Evolution as Design

The world is flat; astronauts did not go to the moon; and the Earth is 10,000 years old.

A recent poll reported that very few people in the US accept the theory of evolution as a valid explanation for the creation of life on Earth. According to the National Center for Science Education, in a 24-country poll, 41% of the respondents identified themselves as “evolutionists” and 28% as “creationists”, and 31% indicating they don’t know what to believe. In the US, 28% were “evolutionists”, with the “creationist” view held by 40%. The evolution view was most popular in Sweden, with the U.S. ranking 18.

According to Edward O. Wilson, creation myths were Darwinian in nature in that just about all cultures devised myths for survival.  It gives members of society an explanation for human existence.  Wilson goes on to say:

Tribal conflict, where believers on the inside were pitted against infidels on the outside, was a principal driving force that shaped biological human nature. The truth of each myth lived in the heart, not in the rational mind. By itself, mythmaking could never discover the origin and meaning of humanity. But the reverse order is possible. The discovery of the origin and meaning of humanity might explain the origin and meaning of myths, hence the core of organized religion.  Wilson, Edward O. (2012-04-02). The Social Conquest of Earth (Kindle Locations 194-198). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Darwinian evolution and creation science (including intelligent design) are two world views, and Wilson asks if these worldviews can be reconciled?  His answer is no.  As he puts it:

Their opposition defines the difference between science and religion, between trust in empiricism and belief in the supernatural.  Wilson, Edward O. (2012-04-02). The Social Conquest of Earth (Kindle Locations 199-200). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Wilson explains that from the 1859 theory of natural selection by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace, science has provided in part the following:

There is a real creation story of humanity, and one only, and it is not a myth. It is being worked out and tested, and enriched and strengthened, step by step. Wilson, Edward O. (2012-04-02). The Social Conquest of Earth (Kindle Locations 224-225). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Science teachers, who work to offer a bridge between the world of science, and the world of youth have to give experiences in an environment that is open and not dogmatic.  Students come to school with scientific perceptions that have been built up and learned over time. Students arriving in 9th grade biology have constructed ideas about origins, inheritance, genes, cells, traits, and the relationship between natural selection and the environment. Because these ideas overlap with their religious beliefs and their family’s political beliefs, there is often a conflict for them about evolution, and other controversial ideas in science. The important notion is that students enter courses in science with beliefs about evolution, climate change, and global warming, and each of these ideas has become politicized by various advocacy groups, and of course, the press.

Building on students prior knowledge is one of the guiding principles that teachers and researchers have discovered as crucial to deep learning.  Work in the field of the learning sciences has shown that one of the best ways for students to learn is in classrooms where teachers build on their prior knowledge.  In the context of teaching evolutionary theory, students views on evolution are probably not very different from the adult population’s acceptance of the theory of evolution as a valid explanation of the origin of life.  Research by Ron Anderson suggests that it is a mistake to ignore students’ world views which may conflict with the scientific worldview of the origin of life.  As I’ve suggested here, it flies in the face of constructivist learning and the learning sciences.

Science and religion are two differing world views.  But because we have created a curriculum that compartmentalized knowledge and study, science teachers are put in a precarious position.  Although we have experimented with interdisciplinary curriculum and study, science is taught in science class, and religion is taught in social science courses.  Although I agree with Wilson that science and religion cannot be reconciled, it’s not a valid pedagogical strategy to ignore the interactions in student’s minds about origins.

Unfortunately, for more than a century, the teaching of evolution has been politicized.  The famous Scopes Trial is the embodiment of the cultural war that succeeds to this day.  In the 1970s creation science made its way into schools, only to be rebuffed by the courts.  Intelligent design is a form of creationism, and especially promoted by the Discovery Institute.  Politicians and state and local school board members have worked in concert with the Discovery Institute to pass laws either suggesting that I.D. be taught alongside evolution, or that “controversial” scientific theories such as evolution, global warming, and cloning be scrutinized under the banner of “academic freedom bills.”

 

Click on Darwin Two Pound Coin to go to Evolution as Design

Evolution by Design is a new eBook exploring how the teaching of evolution has become a rallying cry for conservatives and religious fundamentalists who think that creationism or intelligent design should be considered along and be given equal time as evolution.  Creationism and intelligent design have been rejected by one court decision after another, but the forces behind this movement are still lurking.

