeping changes are being proposed in the CBSE curriculum in the secondary and senior secondary courses. These changes, first introduced as a temporary measure during the Corona pandemic, are being continued even when schooling has gone back to offline mode. In particular, we are concerned with the exclusion of the teaching of Darwinian evolution from the 10th standard curriculum, as seen in the information (see https://ncert.nic.in/pdf/Booklet Class10.pdf, page 21) available on the NCERT website.
In the current educational structure, only a small fraction of students choose the science stream in grade 11 or 12, and an even smaller fraction of those choose biology as one of the subjects of study. Thus, the exclusion of key concepts from the curriculum till grade 10 amounts to a vast majority of students missing a critical part of essential learning in this field. Knowledge and understanding of evolutionary biology is important not just to any subfield of biology, but is also key to understanding the world around us. Evolutionary biology is an area of science with a huge impact on how we choose to deal with an array of problems we face as societies and nations from medicine and drug discovery, epidemiology, ecology and environment, to psychology, and it also addresses our understanding of humans and their place in the tapestry of life. Although many of us do not explicitly realize, the principles of natural selection help us understand how any pandemic progresses or why certain species go extinct, among many other critical issues.
An understanding of the process of evolution is also crucial in building a scientific temper and a rational worldview. The way Darwin’s painstaking observations and his keen insights led him to the theory of natural selection educates students about the process of science and the importance of critical thinking. Depriving students, who do not go on to study biology after the 10th standard, of any exposure to this vitally important field is a travesty of education.
We, the undersigned scientists, science teachers, educators, science popularizers and concerned citizens disagree with such dangerous changes in school science education and demand to restore the theory of Darwinian evolution in secondary education.