Does a Stealth Evolution Textbook Exist?

I got an email request from a college student. He asked if I knew of a high-school level textbook that covered the concept of natural selection without using the word, “evolution”. He has relatives who are Mennonite and who home-school, and would reject any textbook that explicitly said “evolution”, but whose kids deserve to have an understanding of some of the basic concepts in evolutionary science.

This is the text of my reply to my correspondent:

I personally do not know of such a textbook, and I’ve tried to get feedback from people who should know the textbook market better than I do without success.

I think that it would be outside expectations that such a textbook would be written, though. Writing a textbook is a major undertaking, and those who are inclined to cover evolutionary science have little incentive to try to target a market segment that will, if they figure out what is going on, not buy their book.

I have myself considered writing a book (not a textbook) with a working title of, “What Every Creationist Should Know About Evolution”. It would cover the basic information and try to be non-confrontational about most aspects of religious antievolutionism. (I haven’t gotten sanguine about the outright lying part of antievolution yet.) The prospects for a market for it are similarly dismal, I expect.

Personally, I think that you might be better off to point out that overturning something like evolutionary science is only going to happen when people motivated to do so can approach the topic with an excellent understanding of the current state of that science. It is that sort of person who would be cognizant of the flaws and have the drive to do the research that would demonstrate it to be so to the scientific community. If they believe that evolution is false and have the courage of their convictions, they should utilize a standard textbook to show their children what the scientists *actually* say about it, rather than accept second-hand slurs about it from people who never bothered to learn the topic. This does, of course, run the risk of convincing the children that the scientists have a point, but the children will eventually have the opportunity to learn these concepts without their parents’ guidance anyway. They might find it better to meet that problem head-on while their children are still in their care than to have them discover evolutionary science concepts and evidence on their own.

I think this latter course of action is better than the stealth textbook on the openness front.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

4 thoughts on “Does a Stealth Evolution Textbook Exist?

  • 2010/06/22 at 9:06 am

    This reminds me of a book from my childhood. Not a textbook, but a book for children just the same.

    When I was very young my very favorite horse book (and I had millions of horse books!) covered evolution of the horse. That’s where I first learned about eohippus and other extinct forms.

    Years and years later I remembered that book and often wondered how they got away with that in a children’s book written 40-50 years ago. My parents certainly would never knowingly give me a book about evolution!

    Well, recently my mother found the book in her attic and gave it to me. It was called The Story of Horses by Dorothy Shuttlesworth. It seems that this author got suggestions from T. Donald Carter, then the assistant curator of the Department Of Mammalogy at the AMNH!

    Anyway, I re-read it, and discovered that they got around the e-word by never using it! For example, it said, “Tens of millions of years after Mesohippus, the true horse, Equus was achieved.”

    Yes, the cautious wording was a tad clumsy, but at least this book introduced me to the exciting world of extinct horses. (And contrary to what creationists claim, evolution never inspired me to become an atheist or an amoral psycho-slut!)

  • 2010/06/22 at 1:37 pm

    He asked if I knew of a high-school level textbook that covered the concept of natural selection without using the word, “evolution”

    Your response was good. Frankly I’m not sure the science community should be producing the sort of book he wants. I understand his point (if people are going to be turned off by a word, don’t use it). But I think its much better to be up front about what science says rather than try and hide it. Sure we may lose some opportunities to educate people, but lets face it, if we changed text language to something else the fundamentalist communities would just start raving about the evils of [new language]. For this reason, “stealth” seems to me the trading of a strategic advantage (well-earned reputation for plain dealing) for a short term, tactical advantage.

  • 2010/06/23 at 8:13 pm

    Hi Wes! Tangential, but this reminds me of the Oklahoma science teaching standards where the word evolution does not appear, BUT principles of evolution appear throughout. Teachers who follow the standards will cove the major aspects of evolutionary biology.
    The reason for avoiding the word evolution is strictly political; it was a method of getting evolution covered without raising the opposition of the religious right in this most conservative state. Unfortunately, the Fordham and NCSE ratings of evolution teaching in the gave Oklahoma an F for not mentioning the word evolution. Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education offer annual workshops on the teaching of evolution where we point out items in the teaching standards that require coverage of evolution. The fifth workshop will be offered in September for 30 science teachers from across the state. The announcement is on the OESE web site:

  • 2010/06/23 at 9:11 pm


    I agree that stealth techniques aren’t really warranted for the pro-science stance. But if one wants to reach the antievolution demographic, one must give them a reason to want to listen. That’s why I advocate the you’ve-got-to-know-it-to-overturn-it pitch. A couple of hundred years of sniping in ignorance hasn’t convinced the scientific community the antievolutionists have a point, so maybe it is time they tried learning what they want to criticize?

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