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Posted at 8:30 AM ET, 03/ 1/2011

The fight over teaching evolution, climate change

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by educator Anthony Cody, who taught science for 18 years in inner-city Oakland and now works with a team of science teacher-coaches that supports novice teachers. He is a National Board-certified teacher and an active member of the Teacher Leaders Network. This post appeared on his Education Week Teacher blog, Living in Dialogue.

By Anthony Cody
Newsflash: American science teachers are so afraid of controversy, so intimidated by students and parents who dispute the theory of evolution, that, according to this recent survey, more than half do not even take a stand on the issue with their students. And one in eight actually promote creationism. Only about 28% consistently teach evolution.

And from Tennessee comes the news that conservative lawmakers there are working on a law that will require science educators there to "teach the controversies" regarding evolution and climate change.

An article in Mother Jones describes the bill:

"The teaching of some scientific subjects, including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy," the bill states. Further, the state will not prohibit any teacher from "helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught."

I taught science for 18 years, and have some strong feelings about this. Evolution is the central organizing principle that guides our understanding of the entire field of biology. We understand modern species based on their history and genetic relationships to one another. This allows us to understand why we have so much in common with other forms of life -- even ones that seem very different.

When I taught Life Science to 7th graders in Oakland, I found that evolution allowed us to make sense of the wonderful variety of animals that we studied. Before we went on field trips to the aquarium, we studied the fish we would see. Why do some have markings that look like eyes near their tails? Why are some flat like a pancake, and others shaped like sleek cigars? Each of these adaptations helped one or another species to survive and reproduce, by providing a competitive advantage.

This was not without controversy in my classes. I had students and parents alike challenge me. So I developed an approach that I described here a couple of years ago. In my science class, I explained, we base our understandings on evidence. Whatever we believe can be challenged by new evidence, and is always open to question. This is a different set of ground rules from those in effect at church. There, faith is the basis of understanding. And faith is not about evidence, and not open to question.

I think our students need a scientific understanding of the world, including the theory of evolution. To be clear, while evolution may be "controversial" in the public square, it is by no means controversial among scientists. The theory of evolution is central to understanding how species have changed over time, and is crucial in our understanding of physiology and medicine as well. Even practical sciences such as agriculture rely heavily on evolution to understand how crops and livestock have been bred, and how they interact with pests and pathogens.

What is more, students need to understand the rules by which science operates. Science does not have all the answers, by any means, but it gives us a way to accumulate evidence, test out new ideas, and predict what will happen in the future. This is extremely useful in this world in which our species has become so dominant and destructive as to threaten even the viability of life itself.

But we are seeing a political movement that wishes to misinform the next generation regarding these basic things. It is more than inconvenient to have a climate that is growing dangerously warmer. It threatens the market-based system that drives production ever forward. In the US the output of the economy is expected to grow by 2% to 5% per year - indefinitely! This is absolutely unsustainable given current modes of energy and resource uses, but any scientific data that contradicts this must be undermined and declared "controversial," even if it is completely factual.

The theory of evolution undermines another core value held by some conservatives, who believe that the Christian bible is literally true and ought not to be contradicted. They are entitled to their beliefs, and I respect those beliefs -- but they have nothing to do with science. If we, as teachers, tell our students that there is genuine scientific controversy over the theories of evolution and global warming, we are misleading them about the facts, and also creating confusion about the way science works.

Science is not determined by a popular vote. Scientists work very hard to not only investigate nature, but also to share their discoveries, challenge one another, and build consensus around ideas that have sufficient evidence. There are legitimate controversies in science -- based on disagreements about what the evidence shows. Challenges rooted in religious beliefs are not in this category. The theories of evolution and global warming have both endured rigorous scrutiny - and the scientific consensus is clear.

The proposed law in Tennessee, the state where the Scopes trial occurred 86 years ago, will require science teachers to inject controversies into science that do not belong there. This is a reminder of another reason teachers need protection for their ability to teach their subjects based on their expertise. Our unions are one of the best ways to protect this freedom.

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By Valerie Strauss  | March 1, 2011; 8:30 AM ET
Categories:  Anthony Cody, Guest Bloggers, Science  | Tags:  climate change, evolution, global warming, intelligent design, science class, scopes trial, teaching climate change, teaching evolution, theory of evolution  
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Comments

I'm curious Mr. Cody. "This is a reminder of another reason teachers need protection for their ability to teach their subjects based on their expertise." Would you say the teacher's expertise and experience understands the position of religion? If not, let me know what cabbage patch they were born in.

Why is there a problem with telling students the option of believing in a higher being or being higher on the intelligence scale? All these years we have "in reality" lived with both concepts and the world has not imploded as of this writing.

Those would be scientists will go that direction regardless.

