Let’s face it, the reason Darwinian evolution is so controversial, especially in the public schools, is that it has profound implications concerning who we are, where we came from, and whether or not our lives have ultimate meaning and purpose. This is not the case in chemistry, physics or mathematics. Schoolchildren are not as unperceptive as some people would like to believe, and they pick up on these implications immediately, as my daughter did in the seventh grade.
Darwinian theory has been singled out for special scrutiny in public education not only for this reason, which should be enough, but because the evidence is not nearly as solid as it is in the hard sciences such as those mentioned above.
In a previous thread (http://www.uncommondescent.com/index.php/archives/1514) I commented about the suppression of evidence and discussion concerning Darwinian theory in the public schools. I don’t advocate for the teaching of ID in the public schools, and I do agree that evolution has occurred. Things are not now as they once were, so “evolution” has taken place by definition — living things have changed over time. There is no substantive controversy here.
What I object to is an incomplete at best, and dishonest at worst, presentation of the evidence for Darwinian theory in public education. Here are some proposals for how the evidence could be more appropriately presented without “subverting science.” Perhaps commenters could add to the list, and I’d be curious as to why anyone would object to such an approach.
Present the evidence of changing finch beaks with changing weather conditions, and talk about how some scientists propose that these changes can be extrapolated over long periods of time to explain the origin of completely new and different life forms. But also mention that these changes have been observed to be cyclic, and that some question the validity of extrapolating these minor changes to explain major biological innovation. Ditto for peppered moths.
Point out that bacteria develop antibiotic resistance through the evolutionary process of natural selection, but add that experiments with thousands of generations of bacteria subjected to harsh selection pressures have yet to produce a fundamentally new variety of bacteria.
Observe that scientists propose that the development of embryos suggests the recapitulation of evolutionary history, but point out that the similarities assumed in the past are not what they were once thought to be, and that the earliest stages of development are not the most similar.
Mention all the classic examples of transitional forms in the fossil record, but also mention that some prominent paleontologists (e.g., Gould and Eldredge) have questioned whether or not the overall fossil evidence supports the traditional view of Darwinian gradualism. Offer the incompleteness of the fossil record as a possible explanation, but observe that the seamless gradation of living forms predicted by Darwinian theory has yet to be conclusively established.
Discuss the Cambrian explosion. Offer the standard explanations for this remarkable phenomenon (incompleteness of the fossil record and the likelihood that soft-bodied predecessors would not fossilize), but also mention that some argue that the Cambrian explosion presents a problem for standard evolutionary theory because so many new body plans appear in such a short period of time, and this would seem to contradict the proposal that new body plans should originate in the leaves of the tree of life and not the trunk.
Mention the Miller-Urey experiment and the formation of amino acids by a natural process (after all, it is a classic event in the history of origin-of-life studies), but mention that scientists now believe that conditions on the early earth were not those used in the experiment, and that no concrete explanation has been offered for how those amino acids could have formed biologically meaningful proteins by undirected chemical means.
Talk about various origin-of-life theories and the fact that many scientists are confident that an explanation will eventually be found, but mention that the current state of affairs in origin-of-life studies is many mutually contradictory hypotheses, and that the origin of information in DNA is a particularly difficult problem.
I don’t see why such an approach would be unreasonable at all, why students could not understand such a presentation of the evidence, why they would be confused by it, or why it would subvert science. Students could evaluate for themselves whether or not they find the evidence convincing, which should be their prerogative. After all, where they came from and why they are here is a very important matter.