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Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science
used to mean "guess," or "hunch," whereas in scientific terminology, a theory is a set of universal statements which explain the natural world. Theories are powerful tools. Scientists seek to develop theories that
are internally consistent and compatible with the evidence
are firmly grounded in and based upon evidence
have been tested against a diverse range of phenomena
possess broad and demonstrable effectiveness in problem solving
explain a wide variety of phenomena.
The body of scientific knowledge changes as new observations and discoveries are made. Theories and other explanations change. New theories emerge and other theories are modified or discarded. Throughout this process, theories are formulated and tested on the basis of evidence, internal consistency, and their explanatory power.
Evolution as a Unifying Concept
Evolution in the broadest sense can be defined as the idea that the universe has a history: that change through time has taken place. If we look today at the galaxies, stars, the planet earth, and the life on planet earth, we see that things today are different from what they were in the past: galaxies, stars, planets, and life forms have evolved. Biological evolution refers to the scientific theory that living things share ancestors from which they have diverged: Darwin called it "descent with modification." There is abundant and consistent evidence from astronomy, physics, biochemistry, geochronology, geology, biology, anthropology, and other sciences that evolution has taken place.
As such, evolution is a unifying concept for science. The National Science Education Standards recognizes that conceptual schemes such as evolution "unify science disciplines and provide students with powerful ideas to help them understand the natural world," and recommends evolution as one such scheme. In addition, the Benchmarks for Science Literacy from the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Project 2061 and NSTA's Scope, Sequence, and Coordination Project, as well as other national calls for science reform, all name evolution as a unifying concept because of its importance across the discipline of science. Scientific disciplines with a historical component, such as astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology, cannot be taught with integrity if evolution is not emphasized.
There is no longer a debate among scientists over whether evolution has taken place. There is considerable debate about how evolution has taken place: the processes and mechanisms producing change, and what has happened during the history of the universe. Scientists often disagree about their explanations. In any science, disagreements are subject to rules of evaluation. Errors and false conclusions are confronted by experiment and observation, and evolution, as in any aspect of science, is continually open to and subject to experimentation and questioning.
The word "creationism" has many meanings. In its broadest meaning, creationism is the idea that a supernatural power or powers created. Thus to Christians, Jews, and Muslims, God created; to the Navajo, the Hero Twins created. In a narrower sense, "creationism" has come to mean "special creation": the doctrine that the universe and all that is in it was created by God in essentially its present form, at one time. The most common variety of special creationism asserts that
the earth is very young
life was originated by a creator
life appeared suddenly
kinds of organisms have not changed
all life was designed for certain functions and purposes.
This version of special creation is derived from a literal interpretation of Biblical Genesis. It is a specific, sectarian religious belief that is not held by all religious people. Many Christians and Jews believe that God created through the process of evolution. Pope John Paul II, for example, issued a statement in 1996 that reiterated the Catholic position that God created, but that the scientific evidence for evolution is strong.
"Creation science" is an effort to support special creationism through methods of science. Teachers are often pressured to include it or synonyms such as "intelligent design theory," "abrupt appearance theory," "initial complexity theory,'' or "arguments against evolution" when they teach evolution. Special creationist claims have been discredited by the available evidence. They have no power to explain the natural world and its diverse phenomena. Instead, creationists seek out supposed anomalies among many existing theories and accepted facts. Furthermore, creation science claims do not provide a basis for solving old or new problems or for acquiring new information.
Nevertheless, as noted in the National Science Education Standards, "Explanations on how the natural world changed based on myths, personal beliefs, religious values, mystical inspiration, superstition, or