« g by any other name? | Gene Expression Front Page | Sweatshop vs. Sweatshop »
October 28, 2003

ID in schools?

Should evolution be taught in high school science classes?.

Simple (minded) wisdom:

Simple wisdom on the origins of mankind

I am a bus driver and while waiting on the bus about a week ago, a high school student and I had some "small talk." The subject of evolution came up. All I asked was, "Do you believe in evolution?" Very bluntly her answer was, "No, things are too orderly!"

I was dumbfounded! So much wisdom and so simple!

Many teachers do have a lot of learning, as do many scientists. She had simple wisdom, which is, in my opinion, very much more to be desired. Somehow, this person knew that the invisible Creator is very very clearly seen in the things he created.


The problem with evolution is that we can't refute intuitive responses easily. The idea that acceleration is constant no matter the mass of the object often weirds kids out when they are exposed to it, but take a tennis ball and a ball of lead and demonstrate it....

Here is an old post from last summer when I debated Susanna of Cut on the Bias on Evolution and Creationism.

An interesting point that I often hear is: Look at trees, there must be a God/Creator/etc. (from people that aren't particularly religious either). Reminds me of the 18th century bishop who whenever he saw a monkey at the London zoo couldn't believe there could be a God, as he became so enraged. Romantic, emotional responses, seem to dictate opinions about these sort of issues.

Even if evolution can't explain all the complexity in nature, I feel toward this topic as a methodological naturalist what I would hopefully feel toward atomic theory in an earlier age. When Dalton's Theory came out in the early 19th century the mechanisms were rather poorly understood and it was a very ill-understood model. It took the emergence of Quantum Mechanics to have a satisfactory model of the atom (in a fashion). Nevertheless, we saw the first sketches of reality in the Daltonian Model (as opposed to the purely metaphysical conjectures in the original Democritan Atomic School).

This Chris Mooney article about Creationism/Evolution polls might be of interest to some.

Posted by razib at 11:22 AM

The cover story of this weeks Spectator is about Darwin denial http://www.spectator.co.uk/article.php3?table=old§ion=current&issue=2003-10-25&id=3647 .

One of the interesting points made in the article is that even amoung people who believe in evolution ignorence is widespread, for example someone in the article explains evolution thus:

"If you use your thumbs a lot, you will have children with big thumbs. If they use their thumbs a lot, and so do their children, then eventually there will be a new sort of person with big thumbs."

So the struggle is not merely to get people to believe in evolution but to then get believers to understand natural selection.

Posted by: RossF at October 28, 2003 01:00 PM

Not to be difficult, but do we really care whether the average person understands evolutionary theory? It doesn't have important implications for public policy, and doesn't help people in their everyday lives. I grant that it should be part of a well-rounded education for any college student, but if I had to choose one complex topic to try and educate the masses in it would be economics, not evolution/biology...

Posted by: bbartlog at October 28, 2003 01:22 PM

But evolution does have important policy implications. Certainly in agriculture and medicine, and those are just off the top of my head. If policy makers understood selection, they'd make better decisions about pesticides, herbicides, and how drug resistant bacteria come to be. Plus, viral evolution can help us fight AIDS and other diseases.

Posted by: rob at October 28, 2003 01:40 PM

re: Ross' point many people view evolution through a teleological lens-as in evolving toward a purpose, evolving upwards as it was. btw, when asked, the public in the united states often is OK with both evolution & creation being taught under "equal time." i got into an argument with a environmental science (earth science) teacher in high school about this-he accepted evolution, but thought in all "fairness" we should teach the "other side."

Posted by: razib at October 28, 2003 01:44 PM

yeah, my point is there was a reason it wasn't intuitive. likewise, the idea of how an eye could arise might not be intuitive as a naturalistic process for obvious reasons....

Posted by: razib at October 28, 2003 01:54 PM

If policy makers understood selection, they'd make better decisions about pesticides, herbicides, and how drug resistant bacteria come to be.

But you really don't need to understand evolution to have a functional grasp of these phenomena. 'Bacteria eventually become more resistant to the drugs used against them' is a fact that can be accepted on its own without a knowledge of the underlying mechanisms.

Plus, viral evolution can help us fight AIDS and other diseases.

OK, so someone working in a lab needs to understand evolution in this context. Doesn't change what I said above.

Posted by: bbartlog at October 28, 2003 02:39 PM

There might be a clue in her answer: "Things are too orderly".

To me things seem pretty messy, but then I've been living away from Mommy and Daddy for several decades.

Posted by: Zizka at October 28, 2003 03:06 PM

also note-the distinction between "microevolution" and "macroevolution." creationists accept the former, not the latter...though i think the separation is somewhat artificial (just like what a "species," or as creationists of the old school would say, "kinds," are exactly).

Posted by: razib at October 28, 2003 03:57 PM

I tend to agree with bbartlog on this one - and I speak as one who in his restless youth had knock-down, drag-out arguments with any creationists foolish enough to cross my path. But what does it matter? If your average civilian thinks the world was created 6000 years ago, does that have any effect on anything? Just how important is it for the average HS student to know about the mechanics of biology? This isn't some kind of "noble lie" thing, BTW - I just don't see the reason to get all worked up if some people want to beleive falsehoods that are irrelevant to their daily lives...

