Explore Evolution The Arguments for and Against Neo-Darwinism

Robert Crowther

John Timmer calls Explore Evolution‘s use of Inquiry Based Learning (IBL) a “sham” because he asserts the textbook “abdicates the responsibility for reasoning entirely.” But his criticism is bogus. EE contains multiple sections that encourage students to weigh the evidence and consider open-ended questions about the evidence like, “Which picture best illustrates the history of life?,” “Do all living things, past and present, share a common ancestor?,” “Can natural selection produce fundamentally new organisms from pre-existing ones?,” and “Are there other similarities that point to common ancestry?”

A comparison to other textbooks quickly shows EE‘s use of IBL is vastly superior to most mainstream biology textbook treatments of evolution, which tend to force rote memorization of Darwinism, and offer little meaningful IBL on evolution. 

For example, in Miller & Levine’s treatment of avian evolution, students are asked “Why do you think that birds evolved from dinosaurs?,” and “What are the two alternative explanations for the evolution of modern birds?” (Miller and Levine, 2008, p. 807) Students are never encouraged to think outside of the evolutionary box created by the text, and in all questions, an evolutionary reptile-to-bird transition is taken as a given. Likewise, Campbell, Reece, and Mitchell’s textbook Biology: Concepts and Connections, forces students to think only within the Darwinian box: “Write a paragraph briefly describing the evidence for evolution,” it asks. (Campbell, Reece, and Mitchell, 2003, p. 279)

Other textbooks like Raven & Johnson’s Biology don’t even ask questions allowing students to evaluate the evidence, and instead just make dogmatic claims like, “the evidence for Darwin’s theory has become overwhelming” because “information from many different areas of biology—fields as different as anatomy, molecular biology, and biogeography—is only interpretable scientifically as the outcome of evolution.” (Raven, Johnson, Losos, and Singer, 2005, p. 453)

Holt’s Life Science asks students to only consider how “organisms can be compared to support the theory of evolution” or “how fossils provide evidence that organisms have evolved.” (Holt, 2001, p. 176, emphasis added) Likewise Sylvia S. Mader’s 2007 edition of Essentials of Biology carefully steers students away from any meaningful critical thought over evolution, asking students to “Explain why evolution is no longer considered a hypothesis.” For students who cannot regurgitate from the text, the proper “answer” is given directly below the question — up-side-down, so students don’t have to hunt too hard for the “correct” answer: “Evolution is supported by many diverse and independent lines of evidence.” (Mader, 2007, p. 225) 

Many more examples could be given, but sadly, these textbooks are only following the proscription of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences which recently charged that schools should teach no evidence against evolution because “[t]here is no scientific controversy about the basic facts of evolution,” which is “so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter” it.

If anything is a “sham,” it is this kind of IBL which stifles creative and critical scientific thinking, and forces rote memorization of the “overwhelming evidence” showing only “support” for the “fact” of evolution, never encouraging students actually engage their minds to consider that some scientific evidence might challenge neo-Darwinism. A comparison between EE and other textbooks shows the great need for textbooks like EE that actually do encourage students to engage in real critical thinking over evolutionary biology.

References Cited

Neil A. Campbell, Jane B. Reece, Lawrence G. Mitchell, and Martha R. Taylor, Biology: Concepts and Connections, Benjamin Cummings, 4th Ed., 2003.

Holt Science & Technology, Life Science: California Edition, Holt Rinehart and Winston, 2001.

Sylvia S. Mader, Essentials of Biology, McGraw Hill, 2007.

Kenneth R. Miller & Joseph Levine, Biology, Prentice Hall, 2008.

Peter H. Raven, George B. Johnson, Jonathan B. Losos, Susan R. Singer, Biology, McGraw Hill, 7th Ed., 2005.

Launch of Explore Evolution “Further Debate” Website

Since its publication in 2007, the innovative science textbook Explore Evolution: The Case For and Against Neo-Darwinism has helped trailblaze a new way of teaching about evolution, one based on Charles Darwin’s own acknowledgment that “a fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.” The original goal of Explore Evolution was to provoke discussion about Darwinian evolution, and provoke discussion it has! This week Discovery Institute launches an extensive “Further Debate” website inspired by the book in the hope of encouraging even more discussion. The new site offers cogent responses to a variety of reviews of the book issued by Darwinists over the past two years, including Read More ›

Explore Evolution Author Responds to Critics

CSC Fellow and Explore Evolution co-author Paul Nelson has a substantive series of responses to biologist and science writer John Timmer’s online critique of the biology textbook: On September 24, 2008, biologist and science writer John Timmer published an online review of the supplementary biology textbook Explore Evolution (EE). Timmer had previously written about EE without having read it, so Discovery Institute sent him a copy. Alas — having EE in his hands improved neither the quality of Timmer’s writing about the book, nor indeed his coverage of the relevant science. In fact, Timmer so baldly misrepresents both the content of EE, but especially the associated scientific evidence and controversies, that his review perfectly illustrates the need for a book like EE. Dr. Nelson’s Read More ›

Explore Evolution Errata Sheet (October 2008)

An updated errata sheet is now available for the first edition of Explore Evolution: The Arguments For and Against Neo-Darwinism (2007 Hill House Publishers) Click here to download errata sheet.