They have made stealth appearances in Louisiana and Tennessee classrooms.   Over the past four years, these two states have passed laws that protect teachers if they present scientific information about the full range of scientific views about biological and chemical evolution in applicable curricula or in a course of learning.

Behind these two laws is the Discovery Institute, a non-science propaganda organization whose chief purpose is to attack Darwinian evolution, and wedge intelligent design into the science curriculum. Foiled by the courts to pull a fast one and claim that I.D. is science, the Discovery Institute now hides behind its new campaign of preserving the ”academic freedom” of teachers.

The academic freedom bills that were passed in Louisiana (2008), and Tennessee (2012) disguise their intent of teaching creationism and intelligent design using clever and slick language that they are coming to the rescue of science teachers by passing a law that protects teachers’ academic freedom to present lessons questioning and critiquing scientific theories being studied including but not limited to evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning. Kind of a poor “Trojan horse” scenario, don’t you think? Where is the theory of gravity, plate tectonics, and atomic theory on their to do list?

Evolution by Design is comprised of four chapters

  • The Law of Evolution: The title of this section comes from a statement made by James Watson in which he said, “Lets not beat around the bush–the common assumption that evolution through natural selection is a “theory “in the same way as string theory is a theory is wrong. EVOLUTION IS A LAW (with several components) that is as well substantiated as any other natural law, whether the Law of Gravity, the Laws of Motion, or Avogadro’s Law.”
  • Evolution in the States:  Over the past decade the evolution wars have been played out in a number of states, including: Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Texas, Tennessee and Louisiana.  We take a look at these events.
  • Intelligent Design.  I.D. is creationism in disguise, and has been used as a wedge to get into the science curriculum as an alternative to Darwinian evolution.  We ask what Darwin would think, and why a judge ruled that I.D. is not science.
  • Teaching Evolution: Teaching evolution in church, teaching science “critically,” and issues that teachers face in the classroom.

A Kindle edition of Evolution as Design is available on Amazon, and is free through August 14, 2012.

Creationism and Intelligent Design make Stealth Appearances in Louisiana and Tennessee Science Classrooms

Over the past four years, two states have passed laws that protect teachers if they present scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical evolution in applicable curricula or in a course of learning.  Protecting teachers?  Have these legislators heard of VAM?  No protection of teachers here.

What is really going on?

Behind these two laws is the Discovery Institute, a non-science propagada organization whose chief purpose is to attack Darwinian evolution, and wedge intelligent design into the science curriculum.  Foiled by the courts to pull a fast one and claim that I.D. is science, the Discovery Institute now hides behind its new campaign of preserving the  “academic freedom” of teachers.

The academic freedom bills that have been passed in Louisiana (2008), and Tennessee (2012) disguise their intent of teaching creationism and intelligent design using clever and slick  language that they are coming to the rescue of science teachers by passing a law that protects teachers’ academic freedom to present lessons questioning and critiquing scientific theories being studied including but not limited to evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.  Kind of a poor “Trojan horse” scenario, don’t you think?  Where is the theory of gravity, plate tectonics, and atomic theory on their to do list?

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science refers to the Louisiana Science Education Act as a “stealth creationism bill, that actually evolved from another bill, “The LA Academic Freedom Act,” which descended from the original bill that was created by the Discovery Institute.  The Tennessee Act also descended from the Discovery Institute’s bill.

Discovery Institute Dispersal Tree: Academic Freedom for Science Teachers!

The Discovery Institute disperses its ideas by making them public on its website .  If you are a state legislator, all you have to do is go here to copy or download the Discovery Institute’s Free Speech Campaign bill.  Now you are all set to fill in the blanks with the name of you state, and bingo, you can present your academic freedom bill in your state house.  This has actually been done in five states, with Louisiana and Tennessee getting the job done.  One more thing.  Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana signed their bill, the Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee wimped out! Continue reading “Creationism and Intelligent Design make Stealth Appearances in Louisiana and Tennessee Science Classrooms”

If You Teach Evolution, You May Be Required to Teach It Critically!

