Recently in Evolution Education Category

I occasionally get books for review unsolicited, and many of them are not worth noticing. However, Kostas Kampourakis' Understanding Evolution is a wonderful resource for students of all kinds, including biology students.

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That is the title of a Slate article by Zack Kopplin. But actually it is much worse (see also NCSE’s take here). Here are the first 3 paragraphs of Kopplin’s article.

Evolution Weekend

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The Clergy Letter Project has announced the ninth annual Evolution Weekend, February 7-9, 2014. Their theme this year is Different Ways of Knowing/Asking Different Questions, and they say,

Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. An ongoing goal has been to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic, and to show that religion and science are not adversaries. Rather, they look at the natural world from quite different perspectives and ask, and answer, different questions.

They go on to note that many religious people recognize evolution as “sound science” and furthermore that “mischaracteriz[ing] evolution for partisan gain” has real (and I would add, uniformly negative) “consequences for society.” Read their statement for yourself, and by all means bug your clergyperson to address evolution from the pulpit or to develop some special program for that weekend – even if you have to prepare that program yourself! I certainly intend to bug my rabbi, who last year very graciously helped me put together a program on the trolley problem, and see what we can do this year.

I am a little bit late reporting this, but Josh Rosenau reported on November 26,

It’s a joy to be able to report on a sweeping victory for science education in Texas, and to be able to give an eyewitness report of the fight over the textbooks that will be used in that massive textbook market for years to come. The 2009 battle over Texas science standards made it quite possible that the textbooks adopted last week would be riddled with creationist claims, or would give creationist board members a toehold to demand that publishers rewrite their books or be left off of the state’s approved list. In the end, the books available to students will be solid, accurate, and honest about evolution and climate change.

Genie Scott has announced her retirement, and Ann Reid will take over as new Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education. Congratulations to both Dr. Scott and Dr. Reid! Dr. Reid is a research scientist whose team sequenced the 1918 influenza virus at the Air Force Institute of Technology. One colleague credited her with the additional ability to herd cats. See the NCSE press release here.

Speaking of NCSE …

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Anthropologist Eric Meikle, NCSE staffer, has started a series of posts on human evolution at Science League of America, NCSE’s new blog. The first two posts in Eric’s series are here (#1) and here (#2).

Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck, would have been 269 today (August 1), were it not for his untimely death at 85. But he did accomplish a few things – he was one of the greatest pioneers of invertebrate biology (and he coined the words “invertebrate” and “biology”). And he put forward one of the very earliest theories of evolution, one that had proposed mechanisms. A major mechanism he proposed, to explain adaptation in place of natural selection, was that effects of use and disuse of organs would be passed on to the next generation by inheritance of acquired characters. Although that inheritance has come to be called “Lamarckian inheritance”, he did not invent it – it was commonly known to be true in those days.

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He was wrong about inheritance, but he got another important fact right …

Science reports today that Turkey’s main science-funding agency denied a grant to a workshop on the grounds that “evolution is a controversial subject.” The purpose of the workshop was “to expose Turkish biology students to population genetics, game theory, and evolutionary modeling.” The organizers of the workshop had asked for approximately $18,000 (US) to cover the cost of students’ lodging and speakers’ travel. The workshop will go on, with private donors contributing the $18,000.

Under the heading Creationism Follies, Heather L. Weaver, an ACLU staffer, recalls the infamous fourth-grade science quiz that we described here on May 1. Being an ACLU staffer, Weaver notes that “religious schools are well within their First Amendment rights to indoctrinate students in this manner.” Not being an ACLU staffer, I note that they may have a legal right to teach students any kind of garbage that they like, but they have no intellectual right to do so, and schools that teach creationism as if it were truly science should lose their accreditation. Indeed, recent court decisions have upheld the University of California’s right to require remedial courses for students who have been miseducated at religious high schools.

