Evolution Takes a Back Seat in U.S. Classes

Discussion in 'Science' started by mioque, Feb 2, 2005.

  1. mioque

    mioque
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    This is from the New York Times

    "Dr. John Frandsen, a retired zoologist, was at a dinner for teachers in Birmingham, Ala., recently when he met a young woman who had just begun work as a biology teacher in a small school district in the state. Their conversation turned to evolution.

    "She confided that she simply ignored evolution because she knew she'd get in trouble with the principal if word got about that she was teaching it," he recalled. "She told me other teachers were doing the same thing."

    Though the teaching of evolution makes the news when officials propose, as they did in Georgia, that evolution disclaimers be affixed to science textbooks, or that creationism be taught along with evolution in biology classes, stories like the one Dr. Frandsen tells are more common.

    In districts around the country, even when evolution is in the curriculum it may not be in the classroom, according to researchers who follow the issue.

    Teaching guides and textbooks may meet the approval of biologists, but superintendents or principals discourage teachers from discussing it. Or teachers themselves avoid the topic, fearing protests from fundamentalists in their communities.

    "The most common remark I've heard from teachers was that the chapter on evolution was assigned as reading but that virtually no discussion in class was taken," said Dr. John R. Christy, a climatologist at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, an evangelical Christian and a member of Alabama's curriculum review board who advocates the teaching of evolution. Teachers are afraid to raise the issue, he said in an e-mail message, and they are afraid to discuss the issue in public.

    Dr. Frandsen, former chairman of the committee on science and public policy of the Alabama Academy of Science, said in an interview that this fear made it impossible to say precisely how many teachers avoid the topic.

    "You're not going to hear about it," he said. "And for political reasons nobody will do a survey among randomly selected public school children and parents to ask just what is being taught in science classes."

    But he said he believed the practice of avoiding the topic was widespread, particularly in districts where many people adhere to fundamentalist faiths.

    "You can imagine how difficult it would be to teach evolution as the standards prescribe in ever so many little towns, not only in Alabama but in the rest of the South, the Midwest - all over," Dr. Frandsen said.

    Dr. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, said she heard "all the time" from teachers who did not teach evolution "because it's just too much trouble."

    "Or their principals tell them, 'We just don't have time to teach everything so let's leave out the things that will cause us problems,' " she said.

    Sometimes, Dr. Scott said, parents will ask that their children be allowed to "opt out" of any discussion of evolution and principals lean on teachers to agree.

    Even where evolution is taught, teachers may be hesitant to give it full weight. Ron Bier, a biology teacher at Oberlin High School in Oberlin, Ohio, said that evolution underlies many of the central ideas of biology and that it is crucial for students to understand it. But he avoids controversy, he said, by teaching it not as "a unit," but by introducing the concept here and there throughout the year. "I put out my little bits and pieces wherever I can," he said.

    He noted that his high school, in a college town, has many students whose parents are professors who have no problem with the teaching of evolution. But many other students come from families that may not accept the idea, he said, "and that holds me back to some extent."

    "I don't force things," Mr. Bier added. "I don't argue with students about it."

    In this, he is typical of many science teachers, according to a report by the Fordham Foundation, which studies educational issues and backs programs like charter schools and vouchers.

    Some teachers avoid the subject altogether, Dr. Lawrence S. Lerner, a physicist and historian of science, wrote in the report. Others give it very short shrift or discuss it without using "the E word," relying instead on what Dr. Lerner characterized as incorrect or misleading phrases, like "change over time."

    Dr. Gerald Wheeler, a physicist who heads the National Science Teachers Association, said many members of his organization "fly under the radar" of fundamentalists by introducing evolution as controversial, which scientifically it is not, or by noting that many people do not accept it, caveats not normally offered for other parts of the science curriculum.

    Dr. Wheeler said the science teachers' organization hears "constantly" from science teachers who want the organization's backing. "What they are asking for is 'Can you support me?' " he said, and the help they seek "is more political; it's not pedagogical."

    There is no credible scientific challenge to the idea that all living things evolved from common ancestors, that evolution on earth has been going on for billions of years and that evolution can be and has been tested and confirmed by the methods of science. But in a 2001 survey, the National Science Foundation found that only 53 percent of Americans agreed with the statement "human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals."

