Innovative Teaching of Evolution


I made reference to this in a comment, but thought I’d promote it. The Guardian has a video up on innovative approaches to teaching evolution to secondary school students in Great Britain. It also interviews Martin Reiss, the recently resigned/ousted Education Officer of the Royal Society.

Added in edit: John Pieret has a post on a survey associated with the show. (Though I apparently can’t send a trackback there.)


While I didn’t mention it, the survey apparently also supported Reiss’ position:

Nearly nine in 10 respondents agreed with Reiss that teachers should engage with pupils who raise creationism or intelligent design in science lessons. Reiss said at the time that creationism was not science and he did not advocate giving it equal time alongside evolution, but he was forced to step down after furious reactions to his comments in the media from some Royal Society fellows.[…]ign-religion

I think professor Reiss does have a point in that all kinds of questions need to be addressed also during science classes. Those questions may arise from the natural curiosity of the young and repeated from generation to generation, or they may arise from the beliefs of the surrounding society.

Evolution is a tricky subject, because there is a strong opposition by many religions against it. Another reason is that very often results from many fields of science are required to understand how well individual observations fit together in the framework of the theory of evolution.

The theory of evolution is not complete in the sense that there are problems, even disputes among scientists, in details of mechanisms that contribute to the process of evolution.

Similar problems exist in all branches of science. According to the current almost-consensus, physicists have ignored some 95% of the universe until recently. Should we place stickers on physics books stating that theories in physics are not proven and may change as new information is acquired?

Assume a physics teacher decides to discuss with students an example of perpetual motion machine for one hour. I believe that hour would be well spent. I am not sure, whether this example can be compared to discussing creationism during a biology class, or not.

Nothing should be a taboo to science. Taboos are always prone to arouse curiosity. On the hand, I can well understand the teachers, who already feel that they do not have sufficient time to teach even the basics.

The linked video depicts the current situation in Great Britain. The situation in U.S. might be different.



I’ll reserve judgment until I watch the whole 27 minutes, but at 3 minutes there was already talk of God but no mention of how anti-evolutionists hold mutually contradictory ideas of “what happened when,” and increasingly cover up their irreconcilable differences in favor of singling out “Darwinism” for recycling same long-refuted “weaknesses.” Do they ever get to that very important point, which, above and beyond any other scientific or legal problems, completely exposes creationism as pure pseudoscience?

Form the survey of teachers:

Disturbingly, out of the science teachers, 18%:

… said they thought creationism or intelligent design should be given the same status as evolution in the classroom, although this question did not specify whether it was referring to science lessons or the curriculum in general.

Then what good is the question? When I mention that the usual Gallup poll questions for the general public are ambiguous, people object that my preferred set of more detailed questions would be too complicated. They are probably right, but such questions should not be too complicated for teachers. In this case I would be specific whether creationism/ID: (1) makes testable statements regarding “what happened when” or plays “don’t ask, don’t tell,” (2) is taught in a science or philosophy class, and (3) makes sure that its claims are critically analyzed, or reserves “critical analysis” solely to promote unreasonable doubt about evolution.

BTW, I’m not sure if the questions were identical, but I recall a similar % of US teachers recently responding favorably to teaching ID/creationism.

Note that the survey linked to above is a sample of 1210 self-selecting to a survey that was emailed to 10,600 education professionals; 248 of them were science teachers, I don’t know how many of those were biology teachers.

Seeing a reasoned and nuanced film like that produced by our cousins across the pond is enough to make one weep at state of the American “debate”.

OK, I saw the whole 27 minutes, and still heard no mention of how creationism comes in mutually contradictory versions. If only one version was promoted, and it made testable statements regarding what the creator/designer did when, then I might not have a problem with a classroom debate as shown. But given the current state of anti-evolution activism, creationism/ID would be given a grossly unfair advantage if the debate were to hinge on only what’s strong or weak about evolution. Even if such a debate increased students’ acceptance of evolution (it almost certainly would have strengthened my acceptance at that age) I would not advocate it. Not unless those students who thought that evolution “lost” the debate were willing to participate in follow up debates with proponents of other anti-evolutionary positions, and conduct those debates completely free of arguments against evolution or for design.

Robin Kirk Wrote:

Seeing a reasoned and nuanced film like that produced by our cousins across the pond is enough to make one weep at state of the American “debate”.

Actually I find any random sample of 27 minutes worth of US arguments against ID/creationism at least comparable to those in the video. Of course in the US, such a debate would not be allowable in public school science class because of church-state issues. But no one is stopping anyone from discussing ID/creationism during the ~99.9% of waking hours that public high school students aren’t in class learning the evolutionary biology that has earned the right to be taught.

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on November 7, 2008 3:33 PM.

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