But what about the public schools? Weaver outlines what she calls “just a few examples of creationism advocates working their influence in the public schools during the 2012-2013 school year”:

Padian on getting evolution right in textbooks

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Open access in Evolution: Outreach and Education. The abstract:

Topics related to evolution tend to generate a disproportionate amount of misunderstanding in traditional textbooks, other educational materials, and the media. This is not necessarily the fault of textbook and popular writers: many of these concepts are confusingly discussed in the scientific literature. However, faults can be corrected, and doing so makes it easier to explain related concepts. Three general areas are treated here: ideas and language about evolution, historical and philosophical aspects of evolution, and natural selection and related concepts. The aim of this paper is to produce a template for a more logical, historically and scientifically correct treatment of evolutionary terms and concepts.

It’s a valuable resource not only for textbooks but for science writers and journalists.

Hat tip to NCSE on Facebook

Died in committee

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According to NCSE’s scorecard, that is what happened to most of 10 anti-science bills introduced in state legislatures. Most of the bills used the now traditional “strengths and weaknesses” or “academic freedom” ploys, but some would have allowed “teachers to ‘intelligently explore’ controversies and help wayward students ‘develop critical thinking skills,’” as NCSE puts it. Four bills attacked climate change in addition to evolution. None of the bills was enacted into law. Unfortunately, a bill to repeal the “notorious” Louisiana Science Education Act also failed.

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As we reflect upon the amazing body of work left behind by this giant of the movie scene, readers of the Thumb should know (if they don’t already) that Roger Ebert was a passionate defender of science, and of evolution in particular.

His passion was not un-noticed by creationists (of both young-earth and intelligent design categories). William Dembski had this to say about Ebert in an Uncommon Descent blog from 2006:

Roger Ebert: Film Critic, Expert on Evolution, ID Basher, and Overall Supergenius .….. Or is Ebert just another clueless bonehead whose imagined expertise is in exact disproportion to his actual knowledge …

Here are some memorable comments by Ebert on creationism, evolution, and religion.

Win Ben Stein’s mind, December 3, 2008

The more you know about evolution, or simple logic, the more you are likely to be appalled by the film. No one with an ability for critical thinking could watch more than three minutes without becoming aware of its tactics. It isn’t even subtle. Take its treatment of Dawkins, who throughout his interviews with Stein is honest, plain-spoken, and courteous. As Stein goes to interview him for the last time, we see a makeup artist carefully patting on rouge and dusting Dawkins’ face. After he is prepared and composed, after the shine has been taken off his nose, here comes plain, down-to-earth, workaday Ben Stein. So we get the vain Dawkins with his effete makeup, talking to the ordinary Joe.

I have done television interviews for more than 40 years. I have been on both ends of the questions. I have news for you. Everyone is made up before going on television. If they are not, they will look like death warmed over. There is not a person reading this right now who should go on camera without some kind of makeup. Even the obligatory “shocked neighbors” standing in their front yards after a murder usually have some powder brushed on by the camera person. Was Ben Stein wearing makeup? Of course he was. Did he whisper to his camera crew to roll while Dawkins was being made up? Of course he did. Otherwise, no camera operator on earth would have taped that. That incident dramatizes his approach throughout the film. If you want to study Gotcha! moments, start here.

How I believe in God, April 17, 2009

During in all the endless discussions on several threads of this blog about evolution, intelligent design, God and the afterworld, now numbering altogether around 3,500 comments, I have never said, although readers have freely informed me I am an atheist, an agnostic, or at the very least a secular humanist–which I am. If I were to say I don’t believe God exists, that wouldn’t mean I believe God doesn’t exist. Nor does it mean I don’t know, which implies that I could know.

Let me rule out at once any God who has personally spoken to anyone or issued instructions to men. That some men believe they have been spoken to by God, I am certain. I do not believe Moses came down from the mountain with any tablets he did not go up with. I believe mankind in general evidently has a need to believe in higher powers and an existence not limited to the physical duration of the body. But these needs are hopes, and believing them doesn’t make them true. … No, I am not a Buddhist. I am not a believer, not an atheist, not an agnostic. I am still awake at night, asking how? I am more content with the question than I would be with an answer.

