The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny...' --Isaac Asimov
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How I would teach evolution

September 11th, 2008 by eric

I haven’t been placed in the situation yet, or rather I haven’t placed myself in the situation yet, but as I continue to read articles about the conflict between science and religion on the teaching of evolution, some patterns seem to emerge. I’d like to find solutions to these pitfalls for the day that I do begin teaching. The high school biology teacher glorified (for good reason) on the cover of a recent issue of the New York Times (A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash), has found his own solutions to some of these pitfalls, and I’ve thought of some others that I would like to try some day.

Firstly, a commonly circulated memorandum put out by our very own (dearly despised) Discovery Institute of Seattle, Washington, lists “10 questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution.” Eight of the ten questions are phrased as “why do textbooks…” say this or that about evolution. I haven’t read the biology textbooks since I was in high school biology, and I’m actually slightly frightened of what they might say, but one way to answer this kind of question is by acknowledging and understanding the process by which science ends up in textbooks. And I think the only way to do this is to read primary literature. You can’t understand an automobile by admiring a Lamborghini — you’ve got to pop the hood. Particularly, to show a gradation from how scientists speak with each other and transmit information, to how that ends up in graduate level textbooks, to how that gets reported in the media, and how it ends up in high school textbooks. The purpose of those “10 questions” is not to question the scientific basis of evolution, the purpose is to undermine the Scientific Authority. If you can undermine the Authority of the Science Textbook in students’ minds, believe the creationists, then you can undermine Evolution. What needs to made clear is that scientists do not (or should not, ideally) appeal to authority to answer scientific questions. True Scientists appeal to data. It needs to be made clear that the only way to undermine evolution is to undermine the data supporting it, which is exactly what is not being done by creationists, because it cannot be done. At least, it hasn’t yet.

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