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Monday, October 18, 2010

Dispatches from the Evolution Wars

"Dispatches from the Evolution Wars" by Glenn Branch, Eugenie C. Scott, and Joshua Rosenau of NCSE has been published in Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics (2010; 11: 317-338). You can read it here.

There's lots of good stuff in this article and Branch et al. have avoided most of the things that annoy atheists and those who thing science and religion are in conflict. Here's some good bits for you to think about.
It is therefore likely that the most effective way for scientists to help to improve the understanding of evolution among in-service teachers is at the level of preservice teacher instruction. To ensure that preservice teachers are prepared to teach evolution effectively, biology professors need to set their own houses in order. Even at the college level, evolution is often not taught explicitly; not required, even of biology majors; and not integrated throughout the course of study. With such a model, what are preservice biology teachers likely to conclude about the centrality of evolution to the discipline they aspire to teach? Additionally, it is vital that biology and education faculty work together to overcome what a recent essay rightly deplored as “[t]he profound lack of interaction, respect, and collaboration between many scientists and science educators in the academy” (103). Biology professors can help their education colleagues to ensure that a proper and up-to-date understanding of evolution and the nature of science is appropriately conveyed in the science education curriculum, while education professors can help their biology colleagues to improve their own pedagogy (1, 2, 105).

In communicating with the public about evolution, creationism, and the nature of science, it is important for scientists not to reinforce the common misconceptions in these areas (119). To give just a few examples, talking about “the theory of evolution” reinforces the idea that evolution is just a theory—a guess or a hunch (25, 49). Calling evolutionary biology “Darwinism” is not only ambiguous and inaccurate but also conducive to a creationist campaign suggesting that evolution is a disreputable ideology (131). Likewise, talking about belief in (rather than acceptance of) evolution is likely to be taken as a profession of faith, reinforcing the idea that evolution is a quasireligious dogma (134). The temptation to proclaim that a new and exciting discovery in the evolutionary sciences is a paradigm shift, overturns the accepted wisdom, or supplies the missing link also needs to be resisted: It suggests that evolution was a theory in crisis beforehand, which is precisely the wrong message to send. The recent overpromotion of Darwinius masillae—“a revolutionary scientific find that will change everything,” blared its publicist—is a melancholy case in point (48).

[Hat Tip: NCSE]


  1. The two Canadian Universities I have attended saved the proper evolution course until the 4th year, and it was not considered a required course in the biology programs.

    We seem to be setting ourselves up for a similar issue...

  2. I particularly like that they took a swipe at "Darwinius", or rather the planned out fanfare over it. It just really made biology look ridiculous for a moment.

  3. also...

    Also to add, when I was an undergrad, evolution got the short shrift, its was certainly not the focus of most classes, which was a shame.
    In fact, one of the memorable times when evolution came up explicitly and to the forefront was when a campus christian group sponsored a 'debate' (although turned out there was no debate) on Evolution.

  4. It's not enough that we teach evolution well and early in our university programs. We need to explicitly prepare our students to defend evolution in the classroom.

    At a minimum this means acknowledging that religious beliefs make teaching evolution difficult, and making sure our students know about the excellent evolution resources available for K-12 teachers.