Explore Evolution Favorably Reviewed by Kirkus

The groundbreaking textbook, Explore Evolution: The Case For And Against Neo-Darwinism (Hill House Publishers 2007), continues to make inroads in science education. Recently Kirkus Discoveries issued a fair and favorable review of Explore Evolution saying: “through succinct language and extensive use of illustrated sidebars and summary boxes, an impressive amount of terrain is covered in a colorful and lively fashion.”  Here is the full review:  Two microbiologists, two philosophers of science and a technical writer present for students a concise introduction to the cases, both pro and con, regarding major aspects of neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory. Within the evolutionary-biology realm, the authors explore how Darwin’s theories of natural selection and universal common descent are faring these days. They use an inquiry-based approach: point, counterpoint. The book’s brevity precludes Read More ›

No, We Didn’t Make Up The Controversies — A Reply to John Timmer

Does the biology textbook Explore Evolution manufacture false controversies about evolution, while ignoring real ones? That’s what biologist and science writer John Timmer claimed in a post earlier this week at Ars Technica. Timmer attended a two-day symposium on evolution at Rockefeller University and noted the many debates brewing there. “Evolution clearly has no shortage of controversies,” he concluded . But those real controversies have “no overlap,” he claimed, with the “ostensible” (i.e., fake) controversies supposedly “manufactured” by Explore Evolution. Bottom line for Timmer: while students may, or may not, need to learn about controversies in evolution — he leans strongly towards “not” — Explore Evolution is misleading at best, and the academic freedom bills being introduced around the country aren’t needed. Now, when he wrote his blog Read More ›

Explore Evolution In the Boston Globe

Recently the Boston Globe ran a letter to the editor by Stephen Meyer, responding to Sally Lehrman’s ridiculous claim that the Explore Evolution textbook “uses pseudoscience to attack Darwin’s theories.” Meyer’s response? There’s nothing “pseudo” about saying what the evolutionists themselves admit, even citing the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. Perhaps Lehrman judges our book pseudoscience because we also describe current scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory. Perhaps she is unaware that skepticism about the creative power of natural selection and random mutation is common in peer-reviewed scientific literature and in the scientific community. No less an authority than the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences published a recent paper stating: “Natural selection based solely on mutation is probably not an adequate mechanism Read More ›

WORLD Magazine Cover Story on New Biology Textbook Explore Evolution

A recent WORLD Magazine cover story is about teaching the controversy and focuses primarily on Explore Evolution, the new textbook which teaches both the strengths and weaknesses of Darwin’s theory. The article features an interview with Discovery senior fellow Dr. John West, along with Doug Cowan, a high school biology teacher who plans on incorporating the textbook in his curriculum next year. According to the article:  This fall, the 34-year teaching veteran will restructure his evenhanded presentation around a new textbook from the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. Explore Evolution: The Arguments for and Against Neo-Darwinism (Hill House Publishers, 2007) does not address alternative theories of origins but succinctly lays out the scientific strengths and weaknesses of the most critical elements of Darwinism. “It’s made my work a Read More ›

New Textbook Seeks to Improve Teaching of Evolution by Promoting Inquiry-Based Approach

Explore Evolution: The Arguments For and Against Neo-Darwinism (Hill House Publishers Ltd., Melbourne and London, 2007) is the first biology textbook to present the scientific evidence both for and against key aspects of Darwinian evolution. “Sadly, the majority of biology textbooks in use today are dumbed-down and do a poor job explaining evolution,” said Dr. John West of Discovery Institute, the book’s United States distributor. “Explore Evolution will improve the teaching of evolution by providing teachers and students with more information about evolution than they are likely to find in any other textbook written at the same level.” West is Associate Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Explore Evolution promotes inquiry-based learning, encouraging students to participate in the process Read More ›

Explore Evolution Errata Sheet (May 2007)

Page 27, left-hand column, first paragraph, first sentence: Should read: Though a possible land-dwelling mammal to fully aquatic mammal (cetacean) transitional sequence has recently been uncovered, critics maintain that transitional sequences are rare, at best. Page 129, 4th complete paragraph, second sentence: Should read: Most reptiles lay eggs, while mammals carry fertilized eggs internally, which they nourish through a placenta, and bear live young.

The Arguments for and Against Neo-Darwinism