Why We Must Teach Evolution in the Science Classroom

By Lorentzen, Laura | Phi Kappa Phi Forum, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Why We Must Teach Evolution in the Science Classroom


Lorentzen, Laura, Phi Kappa Phi Forum


I don't remember when I first learned about the theory of evolution, but nowadays I find myself reading of it a great deal in the popular press and hearing it discussed in the media. As my daughter enters elementary school, I find myself anxious to discuss with her teachers what they will cover in science class and where in their curriculum they plan to teach evolution.

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OUR COUNTRY HAS LAWS THAT SEPARATE church and state. Public institutions like schools must be neutral on the subject of religion, as required by the Constitution's First Amendment. Our courts have mandated that creationism is not an appropriate addition to the science curriculum in public schools; yet supporters of intelligent design press to have antievolutionary discussions enter the science classroom. Creationists even advocate that, when teaching evolution, educators should add the disclaimer that it is "just a theory."

Let's consider why all of us as educated persons, scientists and nonscientists alike, should take note of what science is taught--and not taught--in our public schools. In common language, a theory is a guess of sorts. However, in scientific language, a theory is "a set of universal statements that explain some aspect of the natural world ... formulated and tested on the basis of evidence, internal consistency, and their explanatory power." (1) The theory of evolution meets all of these criteria.

On the opposite side of the argument, "intelligent design fails on both basic tenets of a scientific theory; design cannot be observed, and it cannot be tested," writes Mary Crowley in the New York Academy of Sciences Update magazine. (2)

The National Science Teachers Association (NTSA) argues the importance of teaching evolution in one of its own, most fundamental, writings--its position statement: "If evolution is not taught, students will not achieve the level of scientific literacy they need." The NSTA recognizes that evolution is a major unifying concept across multiple disciplines of science, and the National Science Education Standards, updated in 1996, recommend evolution as a means to "unify science disciplines and provide students with powerful ideas to help them understand the natural world." (3) Indeed, the evolutionary perspective is vitally important in modern molecular and cellular biology, not to mention biomedicine--for example, the nature of disease and targeted treatments--and other scientific disciplines.

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