I am a public high school biology teacher, and I do an unusual
thing. I teach my students more than they have to know about
evolution. I push them to behave like competent jurors - not just to
swallow what some authority figure tells them to believe - not even
me - but rather to critically analyze, with an open mind, the
evidence set before them.
Scientific theories have come and gone for centuries, replaced by
better ones as new evidence arises. There has always been
controversy in science and tremendous opposition to those who
challenge the orthodoxy of the day. An effective way to teach
science is to explore some of these controversies.
Teenagers, not surprisingly, find this approach exhilarating.
When I note that contrary to their large and monolithic biology
textbook, some highly credentialed scientists insist that there are
limitations to Darwin's theory, the students perk up.
And when I note that some current biology textbooks contain
widely discredited evidence for Neo-Darwinism - a synthesis of
Darwin's theory of evolution and Gregor Mendel's theory of genetics -
the last of the sleepy looks in the classroom usually vanishes.
Skepticism for its own sake isn't the goal here, but it's
important for students to realize that even respected scientists
have peddled fraudulent evidence in defense of a pet scientific
dogma. A few examples my students learn about are Ernst Haeckel's
faked embryo drawingsand the infamous Piltdown Man - fossils of a
primitive hominid that turned out to be a hoax.
I also expose students to the reputable evidence for evolution.
They learn about some of the pillars of evolutionary theory -
genetically altered fruit flies, the evolution of antibiotic
resistance in bacteria and insecticide resistance in bugs, how
breeding programs change domestic species, and how oscillating
climates affect the beak size of certain kinds of finches. These and
other examples demonstrate that organisms are capable of change over
What is the significance, I ask my students, of these
microevolutionary changes? Can they be extrapolated to explain
macroevolution - that is, evolution from one type of creature to a
fundamentally different kind?
I also dissect these evidences using recent discoveries that have
raised important questions among evolutionary biologists.
My students learn that even highly trained biologists disagree on
these issues, interpreting "hard" evidence in different ways. …