Legislators in several states believe that laws need to be passed to ensure that students are engaged in critical thinking activities. However, the legislators have limited their own thinking, and have selected specific scientific theories that should be examined critically, one of course, is evolution. Around the country, this trend is on the move. Here are few examples:

  • June 17, 2008: The Louisiana Science Education Act is signed by Governor Jindal. The act promotes critical thinking skills and objective discussion of scientific theories, but mentions only evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning (which is not a theory).
  • February 10, 2009, Missouri House of Representatives, House Bill No. 656. If passed, beginning in the Fall of 2009, teachers would help students critically analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weakness of biological or chemical evolution whenever they are taught. No mention is made of any other scientific theory that might be subject to critical thinking.
  • February 17, 2009, Florida Senate, Senate Bill 2396. Led by Senator Wise, an act requiring that the instructional staff teach a thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution…Senator Wise also has said that he intends to make it a law that science teachers must teach intelligent design.

The Louisiana Science Act, signed by Governor Jindall last year is a good example of the attempt by some to enforce their religious views under the guise of critical thinking. The basic idea is that certain theories in science need to be discussed critically if students are to understand the nature of the ideas surrounding the theory. The problem here is that, the legislators, backed by organizations such as the Discovery Institute, (a creationist, intelligent organization) only want certain theories considered in this discussion. And these theories have had a history of controversy in American science education for nearly 100 years. No mention of gravity. Haven’t heard them mention atomic theory. Nor have I seen the Theory of Plate Tectonics on their list. But we do find:

  • Evolution
  • Origins of Life
  • Global Warming
  • Human Cloning

This latest ploy of suggesting that these ideas need to be analyzed and discussed critically is simply another way for creationists, and intelligent design advocates to enter the realm of science education. The National Center for Science Education keeps a watchful eye on these kinds of events, and has made recent posts regarding the goings on in Florida and Missouri. What is most important in these cases to examine who is proposing these bills. In the Missouri case, the legislators in question were sponsors of filed antievolution bill in the past. They keep proposing the bills, and if they don’t get enacted, they come back a year later, and try again. In the Louisiana case, the Governor did sign anti-evolution legislation, and it is known as the Louisiana Science Education Act. However, the National Center for Science Education dubbed this Act as a creationist bill, stated that the bill will enable educators to pull religious beliefs into topics such as evolution.

It isn’t necessary to legislate thinking. I recently visited and taught a lesson on evolution to about 40 7th graders. The focus of the lesson was Darwin, Fossils and Other Stuff, and you can read about what I did with the students here. Several days after the lesson, I received letters from the students about my visit. There was lots of critical thinking in the minds of the students that I met that day.  Here is what one student wrote:

Dear Dr. Jack,

I really appreciate your coming and teaching us about evolution. Thank you very much for spending your time to come and to see us. Even though I don’t believe in evolution, I’m glad I know more about it to help me witness to my peers. I do pray that maybe one day you will believe in creationism and see all species for the uniqueness God made them to be. Once again I do thank you for your thoughts,

Sincerely

Students are quite able to think critically without passing laws to make it happen.
Students are quite able to think critically without passing laws to make it happen.

Clearly this student was involved in critical thinking as evidenced in his letter. As this student has indicated, he will construct his knowledge of {science} and will try and incorporate it into his own world view. We do not need legislators telling teachers how to teach, or students how to think. Legislators need to get out of the way.  Teachers and students  seem to be able to do teaching & learning quite well, thank you.

Kansas Reverses Science Standards on Evolution

Science education is in the news again in Kansas. The Kansas State Board of Education has changed the language in the science standards suggesting that basic evolutionary concepts were controversial and being challenged by new research. Now this statement is out, and the definition of science has reverted to its earlier version limiting science to the search for natural explanations of what is observed in the universe.

The reversal is the result in the composition of the Kansas Board of Education. Now dems and moderates outnumber conservatives, resulting in the shift away from “creationism,” “intelligent design,” and the notion that evolution is a controversial concept, and therefore should be scrutinized in classroom discussions. One might wonder why science educators would disagree with this last notion—isn’t discussion in science class a good thing. Yes it is. Yes, it should happen. Yes, it does happen. However, in the Kansas case, a clever group (the Discovery Institute—and excuse me, this is an oxymoron) has used the notion of “controversy” to claim that students should have directed discussions showing the “research” and “controversies” surrounding evolution. The problem is that there is no scientific support for these “research findings” or “controversies.

