Questioning Evolution in Schools

by Ryan on May 1, 2008

in Anything Else,Culture,Politics

Thank God I teach a non-controversial subject History/Social Studies to high school kids, otherwise I’d have to tackle really tough issues like evolution… 

Oh wait a minute, Charles Darwin and the Scopes Trial are both in my curriculum!  Uh oh! 

Anyway, in the latest round of the evolution debate as it relates to the Culture War in schools there is an effort by Michigan and Florida legislators to avoid the illegal realm of ”creationism” and “intelligent design,” by simply encouraging teachers to ”cast doubt” on the theory of evolution in class discussion. 

You mean, actually encourage critical thinking in our students?  Egads!  I know this will bother some as backdoor intelligent design, but get a grip!  If evolution is so settled in science, then why not let it stand up to intellectual competition amongst secondary school kids? 

You know my opinion:  I think evolution happens, but Darwinism is kooky.  I think separating Darwin from other evolution theories (scientific or not) is helpful in exposing our kids to a broader view of science and possibility.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

rightonoz May 1, 2008 at 6:00 pm

I happen to be a supporter of Darwin, though even he COULD have aspects of his theory wrong, but I don’t think so from what I have read.

While I would vigourously oppose a concerted, government sponsored effort to CAST DOUBT (It is a back door creationism), I do strongly support students being taught to critically evaluate and consider alternatives, which it sounds as though you do..

Have you ever seen any of the Sir David Attenborough documentaries? I still marvel at what he achieves even today in advancing years. A committed man who was made head of the BBC but resigned to go back to his first love, Nature.

He first brought nature programs to TV in a manner that appealed to the masses, highly accurate but not mired in scientific babble, and while he supports evoltuion, his comments on it are not dogmatic, but simply point to the marvelous specialisation that has developed over time.

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dracil May 1, 2008 at 6:08 pm

Non-controversial? I say we have “academic freedom” and teach holocaust denial and that the moon landing was fake!

It’s interesting how stuff like Social Darwinism and survival of the fittest are actually Herbert Spencer’s idea. Perhaps we should be rallying against Spencerism.

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Nimravid May 1, 2008 at 8:00 pm

“If evolution is so settled in science, then why not let it stand up to intellectual competition amongst secondary school kids?”

Because kids aren’t equipped to evaluated criticisms of the theory (quick, defend Einstein’s theory of relativity!) and this makes it easy for unethical teachers to do a lousy job teaching science in order to substitute their religious beliefs. Creationist web sites are full of all sorts of horrendously inaccurate “critiques” of evolution, and these have been promulgated in the classroom. An example is creationist hack Caroline Crocker’s Powerpoint presentation shown to her students and claiming that Hyracotherium (previously Eohippus) is not a perissodactyl but instead is the same as the modern hyrax. That’s like saying a fox is a cat. Bad bad science.

There is no scientific debate about the accuracy of the theory of evolution. It is universally agreed upon. There are controversies in evolution, but these appear at a very high level, and are regarding topics like the environmental factors related to certain evolutionary events, the exact pattern of some evolutionary trends, and the relative importance of different factors in evolutionary transformations. All of these debates first of all directly support the theory of evolution and secondly require a high level of understanding and education to even begin to discuss. These kinds of discussions are not going to be possible in a high-school classroom, they’re not even completely possible in a grad-school classroom.

There is no scientific controversy about the basic accuracy of the theory of evolution as taught at a high-school level. Attempts to require teachers to “critique” the theory of evolution in high school are covert attempts to sneak creationism into science classrooms. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.

I’m wondering what you mean by “Darwinism”, and what it is that you don’t like about it? I see “Darwinism” show up so often, and usually when it appears it means something very different than what I mean by it.

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Jason May 2, 2008 at 1:12 am

I think this is probably something better left to college classes than high school. Maybe even upper division classes. It’s a great idea to have students examine critiques of evolution objectively so that they can see how the scientific community came to the conclusion evolution is correct (also by examining potential flaws.
But I don’t know that high school students can do this ‘objectively.’ At that age so much of your opinion can be influenced by emotional appeal and what your peers/elders believe.

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Copache May 3, 2008 at 11:19 am

For a teacher, you’re sort of odd.

Questioning evolution, the theory, is like questioning the history of the United States and saying that because we don’t know everything about the US or its history it can’t exist.

The theory of evolution will have so-called holes, but the reason is that the theory of evolution is just that: a theory. To clarify, it’s not just a theory. The point is, theories are constantly being modified as new evidence comes in.

Evolution is “Darwinian” at this point as much as the laws of the universe belong to Isaac Newton. A lot of new information has come to surface since Darwin’s time that he would have never dreamed of. DNA, for instance, was the hereditary factor he hypothesized but had no way to prove which causes the modifications required for life to “evolve”.

The whole reason this “Academic Freedom” thing is horribly wrong is that they’re casting doubt solely on evolution. That’s doing two things:

1. Stating that none of the other things they’re being taught have any so-called “holes” or are questioned in the least, and;
2. Makes the doubt amongst people grow so that eventually someone will say something to the effect of “if there are so many holes in evolution, why are we teaching it?” or “it alone?” and then that’s the way that intelligent design works its way into the classroom.

Didn’t you think there was a reason the conservative think-tank the Discovery Institute (the same fear-mongering idiots behind Expelled, which is historically inaccurate, your field) is funding these bills?

They KNOW what they’re doing, and want you to think they’re doing something else. You’ve fallen right into their trap.

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