    And this was good news to the foundation. It was the first time one of its regular surveys showed a majority of Americans had accepted the idea. According to the foundation report, polls consistently show that a plurality of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago, and about two-thirds believe that this belief should be taught along with evolution in public schools.

    These findings set the United States apart from all other industrialized nations, said Dr. Jon Miller, director of the Center for Biomedical Communications at Northwestern University, who has studied public attitudes toward science. Americans, he said, have been evenly divided for years on the question of evolution, with about 45 percent accepting it, 45 percent rejecting it and the rest undecided.

    In other industrialized countries, Dr. Miller said, 80 percent or more typically accept evolution, most of the others say they are not sure and very few people reject the idea outright.

    "In Japan, something like 96 percent accept evolution," he said. Even in socially conservative, predominantly Catholic countries like Poland, perhaps 75 percent of people surveyed accept evolution, he said. "It has not been a Catholic issue or an Asian issue," he said.

    Indeed, two popes, Pius XII in 1950 and John Paul II in 1996, have endorsed the idea that evolution and religion can coexist. "I have yet to meet a Catholic school teacher who skips evolution," Dr. Scott said.

    Dr. Gerald D. Skoog, a former dean of the College of Education at Texas Tech University and a former president of the science teachers' organization, said that in some classrooms, the teaching of evolution was hampered by the beliefs of the teachers themselves, who are creationists or supporters of the teaching of creationism.

    "Data from various studies in various states over an extended period of time indicate that about one-third of biology teachers support the teaching of creationism or 'intelligent design,' " Dr. Skoog said.

    Advocates for the teaching of evolution provide teachers or school officials who are challenged on it with information to help them make the case that evolution is completely accepted as a bedrock idea of science. Organizations like the science teachers' association, the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science provide position papers and other information on the subject. The National Association of Biology Teachers devoted a two-day meeting to the subject last summer, Dr. Skoog said.

    Other advocates of teaching evolution are making the case that a person can believe both in God and the scientific method. "People have been told by some evangelical Christians and by some scientists, that you have to choose." Dr. Scott said. "That is just wrong."

    While plenty of scientists reject religion - the eminent evolutionary theorist Richard Dawkins famously likens it to a disease - many others do not. In fact, when a researcher from the University of Georgia surveyed scientists' attitudes toward religion several years ago, he found their positions virtually unchanged from an identical survey in the early years of the 20th century. About 40 percent of scientists said not just that they believed in God, but in a God who communicates with people and to whom one may pray "in expectation of receiving an answer."

    Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, said he thought the great variety of religious groups in the United States led to competition for congregants. This marketplace environment, he said, contributes to the politicization of issues like evolution among religious groups.

    He said the teaching of evolution was portrayed not as scientific instruction but as "an assault of the secular elite on the values of God-fearing people." As a result, he said, politicians don't want to touch it. "Everybody discovers the wisdom of federalism here very quickly," he said. "Leave it at the state or the local level."

    But several experts say scientists are feeling increasing pressure to make their case, in part, Dr. Miller said, because scriptural literalists are moving beyond evolution to challenge the teaching of geology and physics on issues like the age of the earth and the origin of the universe.

    "They have now decided the Big Bang has to be wrong," he said. "There are now a lot of people who are insisting that that be called only a theory without evidence and so on, and now the physicists are getting mad about this."
    "
     
  2. Deacon

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    Interesting, I don't remember ever being taught evolutionary theory either when I was a student (many moons ago).

    In fact the most awe inspiring class that proved to me that there was a Creator was basic cellular biology.

    There was a time when the Big-bang theory was dismissed by scientists because it proved that there was a begining and philosophically therefore a 'prime mover'.

    Rob
     
  3. TC

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    My first high school biology teacher mentioned evolution because it was in the first chapter of the textbook. Then, he said what he believed and read from the first chapter of Genesis. That was back in 1983 or 84.
     
  4. mioque

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    Rob
    I think that the first scientist who speculated about the possible existance of the Big Bang was a Roman Catholic priest.
     
  5. billwald

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    And no credible evidence that the world is an oblate spheroid and orbits the sun.
     
