Saturday, August 20, 2005

Teaching Evolution in High School

So I've been a little puzzled about the brouhaha over teaching "Intelligent Design" in public schools. I recall my 9th grade biology class with Mr. Creveling at Oxon Hill High School in 1984 and wonder why his fairly obvious approach has not been spontaneously adopted universally.

Mr. Creveling taught us in detail many origin and development theories. I specifically remember Darwinian Evolution, Lamarckian Evolution, Guided Evolution (as Intelligent Design was known in the '80s), Instantaneous Creation, Punctuated Equilibrium (per Gould), and Panspermia. For each of these theories, we discussed them from a scientific perspective: what predictions do they make, are these predictions testable, what evidence supports them, what evidence do they fail to account for.

I remember reading a paper that argued there is more evidence for Punctuated Equilibrium than Darwinian Evolution. I remember discussing a particular experiment with certain yeasts that seemed to be only accounted for by Lamarckian Evolution and no other theory. I remember learning the phrase "begs the question" as we discussed Panspermia. I remember learning that almost every evolutionary biologist believes that Darwin did not manage to tell the whole story, much as Newton didn't write the last word on gravity, Mendel did not write the last word on genetics, and Freud did not write the last word on psychoanalysis.

For us 14-year-olds, all of this information enabled us to make well-informed and scientifically-based decisions about our understanding of evolution. Mr. Creveling seemed to be a Darwinian with reservations, but he did not insist that all of us agree with him, only that we could explain the scientific implications of what we did believe. I personally believe in Guided Evolution manifested as Punctuated Equilibrium.

My point is that it is perfectly straightforward for a teacher to teach multiple theories of evolution without sacrificing his scientific credentials. All a teacher need do is look at each theory from a scientific perspective and Socratically allow his students to judge. In fact, a teacher need not refrain from articulating which theory he prefers, and defending that decision. However, the teacher must provide his students with the toolbox to discuss these issues scientifically. None of this would constitute establishment of religion, hostility to religion, or scientific bankrupcy.

Thanks, Mr. Creveling, for your excellent instruction. I hope other teachers follow your lead.


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