Darwin survives as the fittest, February 11, 2009

The True Believers. Found in both parties. One side declares God without any doubt does exist, and created the universe and everything in it. A much smaller subset of this group is convinced that God did this in fairly recent times–as little as 6,000 years ago, or in any event too recently for Darwin’s evolutionary process to have had enough time to take place. The other side declares that God without any doubt does not exist, and it is equally certain. Both sides frequently quote the Bible, on the one hand citing its truth, on the other side citing its falsity. Christianity is the only religion involved; my blog has readers from all over the world, but apparently those from elsewhere find Intelligent Design a uniquely American notion.

The longest thread evolves, September 4, 2009

The zealots of Creationism are indefatigable. Even now there are attempts to legislate that the pseudo science of Intelligent Design must be taught in school systems as a “debate” with Evolution. In common sense terms, that debate was over a century ago. Yet there are votes out there for politicians who support such legislation, and at the 2008 GOP presidential debate, no less that three candidates said they do not believe in evolution. I suppose I should be gratified that there weren’t more.

New Agers and Creationists should not be President, December 2, 2009

My only purpose today is to state early and often that if a Presidential candidate believes early humans used saddles to ride on the backs of dinosaurs, as they are depicted at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, that candidate should not be elected President.

And if a candidate counts among close friends and advisors anyone in communication with the spirit world, that candidate should not be elected President.

And if a candidate accounts for the fact that humanoid and dinosaur bones are never found at the same level in the fossil record by evoking the action of sediment after the Great Flood, that candidate should not be President.

And if a candidate has a spirit guide, consults his or her Chart and takes more than a passing amusement in the horoscope, that candidate should not be elected President.

There’s a category page linking these and other blogs, appropriately titled “Darwin My Hero”.

Comments about Roger Ebert are welcome. Comments that are nonsequiters, religious rants, or are otherwise irrelevant, will be tossed onto the Bathroom Wall.

Evolution education in evangelicals’ home schooling

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The Atlantic has an interesting story on evangelical Christian home-schoolers who prefer using science teaching materials that present genuine science rather than the creationist crap that infests home-school “science” curricula like those from Answers in Genesis or A Beka Book. I was struck by this quotation from one of the home-schooling mothers:

The assertion that anyone who believes in evolution “disregards” the Bible offends many evangelicals who want their children to be well-versed in modern science. Jen Baird Seurkamp, an evangelical who homeschools her children, avoids textbooks that discredit evolution. “Our science curriculum is one currently used in public schools,” she says. “We want our children to be educated, not sheltered from things we are afraid of them learning.”

Contrast that intellectual courage with the fundamentalist Christian supporter of John Freshwater I talked with some years ago:

I also spoke with one of Freshwater’s adult supporters. The No True Scotsman fallacy was alive and well in that conversation. There was an enlightening moment when I recommended that he read Francis Collins’ The Language of God to get an idea of how an evangelical Christian who is a scientist tries to deal with the conflict. The man asked if Collins accepts Genesis. I replied that Collins is an evangelical Christian, but that he doesn’t read Genesis literally and believes that evolution is the means by which God created the diversity of biological life. The man then refused to consider reading it, saying “I don’t need to look at beliefs I don’t agree with.” That level of willful ignorance pretty much says it all.

I hope that Ms. Seurkamp is aware of Dennis Venema’s series of posts introducing evolution at BioLogos (click “Next post in series” at the bottom of each OP to step through the posts now up, or go here for all of Venema’s posts).

Project Steve’s 10th Anniversary

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Today is the 10th anniversary of NCSE’s Project Steve:

“Project Steve” is a tongue-in-cheek parody of a long-standing creationist tradition of amassing lists of “scientists who doubt evolution” or “scientists who dissent from Darwinism.”

Conceived in discussions amongst NCSE staffers and members of the old TalkDesign group (several of whom went on to be founding contributors to Panda’s Thumb), the Steve-O-Meter currrently shows 1,239 scientists whose first name is Steve or a cognate, including the two eligible living Nobel winners (Chu and Weinberg), who have signed on to this statement:

Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to “intelligent design,” to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation’s public schools.