  6. UTEOTW

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    I find it quite interesting that YEers scream about how young earth ideas are discriminated against yet the teachers talk about being to intimidated to teach the actual science.
     
  7. billwald

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    What is the purpose of teaching anything about science to kids who have never been taught to think clearly and analyze data? Who can't read and write proper English? The purpose is to convince the drones that they are intelligent, educated, and in charge of their lives while their masters control their lives. Why else do a third of public school teachers send their kids to ptivate schools?
     
  8. RTG

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    Where the public schools fall short on the issue of evangelizing the country with evolution,the media and our instatutes of higher learning will pick up the slack of planting all those seeds that are millions of years old.Actual science now days is a double minded,I mean a word with more than one meaning.I think the teachers will one day be glad they didn't teach it.
     
  9. UTEOTW

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    Why would they one day be glad that they did not teach the theory that holds together all of biology? As Dobzhansky said in his essay of the same name, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."

    Read the essay yourself.

    http://www.2think.org/dobzhansky.shtml
     
  10. TC

    TC
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    Maybe for you and Dobzhansky, but for me biology makes perfect sense to me in light of the fact that God says in the Bible that He created all things.
     
  11. billwald

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    Everything makes perfect sense if the starting point and end point is that God poofed everything. There is then no logical reason to investigate anything.
     
  12. UTEOTW

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    I am not sure what more young earthers want. Evolution has already been essentially driven from the classes of America. For all the talk of "evangelizing" and indoctrinating the children, human evolution is only included in 8% of the state science standards. It is a subject that frankly is not taught to our children. (THough it should be!)

    Source: "The Emphasis Given to Evolution in State Science Standards: A lever for Change in Evolution Education?" Gerald Skoog, Kimberly Bilica, 2002
     
  13. El_Guero

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    Mioque,

    It is about time!
    I was taught evolution in school ... with tax payer money ... I was taught to consider evolution to be fact.
     
  14. El_Guero

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    Mioque,

    Have you heard anymore? Is it possible that children won't be brain washed like we were when I was a kid?
     
  15. UTEOTW

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    So you think it will be good to now brainwash kids with the pseudoscience of ID, something that has no testable, falsifiable, predictive theory, instead of teaching them good science? How could you be happy about that?
     
  16. just-want-peace

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    You're saying that evolution has a "testable, falsifiable, predictive theory"?? Really?
    1) TESTABLE: If so, how do you test a process, that by definition takes millons of years to occur?
    2) FALSIFIABLE: For a process that is so slow, how can you falsify it? I don't doubt the possibility, but am just curious as to the method.
    3) PREDICTIVE: Again, for such a lo-o-o-ong process, how in the world can you ever gather enough info to predict?

    I ask the question again that I asked long ago and never received an answer.
    "What is the bedrock fact(s) that you have upon which you base your belief of evolution. Not the data, but the "ROCK" upon which, (if proven wrong evolution would disappear even as a theory), the foundation exists?"

    Up front I'll admit that there is no "bedrock" in science for the "6 day" creation belief (as far as I know anyway), but my belief in this is not "science", but the Word of God.

    So unless you can furnish that "undisputed foundation rock" for evolution, then it's just a matter of which you trust more, God or science!
     
  17. UTEOTW

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    "What is the bedrock fact(s) that you have upon which you base your belief of evolution. Not the data, but the "ROCK" upon which, (if proven wrong evolution would disappear even as a theory), the foundation exists?"

    It IS the data. How can there be anything else? Just as chemistry and physics and geology all rest on their data.

    "So unless you can furnish that "undisputed foundation rock" for evolution, then it's just a matter of which you trust more, God or science!"

    This is a false dilemma, a logical fallacy.

    Try this bit of deductive reasoning.

    The Bible is true.
    The earth is old.
    Therefore any interpretation that tries to make a young earth interpretation of the Bible is by definition wrong.

    "You're saying that evolution has a "testable, falsifiable, predictive theory"?? Really?
    1) TESTABLE: If so, how do you test a process, that by definition takes millons of years to occur?
    2) FALSIFIABLE: For a process that is so slow, how can you falsify it? I don't doubt the possibility, but am just curious as to the method.
    3) PREDICTIVE: Again, for such a lo-o-o-ong process, how in the world can you ever gather enough info to predict?
    "

    Maybe this would be easier to give an example.

