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Asked at Oscillations: Why is the Khan Academy so stuck on “natural selection” in evolution?

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Independent journalist Suzan Mazur asks founder and CEO Sal Khan to reconsider:

With the need for online education escalating in light of social dynamics responding to pandemic politics, it is crucial that evolutionary science—the bedrock of our civilization—not be exploited as a mass-mind tool of financial interests, which is currently the case regarding Khan Academy.

Suzan Mazur, “Sal Khan, End Mass-Mind Teaching of Darwinian Natural Selection” at Oscillations

https://www.amazon.com/Darwin-Overthrown-Mechanobiology-Suzan-Mazur/dp/0578452669

Mazur provides valuable background within which computer scientist Khan’s enterprise is situated, noting that when the College Board pulled Unit 7 (the Natural Selection unit) from the AP biology exam,

… while Khan did a knee jerk, and removed Unit 7 from its prep menu for the AP digital exam—the academy is still dishing out natural selection as part of its instruction.

Suzan Mazur, “Sal Khan, End Mass-Mind Teaching of Darwinian Natural Selection” at Oscillations

Here’s a thought: The problem with natural selection (survival of the fittest) as a concept is that it inevitably leads to notions of superiority/inferiority, which come to dominate thinking about evolution. That’s probably the main reason that evolution got mixed up with racism.

Consider: Quantum mechanics, like evolution, was dominated by white European males. It was getting started not too long after evolution. But the ideas QM generated don’t tend particularly to underwrite racism. They lead to entirely different cultural assumptions (Schrodinger’s cat, for example, but not human zoos). Sure, a few of the ideas sparked by quantum mechanics sound at times like a lunatic fringe—but it is one we can easily ignore. Not so with racism.

We now know that evolution happens in a number of ways in addition to direct inheritance (for example, horizontal gene transfer, epigenetics, genomic doubling, hybridization, convergence, devolution… ) Some patterns persist longer than others. But it is not a game of winners vs. losers, rather, a living pattern that is constantly unfolding. If it were taught that way, there would likely be a lot less controversy.

Mazur is the author of a number of books on contemporary theses and thinkers in evolution, including Darwin Overthrown: Hello Mechanobiology (above).

See also: At Oscillations: Natural selection issue stirs again at College Boards. The course and exam framework put heavy emphasis on Darwinism even though, as noted earlier, it simply isn’t treated any more as an explain-all. Independent journalist Suzan Mazur asked Richard Phelps, founder and editor of the Nonpartisan Education Review and an expert in educational testing for comment.

15 Replies to “Asked at Oscillations: Why is the Khan Academy so stuck on “natural selection” in evolution?

  1. 1
    jawa says:

    “ Asked At Oscillations: Why Is The Khan Academy So Stuck On “Natural Selection” In Evolution?”

    Maybe they didn’t get the memo yet?

    🙂

  2. 2
    jawa says:

    Well, let’s be patient… remember that for some folks the penny takes longer to drop. 🙂

  3. 3
    jawa says:

    Perhaps the email suggesting to “wake up and smell the coffee!” went to their spam folder?
    🙂

  4. 4
    asauber says:

    “natural selection”

    One of my trigger phrases. The joke must go on, I guess. Sigh.

    Andrew

  5. 5
    jawa says:

    This recent anti-ID paper, though sprinkled with the traditional pseudo-scientific nonsense (what else is new?), seems to refer to “natural selection” in unclear terms:

    Physicochemical Foundations of Life that Direct Evolution: Chance and Natural Selection are not Evolutionary Driving Forces

    a genome in a stable environment generates a phenotype that maintains the stability of its originating genome, and both (genome and phenotype) are reproduced identically

     while the notions of chance and natural selection are useful to highlight the fact that life has not been “created” by or for something, they cannot be considered as evolutionary driving forces.

    random mutations and natural selection are not evolutionary driving forces

     

  6. 6
    orthomyxo says:

    You do find some odd corners of the internet… I don’t much like the Kahn Academy for a few reasons, but the lesson they have on natural selection is a very vanilla intro to the topic, nothing at all unusual about it (in the simplistic style that is common to high school classes) in keeping with the discipline as a whole.

    So, what is Mazur on about?

  7. 7
    mike1962 says:

    Khaaaaaan!