Since “Steve” and cognates comprise roughly 1% of first names, that corresponds to over 120,000 scientists concurring with the statement.

Compare that to the wishy-washy Scientific Dissent from Darwinism statement maintained by the Disco ‘Tute:

We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.

Basics of evolution at BioLogos

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Dennis Venema, an evolutionary creationist, senior fellow of BioLogos, and associate professor and chair of the biology department of Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, is starting an elementary introduction to evolution at BioLogos. The series of posts will be aimed at

… just average folks who would like to learn more, but need to start at the beginning and work up slowly - not jump in halfway through, with technical terms and jargon flying around. They need a context for the discussion. They need to explore the basics, first, before building on that understanding to explore the finer details.

Venema is a bright, knowledgeable guy who has strongly criticized the intelligent design movement and old earth creationists like Reasons to Believe. He comments here occasionally, and I’ll be interested to see the response to his series. It’s a worthy effort, and I wish him well with it.

Free MOOC course: Introduction to Complexity

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In association with the Santa Fe Institute, Melanie Mitchell will teach a free online course called Introduction to Complexity starting on January 28, 2013. Mitchell has been working in complex systems research for years. Her Ph.D. advisors were Doug Hofstadter of Gödel, Esher, Bach fame and John Holland, a towering figure in the study of complex adaptive systems, which is the title of his influential 1975 book. According to the intro video and the course FAQ, it’s is aimed at non-specialists:

This course is intended for anyone with an interest in complex systems. For this introductory course, there are no prerequisites, and no science or math background is necessary. The level will be similar to that of an interdisciplinary undergraduate class, though the topics are broad enough to be of interest to people ranging from high school students to professionals.

To register to earn a certificate of completion, go here. One can watch the course videos without registering, though one won’t take the final nor be able to participate in the student forum.

Hat tip to Sean Carroll.

Free online intro to genetics and evolution

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Course page here. Course description:

Introduction to Genetics and Evolution gives interested people a very basic overview of the principles behind these very fundamental areas of biology. We often hear about new “genome sequences,” commercial kits that can tell you about your ancestry (including pre-human) from your DNA or disease predispositions, debates about the truth of evolution, and why animals behave the way they do. This course provides the basic biology you need to understand all of these issues better and tries to clarify some misconceptions. No prior coursework is assumed.

Topic outline:

*Evidence for evolution
*Introduction to basic genetics
*Recombination and genetic mapping simple traits
*Complications to genetic mapping
*Genes vs. environment
*Basic population genetics and Hardy-Weinberg
*Gene flow, differentiation, inbreeding
*Natural selection and genetic drift
*Molecular evolution
*Evolutionary applications and misapplications
*Adaptive behaviors and species formation

Taught by Mohamed Noor, Earl D. McLean Professor of Biology at Duke and (IIRC) Jerry Coyne Ph.D. Ten weeks, 5-6 hours per week workload. Free!

“The day the Mesozoic died”

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A press release we received from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute:

HHMI Premieres New Film Showcasing One of Science’s Greatest Detective Stories

Film to Debut at NABT Conference

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute will premiere, “The Day the Mesozoic Died,” a new film that chronicles one of science’s greatest detective stories, at this year’s National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) conference.

The film retraces the extraordinary investigative work behind the stunning discovery that an asteroid struck the Earth 66 million years ago, triggering the mass extinction of dinosaurs and many other species of animals, plants and microorganisms. The Mesozoic Era, sometimes referred to as the Age of Reptiles, lasted from approximately 250-66 million years ago.

[You may see 3 short clips here.]

Introduction to Genetics and Evolution

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Mohamed Noor, who got his Ph.D. under Jerry Coyne, is teaching an online introduction to genetics and evolution. It starts Oct 10 and is free. Strongly recommended for FL and Byers.

Hat tip to Florida Citizens for Science

Wallace Online

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The written works of Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer with Darwin of the principle of natural selection, are now online. The Wallace Online project is directed by John van Wyhe, who also produced the Darwin Online project. Enjoy!

Via the BBC

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