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“Sir, I don’t believe in evolution.” IV. Teaching evolution and science literacy.


In practice, this question will rarely be coming out of the mouth of an A level Biology student.  Logically, someone who is adamant about the falsity or unacceptability of evolutionary theory would be unlikely to chose to delve further into the scientific evidence for evolution by going beyond GCSE.  So the defence of evolution and by extension the nature of science, in the classroom, would in any case be a limited one. How complex an argument can you give to a 16 year old?

It would be nice if someone did a survey of attitudes to evolution / creationism throughout secondary school in the UK (and anywhere else) in order to establish when the resistance develops.

The conscientious biology teacher,  confronted with a 16 year old who doesn’t ‘believe in evolution’ will want to give some sort of answer.  The Welcome Trust Big Picture on Evolution (Issue 5 January 2007 – available on paper by order 2-20 £1 each/ >20 75p each) would be a handy crib-sheet for the hard-pressed teacher, because it deals with different religions’ attitudes to evolution. For example, it explains that Muslims do not generally contest evolution of species but that  ‘Adam having evolved from apes that is a bone of contention’. Clearly, if  it was a Christian or Jehovah’s Witness expressing the doubt then the fact that Muslims, Buddhists and Christians have slightly different objections might help.  The teacher would need to know enough to be able to grasp that the Christian creationist view is different from the Witnesses’ one, in certain respects.

There is a simplified section on the remit of science in the Welcome Foundation article which is a first line of defence. But as I said in a previous Evolution vs. Creation post, it would seem sensible to ask the doubter what in particular about evolutionary theory is objected to before launching into a comprehensive scientific defence.

The reality is that a 15 0r 16 year old (unless of exceptional intelligence) is not  going to be able to deal with (or want to take on board) the whole gamut of any refutation of creationism.  15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense from Scientific American, is excellent,  but too advanced for this age group.   Pity about the undiplomatic title.  Wonder of Richard Dawkins wrote it?

Laurence Moran’s short article, The Modern Synthesis of Genetics and Evolution, from TalkOrigins.org, if not completely understood by such a student, at least shows that evolutionary theory has moved on from Darwin’s original formulation and uses a wider range of evidence.

Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution, by Theodosius Dobzhansky, originally published in The American Biology Teacher, March 1973 (35:125-129), is clearly not for a 16 year old either, but it is a sustained argument and has key passages that could be used to good effect.

Introduction to Evolutionary Biology, also from TalkOrigins, is exactly what the  teacher needs to have at finger tip all the arguments.

There are two other things. (1) What students read for themselves online about creationism/ID (2) Going beyond evolution vs. Creationism into science literacy in general.

(1) There are  many  sensible website which discuss the issue but (1), as an example, what happens if a 16 year old biology student choses to read Nonsense Reasons for Rejecting Intelligent Design which comes from the website Evident Creation.  For a student to decide what is sense and nonsense here, a certain amount of  background of  knowledge about evolutionary biology is essential. Even an adult of reasonable education might be momentarily taken in.

There are a range of new courses which are geared to science literacy, such as 21 Century Science at GCSE and  Science for Society at GCE AS and A2.

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September 30, 2008 - Posted by | general | , , ,

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