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Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science
Science is not teleological: the accepted processes do not start with a conclusion, then refuse to change it, or acknowledge as valid only those data that support an unyielding conclusion. Science does not base theories on an untestable collection of dogmatic proposals. Instead, the processes of science are characterized by asking questions, proposing hypotheses, and designing empirical models and conceptual frameworks for research about natural events.
Providing a rational, coherent and scientific account of the taxonomic history and diversity of organisms requires inclusion of the mechanisms and principles of evolution.
Similarly, effective teaching of cellular and molecular biology requires inclusion of evolution.
Specific textbook chapters on evolution should be included in biology curricula, and evolution should be a recurrent theme throughout biology textbooks and courses.
Students can maintain their religious beliefs and learn the scientific foundations of evolution.
Teachers should respect diverse beliefs, but contrasting science with religion, such as belief in creationism, is not a role of science. Science teachers can, and often do, hold devout religious beliefs, accept evolution as a valid scientific theory, and teach the theory's mechanisms and principles.
Science and religion differ in significant ways that make it inappropriate to teach any of the different religious beliefs in the science classroom.
Opposition to teaching evolution reflects confusion about the nature and processes of science. Teachers can, and should, stand firm and teach good science with the acknowledged support of the courts. In Epperson v. Arkansas (1968), the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1928 Arkansas law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in state schools. In McLean v. Arkansas (1982), the federal district court invalidated a state statute requiring equal classroom time for evolution and creationism.
Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) led to another Supreme Court ruling against so-called "balanced treatment" of creation science and evolution in public schools. In this landmark case, the Court called the Louisiana equal-time statute "facially invalid as violative of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, because it lacks a clear secular purpose." This decision—"the Edwards restriction''—is now the controlling legal position on attempts to mandate the teaching of creationism: the nation's highest court has said that such mandates are unconstitutional. Subsequent district court decisions in Illinois and California have applied "the Edwards restriction" to teachers who advocate creation science, and to the right of a district to prohibit an individual teacher from promoting creation science, in the classroom.
Courts have thus restricted school districts from requiring creation science in the science curriculum and have restricted individual instructors from teaching it. All teachers and administrators should be mindful of these court cases, remembering that the law, science and NABT support them as they appropriately include the teaching of evolution in the science curriculum.
References and Suggested Reading
Clough, M. 1994. Diminish students' resistance to biological evolution. American Biology Teacher 56(Oct.):409–415.
Futuyma, D. 1997. Evolutionary Biology. 3rd ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, Inc.
Gillis, A. 1994. Keeping creationism out of the classroom. BioScience 44:650–656.
Gould, S. 1994. The evolution of life on the earth. Scientific American 271(Oct.):85–91.
Gould, S. 1977. Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History. New York: W.W. Norton.
Mayr, E. 1991. One Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
McComas, W., ed. 1994. Investigating Evolutionary Biology in the Laboratory. Reston, VA: National Association of Biology Teachers.
Moore, J. 1993. Science as a Way of Knowing: The Foundation of Modern Biology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
National Center for Science Education, P.O. Box 9477, Berkeley, CA 94709. Numerous publications such as Facts, faith and fairness: Scientific creationism clouds scientific literacy by S. Walsh and T. Demere.
Numbers, R. 1993. The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Weiner, J. 1994. The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.