Science requires dissent and open inquiry for its very existence. This is true for high school students and teachers no less than for research scientists. For extra-scientific reasons, however, some members of the science establishment have long sought to protect the teaching of evolutionary theory from evidential challenges and dissent. Probably the most effective strategy for quenching such dissent is to label it as “creationism.” Since the teaching of creationism in public school science classrooms has been ruled unconstitutional, one can effectively foreclose awkward but perfectly reasonable questions about evolution simply by saying, “Well, that’s the sort of question a creationist would ask — and creationism is out of bounds in this classroom.” Let’s call this the creationism gambit. The creationism Read More ›
It’s been nearly 150 years since the publication of Charles Darwin’s influential book, On the Origin of Species, and the theory of evolution remains the focus of intense public controversy. So, what’s the controversy about?
One question counts above all else in natural science: How can this idea—theory, hypothesis, claim—be tested? Testability gains its primacy in science from our deep understanding that empirical knowledge does not rest on authority, tradition, or majority rule, but rather on the testimony of nature itself. We can picture the structure of scientific knowledge and inquiry as a three-way relation, a logical and evidential triangle, where the three vertices are (1) the scientific community, (2) scientific theories, and (3) the physical world, or nature itself. Each of these is a necessary element of the scientific enterprise. Take away scientists, and no science will be done. Take away theories, and science loses its structure. Take away nature itself, however, and science Read More ›
What is the “fact” of evolution? John Timmer in his critique of Explore Evolution (EE), argues that “aspects of the theory [of evolution] can be safely treated as fact,” and in support of this point, cites a paper by the Canadian geneticist T. Ryan Gregory, entitled “Evolution as Fact, Theory and Path.” Here is how Gregory (2008, 49) defines the “fact” of evolution: The notion that species may change through time and that living organisms are related to one another through common descent…species have changed over time and are connected by descent from common ancestors. Change through time, descent of organisms from common ancestors—hey, that sounds familiar: Evolution #1: “Change over time” First, evolution can mean that the life forms we see Read More ›
The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) alleges that Explore Evolution (EE) uses “erroneous” and “irrelevant” definitions of the term “evolution” and employs “a false distinction between microevolution and macroevolution.” These errors are said to flow from a “modern creationist strategy” of misrepresenting the definitions of science and evolution. Evolution, according to the NCSE, is a “single concept.” Really? Beginning with Darwin himself, evolutionary biologists have distinguished the theory that evolution (i.e., descent with modification) occurred from hypotheses about how evolution occurred. Indeed, it would be impossible to understand post-Darwinian controversies about, for instance, the relative importance of natural selection, if “evolution” were a single, or unitary concept, or if logically and evidentially distinct notions referred to as “evolution”—such as change over Read More ›
John Timmer objects to Explore Evolution’s subtitle, “The Arguments For and Against Neo-Darwinism,” claiming that “[d]uring the roughly 20 years I was directly involved in biology research, I’d never come across the term ‘Darwinism.’” EE’s subtitle actually uses the word “neo-Darwinism,” not “Darwinism,” but regardless, Timmer’s complaint reveals more about his own ignorance than it does about any inaccuracy on the part of EE. Terms like “Darwinism” and “neo-Darwinism” (or similar cognates like “Darwinian,” “neo-Darwinian,” or “Darwinist”) regularly appear in both the technical scientific literature and textbooks about evolution, and they are repeatedly employed by contemporary scientists and philosophers of science. In a book published just last year, for example, University of Chicago evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne repeatedly labeled the modern theory of evolution as “neo-Darwinism”: The Read More ›
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 Read More ›
John Timmer repeatedly attacks EE for allegedly trying to “divide and conquer” evolution because it discusses the different lines of scientific evidence (i.e. fossil, anatomical, molecular) regarding common descent in separate sections. Timmer’s criticism reveals either his gross ignorance of how contemporary biology texts cover evolution, or that he’s using a blatant double standard. EE was written to complement the coverage of evolution in standard biology textbooks, and so it follows the approach used by most biology textbooks, which divide the evidence for common descent into separate sections dealing with fossils, comparative anatomy, molecular biology, embryology, and biogeography. (See for example, Campbell, Reece, and Mitchell, 2003, pp. 260-263; Mader, 2007, pp. 224-227; Raven & Johnson, 2005, pp. 460-466.) If Timmer wants to argue for a Read More ›