Posted by: jbeeler | March 1, 2011 8:50 AM | Report abuse

Getting religions to stop meddling with science takes years. Copernicus published his work in the mid-sixteenth century, & the theory that the Earth stands still was still hanging around in the early eighteenth.

Posted by: clevin | March 1, 2011 9:02 AM | Report abuse

More language study would help defuse the evolution-creation theory. If people understood the difficulties of translating from one language to another and if they understood how languages change over time, they might realize that it is totally impossible to accept the modern translations of the Bible as totally accurate. A relative, a classical language scholar, stopped going to church. She said she still believed in God, but what the churches were teaching was so far removed from the ancient sources that it was worthless. (A customer in a bookstore, asked which translation of the Bible she wanted to purchase, gasped in horror, "You mean they've changed the Bible?" Reminded that Christ, for one, never spoke English, either Elizabethan or modern, she replied thoughtfully, "I never thought of that. They did speak other languages in Biblical times, didn't they?")

Posted by: sideswiththekids | March 1, 2011 9:14 AM | Report abuse

There are two issues here. First, the Bible is a creation of man and in that I mean, King James cherry picked which parts he wanted included, so the view points therein are already held suspect because of the omissions.

Second, if we are to improve test scores in science, we had best be teaching our children what real science is and the evidence and facts it's based upon.

Also for consideration, to have religion become a part of teaching we must ask ourselves, which religious viewpoint do we teach? If it's only the Christian dogma, then we're practicing bias and public schools are no place for those issues.

The churches of this earth have overstepped their bounds in the past and have tried to create public policy through it, much to the world's detriment. More people have died in wars in the name of God -any God- than for any other reason. There are good reasons for separation of church and state affairs.

Finally, as a teacher, I do not want to lead -nor do I have time to- religious debate or become a spiritual leader in such debates, that is the domain of the home and parents. The practice of education is steeped in data, evidence, and scientific inquiry, not unproven faith-based doctrine.

Posted by: hurtpillow | March 1, 2011 9:32 AM | Report abuse

The march of the Koch - Heads

Posted by: DuttonPeabody | March 1, 2011 1:06 PM | Report abuse

When is a theory no longer a theory? When the mounting evidence of centuries leads incontrovertibly to the conclusion it has become more or less fact. There is much room for discussion but the ultimate conclusion remins the same: evolution is how the world and humans have changed.

So STOP using the term "theory" and get people educated to the descriptions of science and proofs.
Evolution desparately needs to move on from this ridiculous "debate". Fear and ignorance still direct too much political discussion.

Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | March 1, 2011 2:59 PM | Report abuse

jbeeler writes:

"Why is there a problem with telling students the option of believing in a higher being or being higher on the intelligence scale? All these years we have "in reality" lived with both concepts and the world has not imploded as of this writing."


I honestly do not think it is the place of the science teacher to present a range of theological and non-theological options to explain the creation of life on Earth. The role of the science teacher is to share the best understanding scientists have arrived at, as a result of their investigations and accumulated evidence.

When I taught this material, I acknowledged to my students that, of course, they are free to believe whatever they want to. But I also told them that I would not be teaching them religious views, nor did I want to discuss views of creation or evolution that were based in faith, rather than in evidence.

You are correct that both these concepts can exist without our heads exploding. But they do not both belong in a science class. Just as I do not go and demand that the minister provide evidence for his assertions of the holy trinity (or whatever), I do not think it is useful for people with strong religious beliefs to demand that science teachers teach religiously-rooted approaches to evolution and creation.

Posted by: anthony_cody | March 1, 2011 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Eric Blair
Infowars.com
March 1, 2011

Taxing the air we exhale, rationing human necessities, a global one-child policy, geoengineering (high-altitude chemical spraying), and now nuclear war have all been proposed to combat global warming. Have climate theorists lost their marbles, or just their humanity?

There has not been much middle ground found between global warming believers and the “it’s a hoax” crowd. I started as a believer after watching An Inconvenient Truth. I struggled to even look into the alternative view because the establishment had so successfully made the deniers seem insane.

However, having now done extensive research, I can attest that the “hoax” crowd has just as much, if not more, compelling evidence on their side as believers do. Furthermore, most global warming deniers won’t disagree that the climate is changing or shifting in some noticeable way, only that man-made CO2 is not the primary cause.

This article is not intended to debate the questions surrounding the man-made global warming theory, but rather the proposed “solutions.” Most believers genuinely care about the environment and view deniers as selfish “takers” who care not for mother nature. This is not the case at all. In fact, I would argue that most deniers feel just as passionately about environmental issues as believers. The difference seems to be that deniers focus their energy on tangible and measurable problems in the environment like water, air and soil pollution, GMO food, excessive pharmaceuticals, chemical spraying, and results from oil spills and gas fracking to name a few.