  8. 8
    Seversky says:

    Here’s a thought: The problem with natural selection (survival of the fittest) as a concept is that it inevitably leads to notions of superiority/inferiority, which come to dominate thinking about evolution. That’s probably the main reason that evolution got mixed up with racism.

    Here are some other thoughts.

    The phrase “survival of the fittest” was invented by the English philosopher Herbert Spencer to try and encapsulate the principle of evolution through natural selection. It was not intended to mean that only the biggest and strongest survive – certainly not that only the biggest and strongest should survive – but that those species that find themselves better fitted to survive – for a variety of reasons – in a given environment will also pass along those traits to their descendants.

    That Darwin’s theory has been co-opted to support the racist views of various elements in society is not his fault. Should scientists self-censor and suppress their research just because it could be exploited by evil people? In any event, the fact that a theory can be so perverted by the ill-disposed is not a valid criticism of the theory itself, it commits the fallacy of argumentum ad consequentiam, in other words, an appeal to possible undesirable consequences rather than criticizing the content of the theory itself.

    The theory of evolution in biology now recognizes a number of processes which contribute to the survival and diversification of living things over time. Darwin’s theory of natural selection was the seminal work from which the current theory has descended – with much modification. Presenting it as if it were still held to be the primary mechanism in evolutionary biology is to seriously misrepresent it – whether by teachers or journalists.

    I had never heard of the Khan Academy until I read this post but educating students about natural selection and its role in evolution is not objectionable.

    What is objectionable to me is when Mazur writes:

    The most shocking issue, however, is the academy’s ongoing indoctrination of the public with Darwinian natural selection. Even College Board pulled Unit 7 (24 pages on natural selection) from its May AP biology exam, offered online. And while Khan did a knee jerk, and removed Unit 7 from its prep menu for the AP digital exam—the academy is still dishing out natural selection as part of its instruction.

    This is where Mazur veers from any pretense of journalism into her blatant anti-Darwinian advocacy. That there is an avid audience for such views does not make it any the less propaganda.

  9. 9
    ET says:

    Natural selection is merely the process of elimination of the less fit, over time, within a population. If you have differential reproduction that is caused by heritable, happenstance change, you have natural selection. We now know more of the changes, but they are all still supposed to just happen and they still have some chance of being eliminated. Darwin and Dawkins were hoping natural selection would produce some sort of cumulative effect. That is still the promoted view. The odds say otherwise.

    The issue has always been with Darwin’s view that it is a designer mimic. Educating students to that mistaken view should be mandatory.

  10. 10

    .
    #7

    I think you have to shake your fist in the air.

    🙂

  11. 11
    BobRyan says:

    Seversky @ 8 states:

    That Darwin’s theory has been co-opted to support the racist views of various elements in society is not his fault.

    Except Darwin’s second book, Descent of Man, is filled with racist notions. No one familiar with his second book can make the claim that Darwin was not a racist and he did believe in the superiority of certain races. The civilized and the savage are mentioned numerous times.

  12. 12
    mike1962 says:

    “I could show fight on natural selection having done and doing more for the progress of civilization than you seem inclined to admit. Remember what risk the nations of Europe ran, not so many centuries ago of being overwhelmed by the Turks, and how ridiculous such an idea now is! The more civilized so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world.”
    — Charles Darwin to WIlliam Graham, 3 July 1881

  13. 13
    mike1962 says:

    Seversky: Should scientists self-censor and suppress their research just because it could be exploited by evil people?

    What do you mean by “evil?”

    I am a lion. I eat gazelles.

    Pick one:

    [ ] I am evil
    [ ] I am not evil

    Explain your choice.

    I predict crickets.

  14. 14
    jawa says:

    Mike1962,
    Still waiting for the answer(s) to your question(s)?
    🙂

  15. 15
    jawa says:

    “Asked at Oscillations: Why is the Khan Academy so stuck on “natural selection” in evolution?”

    Did they get the memo on this?
    https://www.thethirdwayofevolution.com/

    Did they read it?
    Did they notice this text?
    “some Neo-Darwinists have elevated Natural Selection into a unique creative force that solves all the difficult evolutionary problems without a real empirical basis. Many scientists today see the need for a deeper and more complete exploration of all aspects of the evolutionary process.“

    Please, note that the third way folks are far from being ID-friendly.

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