Evolution Be Taught in Schools Introduction / essay

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Evolution be Taught in Schools?

Introduction / Thesis (Part One)

The debate between those that believe in creationism -- or "intelligent design," a refined offshoot of the creationism theory -- and those who believe in the science of evolution, spilled over into the schools in the United States many years ago. Conservative Christians and others who are in denial vis-a-vis Charles Darwin's research and theory argue that at the very least their religious-based theories should be placed side-by-side in public school textbooks. Scientists, biologists, teachers, scholars and others who accept the empirical nature of scientific evolution have battled to keep creationism and intelligent design (ID) out of the science textbooks -- with some degree of success albeit in certain conservative communities and states politicians and school board members have overruled logic by those insisting that ID be part of science textbooks. Some objective scholarship sees this debate as another example of the recent trend toward the rejection of science among certain groups in the country -- including the dismissal of enormous volumes of empirical data related to global climate change. Journalists, scholars, and other informed observers view the recent refutation of science-based research as related more to political ideology and religious beliefs -- embraced by conservatives, evangelicals and others in the U.S. -- than to fact-filled dialogue that leads to scholarly debate.

Thesis: Notwithstanding the pronouncements and beliefs of conservative ideologues, politicians and spokespersons within the evangelical and other movements, evolution is no longer a theory, it is science, and hence it should be taught in public schools and indeed teachers should be well informed and prepared to defend science against attacks from the right.

Argument for Teaching Evolution in Public Schools (Part Two)

A theory becomes a fact when sufficient scientifically provable evidence verifies -- on several empirical levels -- that the theory has evolved into certainty. What better argument could be made for the facts of human evolution then the positive identification of fossils, which verify, through universally accepted, scientifically exact investigative procedures (e.g., carbon dating and DNA testing), that there have been changes to the size and shape of the skulls (to the face and the braincase) discovered and evaluated by researchers? Skulls and fossils that date back to the past 6 million years are among the prime sources of scientific evidence for human evolution that are conveniently ignored by purveyors of religious dogma.

How do we know humans are primates?

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History reports that "We know Humans are Primates" because -- in addition to similar "anatomy and behavior" -- there is DNA evidence. The comparison of modern humans' DNA with ancient fossils of early beings creates a linkage that is indisputable. As far as genetic differences between modern humans and chimpanzees, the Smithsonian asserts that there is only about 1.2% difference throughout "…much of their genetic code."

The research that has been universally accepted in the field of Paleoanthropology is that evolution occurs when there is a "…change in the genetic material -- the chemical molecule, DNA -- which is inherited from the parents. Most scientists do understand that there were 15 to 20 different species of early humans and that the earliest human species migrated from Africa and Asia about 1.8 to 2 million years ago (Smithsonian).

An article in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Organic Evolution first points to the disbelief that objective observers outside of the U.S. have expressed regarding the debate between those supporting evolution and others promoting intelligent design. Professor Michael Antolin was visiting the University of Helsinki in Finland in 1999 and the "…incredulous Finns" asked Antolin, "What is going on over there?" (Antolin, et al., 2001, p. 2379). Indeed, Antolin explains, "Scientists outside North America are rightly perplexed by a society that juxtaposes stunning scientific achievement with public rejection of the cornerstone of biological science" (2379).

Why is there such apparent doubt about evolution in the U.S. The controversy between biological science (evolution) and creationism / ID has its roots in three aspects of American culture, according to Antolin. Those three are: a) "widespread scientific illiteracy"; b) a "core value" of fairness when debates are public (e.g., everyone's position should get a hearing); and c) the "prevalence of religious values in American politics" (2379). In 2001, when this research was published, 83% of Americans agreed that evolution "in some form" should be part of public school curricula; that said, less than half of those surveyed could accurately explain either creationism or evolution (Antolin, 2379). Additionally, the data provided by Antolin reflects that "Alarmingly… one third of the American public believes that creationism should be part of the science curriculum," and more distressing to academics, a third of primary and secondary teachers in public schools "either resist or avoid teaching evolution," Antolin continues (2379).

In the four segments of Antolin's research, he outlines the typical rhetoric that creationists employ to attack or debunk evolution; he relates to the "poor understanding of evolution" that has an impact on other areas of biological science; he reports on one particular clash between the two viewpoints; and finally he offers tips on how science teachers and scientists can make the case for evolution. For this paper, only the arguments that creationists use to attack evolution -- and his responses to those arguments -- will be critiqued.

Antolin offers several critiques -- rebuttals -- on creationists' positions: a) evolution is "just a theory" (and theory is just "an educated guess" and since no humans were "present when life first appeared on earth," it's all speculation); b) evolution describes the "origins of living matter" (creationists argue that because there is "relatively modest evidence about the origins of life…the entire theory of evolution is poorly supported" and moreover, the creationist states that an "infinitesimally small probability" at every point of human development "is equivalent to…impossibility across all points in time and space"; c) the theory of evolution says "nothing about nature's purpose or the meaning of life"; and d) evolution means "survival of the fittest" (this is not, of course, what evolution is really about, but creationists point out that racists and corrupt capitalists have used the cliche and hence -- if linked to evolution -- paints science in a negative light); and e) "evolution is atheism" (this is not true but science is generally "silent concerning religious and moral issues" hence, creationists seize on the dearth of references to God) (2389-2381).

Meanwhile associate professor Michael W. Schulteis (Concordia University) published the results of a survey -- in the peer-reviewed journal, The American Biology Teacher -- that tapped into the approach to teaching evolution that private school teachers embrace. Clearly the author's research establishes that a majority of private school teachers in the Lutheran school system do not shy away from teaching evolution.

To wit, Schulteis sent out a survey to 100% of the high school biology teachers in Lutheran private schools in the U.S. (128 teachers); he received completed surveys back from 76 biology teachers (a 59% completion rate), and reported that "…not all teachers teach on every one of the seven topics of evolution" but 98% do discuss evolution at some level (Schulteis, 2010, p. 92).

The seven topics of evolution include: speciation, diversity, descent with modification, evidence for evolution, natural selection, pace and rate, and human evolution. Schulteis reports that 75% of Lutheran private school biology teachers speak about speciation "in one lesson or more"; 84.2% of those teachers teach the concept of diversity; and 81.6% share information with their students about natural selection (93).

The existing evidence for evolution is "emphasized" in at least one lesson by 59.2% of the teachers; the "pace and rate of evolution" are given emphasis by 51.2% of the teachers; descent with modification is covered by 44.7% of the Lutheran teachers; and "human evolution" is taught by just 30.2% of the teachers (Schulteis, 93). Comparing those data with numbers from public schools Schulteis found a national survey that shows about 83% of public school science teachers do cover human evolution albeit the public school teachers tend to emphasize the less controversial aspects of evolution -- natural selection, diversity of organisms, and speciation. Schulteis suspects that public school teachers emphasize the three above-mentioned aspects because "…there are an abundant living examples in nature" and there would seem to be a lack of "alternative explanations of the topics in the Bible" (93).

Counter-Thesis and Counter-Argument (Part Three)

"The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection…through the study and analysis of a system's components, a design theorist is able to determine whether various natural structures are the product of chance, natural law, intelligent design or some combination thereof…" (www.intelligentdesign.org).

William Dembski is considered to be among the most articulate Intelligent Design advocates. Dembski uses seemingly plausible arguments, including the fact that scientists attempting to relate to the "entire universe and life…[continue]

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