Posted by: jimbo at October 28, 2003 04:56 PM

For me, creationism is a marker for a lot of other negative stuff. This relates to the vouchers / home school controversy too -- I think that it would be a disaster if the ~30% anti-evolution population ended up home-schooling their kids or educating them in church schools.

If evolution were to be taught in HS, even people who ended up not believing in evolution would end up knowing that many educated people, especially in biology, do believe in it. The complacent ignorance of devout Christians is hard to imagine if you haven't been involuntarily confronted with it.

My agenda is different than 90%-95% of the people here, but I think that secular, libertarian conservatives are playing with fire if they think they can join the religious right under the big tent.

Posted by: Zizka at October 29, 2003 12:30 PM

The issue here isn't whether evolution is true, but whether it's wise to teach it to young children

Do you really want your children to be taught that life is a constant struggle of person against person, family against family, class against class, sex against sex ...

... and of children against parents?

(yes I know this is simplistic, but that's how most kids in their early teens will see the situation)

Sounds like a recipe for social chaos to me

Kids who want to pursue careers in biology can learn about evolution in college. i.e. when they're old enough to understand and take responsibility for the consequences of their opinions and actions

Folks who push evolution in schools are being either (a) stupid or (b) deliberately malicious and socially destructive

Posted by: PovertyBeckons at October 29, 2003 07:36 PM

"By this logic, we should have them rant against capitalism."

"You should read a bit about kin selection. Even multicellularity is testament to the fact that evolution requires cooperation as well as competition."

We're dealing with kids here. You can't get too sophisticated, else you'll lose them and confuse them

Evolution is a complex subject. A teacher must either slip into (potentially dangerous) over-simplifications, or else risk leaving the class behind

Either way, a lot of kids are going to come away with the idea that moral values are relative, a matter of luck or superior force

An adult - living in the real world, responsible for himself and conscious of the effects of his actions - can handle this idea

For kids it is dangerous

18 is a good age to start learning about evolution

Posted by: PovertyBeckons at October 29, 2003 09:51 PM

you know, zizka, i've been having doubts about vouchers and home schooling stuff simply because of the problem of people setting up madrassas in a multicultural western society, but you're right. it's something to think about. children are not self-made beings.

Posted by: Jason Soon at October 29, 2003 09:52 PM

Do you really want your children to be taught that life is a constant struggle of person against person, family against family, class against class, sex against sex ..

seriously-if you characterize it like so, you are part of the problem and a reason we should teach evolution! it isn't too hard to introduce topics like symbiogenesis, mutualism, symbiosis, etc. etc. so that you chalk it up to more than just "struggle of person against person." your conception owes a lot more to spencerian social darwinism than it does to darwin's original ideas-which actually pointed out the importance of cooperation.

so if you believe what you believe, you are a) stupid or ignorant and don't know what you're talking about, or b) too unimaginative to conceive of a fashion to present nuance to elementary school children, in which case c) let's let them grub around in the mud and not bother them with history, science and mathematics.

btw, leftists propogandize in favor of the cooperation angle constantly to folks out there, so i think it's doable to balance out the two factors. if you really understand that evolution is more than the inaccurate stick figure you sketched out earlier, you should preface your doom mongering in a way so that we understand that and aren't too patronizing in our responses.

Posted by: razib at October 29, 2003 10:52 PM

p.s. let's not teach kids anything about thermodynamics, "heat death" will depress kids and turn them into nihilisitc monsters.

Posted by: razib at October 29, 2003 10:58 PM

PovertyBeckons' comment is typical of people who are against the theory of evolution in some way. Most of these people really hate the social darwinism stuff, but want to throw out the science stuff as well.

About teaching ID or evolution in schools, I think there is no real logic behind teaching anything but evolution in science/biology class. Sure, teach them ID or whatever other creation myth in religion or history of religion class.

Posted by: Zack at October 29, 2003 11:25 PM

i thought PB was a leftist? left-right convergence makes it a distinction without difference....

Posted by: razib at October 30, 2003 12:42 AM

Godless & Razib

Personally, I think that schools should neither teach evolution nor creationism - they should do what public schools were originally designed to do: teach kids to read, write and do sums competently

Everything else (including biology) is of secondary importance

Questions to teachers about religion, human origins, sex, and other similar issues should be referred to parents

?Religious apologists (aided and abetted by man's natural brain structure - viz. neurotheology) have managed to keep the comforting lie of religion afloat despites insults as serious as heliocentrism, rain-making crop dusters, and birth control.?

I?m with Spinoza on this one ? religion and philosophy (science) are different approaches to the same problem. The former seeks to promote truth by appealing to emotion, while the latter promotes it by appealing to reason

Philosophy is clearly superior, but this is something not everyone can appreciate

The intelligent should practice philosophy, while respecting the simpler beliefs of those unable to follow their arguments. To attack religion *per se*, without providing an equally simple alternative explanation (which evolution is not), is to risk social upheaval and revolution

I would have no problem with evolution, except that provoking social upheaval and revolution is *exactly* what many evolution-promoters seem to be interested in

Posted by: PovertyBeckons at October 30, 2003 02:03 AM

? = "

Posted by: PovertyBeckons at October 30, 2003 02:05 AM

Honest guys, PB isn't me trolling to make the right wing look bad. But you know, probably the problem a lot of you have is that you got too much education in public school. Goddamn shame your parents were all heathens.

Posted by: Zizka at October 30, 2003 03:51 PM