Darwin's Dogmatic Defenders Say Follow Only Some of the Evidence When Teaching Evolution - Evolution News & Views

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Darwin's Dogmatic Defenders Say Follow Only Some of the Evidence When Teaching Evolution

The recent comments by a Royal Society scientist and education expert about creationism being taught in science classes in the UK have got PZ Myers' panties all in a bunch. Of course, Myers' panties are used to being in a bunch because it doesn't take much to get his dander up.

To be clear Discovery does not support the inclusion of creation science in science curricula. However, teaching both the strengths and weaknesses of a scientific theory, such as Darwinian evolution, is a far cry from teaching creationism, or any other alternative views.

For Myers it is too much for anyone to even suggest discussing creationism with the intent to knock it down, and ultimately to uphold a dogmatic view of the Darwinian orthodoxy.

This is an important distinction that is blurred by most people who advocate that tired old slogan, "teach the controversy" or "teach both sides". There is only one side, the pattern of the evidence. There are, of course, cases where the evidence is still open to interpretation, and there it is appropriate to present a more ambiguous answer and explain how scientists are still working to resolve the problem.
Indeed, we have long argued to follow the evidence where it leads. And in regards to science education policy specifically:

Discovery "believes that evolution should be fully and completely presented to students, and they should learn more about evolutionary theory, including its unresolved issues. In other words, evolution should be taught as a scientific theory that is open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can't be questioned."Simply put, if a tenth grader can understand some of the evidence that supports Darwin's theory, she can understand some of the evidence that challenges it.

What are the cases where the evidence is still open to interpretation I wonder? Would it be discussion of Haeckel's faked embryo drawings?

Haeckel's infamous embryo drawings obscured the differences between vertebrate embryos in their earliest stages, leading to widespread belief in the false idea that "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" (i.e. development replays evolutionary history). The factual data reveal that vertebrate embryos develop very differently from their earliest stages in a pattern that is unexpected if all vertebrates share a common ancestor.
Or perhaps it would be the peppered moth myth?
A friend of mine tells me that the only things he remembers about evolution from his high school biology course are photos of black and white peppered moths resting on light and dark tree trunks. They were presented as the classic case of Darwinian evolution in action, explaining how a trait that enhances survival could be acquired through an unguided material process.

Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, most biology textbooks featured photos of peppered moths (scientific name: Biston betularia) on tree trunks. Canadian textbook-writer Bob Ritter explained why in 1999: High school students are "very concrete in the way they learn," he said. "The advantage of this example of natural selection is that it is extremely visual."

Soon after 2000, however, the peppered myth succumbed to mounting scientific criticisms. The most embarrassing was that peppered moths in the wild don't normally rest on tree trunks, and the textbook photos had been staged -- as The New York Times pointed out in an article on scientific fakery in 2002. Darwinists trying to save the peppered myth turned what should have been a quick and merciful death into a long and painful demise, but it expired anyway. Most biology textbooks have now dropped it entirely.

Or maybe it's the controversy over the similarity of chimps to humans?
(1) Is the 99% Human/Chimp DNA-similarity statistic accurate? While recent studies have confirmed that certain stretches of human and chimp DNA are on average about 1.23% different, this is merely an estimate with huge caveats. A recent news article in Science observed that the 1% figure "reflects only base substitutions, not the many stretches of DNA that have been inserted or deleted in the genomes."1 In other words, when the chimp genome has no similar stretch of human DNA, such DNA sequences are ignored by those touting the statistic that humans and chimps are only 1% genetically different. For this reason, the aforementioned Science news article was subtitled "The Myth of 1%," and printed the following language to describe the 1% statistic:
  • "studies are showing that [humans and chimps] are not as similar as many tend to believe";
  • the 1% statistic is a "truism [that] should be retired";
  • the 1% statistic is "more a hindrance for understanding than a help";
  • "the 1% difference wasn't the whole story";
  • "Researchers are finding that on top of the 1% distinction, chunks of missing DNA, extra genes, altered connections in gene networks, and the very structure of chromosomes confound any quantification of 'humanness' versus 'chimpness.'"
Indeed, due to the huge caveats in the 1% statistic, some scientists are suggesting that a better method of measuring human/chimp genetic differences might be counting individual gene copies. When this metric is employed, human and chimp DNA is over 5% different. But new findings in genetics show that gene-coding DNA might not even be the right place to seek differences between humans and chimps.
Clearly, there are different interpretations on lots of aspects of modern evolutionary theory. Instead of discussing creationism's pros or cons when teachers present evolution, they should present both the evidence that supports it and the evidence that challenges it. That's just good pedagogy.


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