All concepts in science should be discussed, not simply evolution. In fact, a powerful teaching strategy in science classrooms is debate—the setting up of opportunities for students to debate ideas in science. One specific way to do this is the “case study” method. You can explore many science cases by visiting a collection of cases at The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. A brief scroll down the list of cases shows the breath of topics in science class that should be discussed.

Intelligent Design Again in the News

Last Sunday (3/12/06), the Rev. Nelson Price of Marietta, GA wrote in his Sunday column in the Marietta Daily Journal, “Intelligent design infers there was a designer.” He brought up old arguments related to the issue: scientists are stifling free speech by not allowing intelligent design into the classroom of science; our youth are being protected from such dangerous concepts at I.D.; some things in nature are just too complex to have evolved by means of natural selection—a designer needed to step in and form these complex systems whole; the watch and watchmaker analogy; the orbit of the earth is just right because of an intelligent designer (this is a new one).

In response to Price’s article was one (3/15/06)by Ed Buckner, Southern Director, Council for Secular Humanism. The article, entitled Price wrong again about Intelligent Design claimed that Price’s column was nothing but old wine in a new bottle, and the wine had soured.

I submitted an article to the MDJ after reading Price’s article. Here it is:

Scientific Explanations need to underscore science teaching

I look forward to reading Rev. Price’s Sunday editorial in the Marietta Daily Journal. I generally find the discussions in his pieces thoughtful. I was, therefore, surprised at his piece last Sunday, entitled “Intelligent design infers there was a designer. I am surprised that Rev. Price does not see the religious basis for intelligent design, when interestingly he was arguing that it was a scientific idea, and that our youth were being prevented from learning about this idea.

Centuries before Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace (co-discoverers of the theory of evolution by natural selection), were born, the idea that an intelligent designer was responsible for an organism’s complexity was well know. The leading proponent of the idea was the English theologian Richard Paley creator of the famous watchmaker analogy, written in 1802, that Rev. Price referred to in his piece. Paley’s idea of an intelligent designer was replaced by the theory of evolution by natural selection about 50 years later when Darwin published his famous book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. In 2005, two books were published on Darwin’s contribution. Each book was edited by two well known scientists, James D. Watson and Edward O. Wilson. Each book contained four of Charles Darwin’s books, including his “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.

The idea of intelligent design was revived in 1991 by U.C. Berkeley law professor Philip Johnson after he had a religious conversion, in his book, “Darwin on Trial”. Later Johnson joined with the Discovery Institute in Seattle to promote the idea by affecting change in the curriculum of the nation’s schools. Not through research (as they claim) but through press releases and propaganda. Johnson’s idea, known as “wedge theory” is designed to drive a wedge (as to split a log) into evolutionary biology. There is no research agenda; but there is a very rigorous public relations program.

The science education community has not been involved trying to hold our youth hostage or protecting them from ideas such as intelligent design. Instead our youth have been pawns in a game led by real activists—the Discovery Institute and the Thomas More Law Center whose goal is to wedge their way into science classrooms through intimidation and propaganda.

Rev. Price refers to a “ever-expanding cadre of academicians” that are associated with the intelligent design movement. An analysis of these academicians reveals that very few of them are in the field of science and most are lawyers, government employees, engineers, and theologians. There is no scientific basis for intelligent design, even though Rev. Price claims that there is. The Discovery Institute does not have a scientific research program, and the central concept of the intelligent design ideology, irreducible complexity (in lay terms, some things are so complex they came into being whole—e.g. requiring an intelligent designer). The example they use over and over again is that bacterial cells are propelled by rotary type engines called flagella motors. According to Michael Behe (I.D. proponent), the rotary motor is irreducibly complex, it couldn’t have come into being via natural selection; it must have come into being whole. The problem is that this is not true. Parts can be removed, and it still works. Flagella came into being through natural selection.

The flaw here is that I.D. proponents want to define intelligent design negatively, as anything that is not chance or necessity. Science requires positive evidence. And this is what Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace did independent of each other.

And finally, the orb of the Earth’s orbit that Rev. Price mentions was explained centuries ago for Sir Isaac Newton in his Universal Law of Gravity, or should we rename it the Theory of Gravity.

Darwin, like Newton, proposed a scientific rather than a religious explanation: the fit between organisms and environments is the result of natural selection. Like all scientific explanations, his relies on natural causation. And this is the kind of thinking that should be espoused in science classrooms.