    If you take a look at whales, you will see some of the pieces of evidence that lead towards evolution. A key thing to remember is that it is the whole of the data and not just any piece that is key.

    Whales are mammals. They breathe air. They produce milk. They give birth to live offspring instead of laying eggs. During their development, whale embryoes have rear legs which disappear before birth. This is an example of ontogeny or developmental evidence for evolution. Sometimes the programmed cell death that should eliminate the legs fails to act and a whale will be born with rear legs. THis is another bit of evidence and are called atavisms.

    Now, since the sea mammals have genes for making legs and most other mammals live on land, it was predicted that ancestors of whales should be found in the fossil record that are intermediate between whales and land dwelling animals. And this prediction came true. Some of these animals are Pakicetus, Rodhocetus, Dorudon, Ambulocetus, and Basilosaurus. So there is an example of the predictive power of evolution. It also opens up another line of evidence, the fossil record.

    Now, once we found the fossil record for whales, we discovered that whales evolved from hooved animals. So we make another prediction. If you genetically test whales and various animals, you should find that whales are the closest to other hooved animals, specifically the even toed ungulates. When we did the actual genetic testing, whales did indeed test to be most closely related to animals such as pigs and camels. (Such a relationship would never be predicted by the "kinds" concept!) So this is another successful preddiction.

    It is also an example of a couple of more kinds of evidence. The first is the relationships shown by geneticis. The second is extremely important. It is the twin nested heirarchy. This is how evolutionary trees produced by independent means point to the same conclusion.

    You should see now how evolution makes successful predictions. Next let's talk about falsifiable.

    I mentioned ontogeny and development. Falsification would come by finding development that does not make sense. Legs on a shark embryo, for example. Lactal nipples on a developing amphibian would be another.

    Atavisms - This could be falsified by having animals born with atavistic feature that would not be expected. For example if a mammal were to be born with atavistic feathers, this could not be explained.

    I'll stop here on falsification for succinctness. I can elaborate if needed.

    The things such as I have mentioned are also tests for evolution. Beyond this, you can test and observe the mechanisms even if you cannot observe the long-term outcome in your life time. For example, we have observed many species developing new genes and new features through mutation. This and the other mechanisms can be observed and tested.
     
  18. El_Guero

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    just-want-peace

    Are they really gonna pull that trash out of schools and let children grow up with indoctrination?

    I would vote for that and against any one that would continue to support those lies.

    I am so tired of spending so much of our money on that religion and all of its high priests. If they spent that money on christian preachers, the world would know Jesus!
     
  19. UTEOTW

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    Bet you cannot show that evolution is actually only supported with "lies." For that matter, I'd like to see your idea of any lies being used to support evolution.

    You cannot show that it is a religion. It meets none of the criteria.

    But this will not stop the assertions, will it? You have not seemed to care about supporting any of your other assertions with facts or with confronting the evidence that shows your assertions to be false.
     
  20. Daisy

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    You're saying that evolution has a "testable, falsifiable, predictive theory"?? Really?
    1) TESTABLE: If so, how do you test a process, that by definition takes millons of years to occur?
    2) FALSIFIABLE: For a process that is so slow, how can you falsify it? I don't doubt the possibility, but am just curious as to the method.
    3) PREDICTIVE: Again, for such a lo-o-o-ong process, how in the world can you ever gather enough info to predict?
    </font>[/QUOTE]If, say, all cats, or a single cat, conceived and gave birth to a different species, a dolphin for instance - that would disprove evolution and genetic theory. If, after you cut off a dog's tail, all of its offspring were born with cut-off tails, the theory of evolution and inheritence would be disproven.

    Simple evolution does not necessarily take millions of years, but over millions of years, its effects become more pronounced.

    The predictions don't only mean what will happen in the future, but what we expect to find and expect not to find in the present and in the past. For instance, evolution predicts that after a species has diverged into speciesA and speciesB, whatever traits that developed in speciesA that were not present in the original species, will not be found in the same form in speciesB.
     

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