None of these very real threats to human and environmental health are addressed by the global warming crowd, save for possibly air pollution. When one dissects the proposals to combat global warming, it seems clear that the environmental movement has been hijacked by CO2 propagandists for an ulterior motive. Even though hardcore believers seem to have a healthy distrust for bankers, corporations, and their puppet politicians, they have a very difficult time challenging the establishment’s science or solutions pertaining to global warming. They seem too busy defending the theory to make the connection to what they’re actually supporting — which is a cabal of big banks, big oil, and big brother seeking further control of society by hyping unprovable environmental threats that they never actually intend to fix in the first place.

At the very least, eyebrows should be raised since “hacked” emails exposed that the science data had been manipulated to fit the theory. Alarm bells should go off when we learn that, as Vice President, Gore designed the proposed Cap and Trade system with Enron’s criminal CEO Ken “Kenny Boy” Lay years before the global warming theory had been introduced to the public. And for progressives a full blown revolt should take place knowing that the scandalous international Banksters and Big Oil have shaped Cap and Trade to line their pocket!

Posted by: PaulRevere4 | March 1, 2011 4:18 PM | Report abuse

When the world of the past believed in many gods and superstition was in abundance, it was the belief in one God that changed people and caused them to reason out against tyrannies that were propped up by the belief in gods, or that even people that were believed to be gods were challenged.

When the world was under captivity to superstition and traditions that reinforced subordinations and slavery Christianity came and declared that all sins can be forgiven by accepting the belief that a sacrifice has been made to pay for all the sins of humanity. This belief put an end to the rule of the Roman Empire.

But every now and then, revolutionary ideas create their own institutions that become instruments of tyranny. The ideas become religion. Early Christianity brought the establishing of the Holy Roman Empire and the Spanish Inquisition.

Today Evolution has now established itself like a religion. It is now argued that the only explanation to diversity is Evolution and that there is now no other explanation. This is in itself is tyrannical and has made scientists irrational. Science as institutionalized by Evolution refuses to consider other possibilities of development. They refuse to consider that intelligence can create the nature that we see today.

Yet, the work of Craig Venter is telling us that in the most fundamental of life forms, there is code that runs the functions of life forms.

Evolution cannot explain the entry of code in a cell. It cannot now be argued that life based on code can come or develop from just a chance mixing of amino acids in nature. The complexity of the laboratory work done by Venter and his group cannot scientifically allow the argument that random mixing of common amino acids will bring in life.

The Venter work also showed that the genetic code is intelligently organized, and that beyond the DNA, the cell itself carries an operating system that governs the life functions. The basic life functions include food storage in vacuoles, mitochondria for energy conversion, nucleus for cell division needed for life continuation, and the unique functions that is given to each kind of living form to become part of the symbiotic life system that is beyond the single life existence.

Evolution was based on observation of bones and fossils that showed apparent evolutionary development to natures diversity.

Now we know that the bones are shaped by the dictates of the code that is in the cell. In other words, Evolution should now be discarded as an explanation for the development of all life forms. Science should now pursue and investigate how the code and the cell was developed because Darwin's theory is no longer valid; it cannot explain the code that exists in all living cells.

Now, is Science ready to discard Evolution and move on to explore and bring in a new world that would bring humanity to the possibility of becoming creators of new living forms?

Venter's work makes Creation the new science!

Posted by: pinoythinker | March 1, 2011 10:28 PM | Report abuse

The issue is rational thinking. Those who claim a reading of the Bible contradicts science are not rational. We fail to understand what rational thinking is. See the new book, "Rational Thinking, Government Policies, Science, and Living". Rational thinking starts with clearly stated principles, continues with logical deductions, and then examines empirical evidence to possibly modify the principles.
Ideas based upon religion, such as Christianity or Islam, start with arbitrary meaningless statements that cannot be falsified; hence they are not rational.

Posted by: aranoff1 | March 2, 2011 8:59 AM | Report abuse

The issue is lack of rational thinking. See the new book, "Rational Thinking, Government Policies, Science, and Living". Rational thinking starts with clearly stated principles, continues with logical deductions, and then examines empirical evidence to possibly modify the principles.
These rules of rationality are violated by religions such as Christianity or Islam.

Posted by: aranoff1 | March 2, 2011 9:01 AM | Report abuse

The issue is rational thinking. Those who claim a reading of the Bible contradicts science are not rational. We fail to understand what rational thinking is. See the new book, "Rational Thinking, Government Policies, Science, and Living". Rational thinking starts with clearly stated principles, continues with logical deductions, and then examines empirical evidence to possibly modify the principles.
Ideas based upon religion, such as Christianity or Islam, start with arbitrary meaningless statements that cannot be falsified; hence they are not rational.

Posted by: aranoff1 | March 2, 2011 9:02 AM | Report abuse

Teachers must be equipped to deal with just one notion in each subject or there is confusion. Students are there to accept what is politically correct given by those in authority over them. Fist in the face unions are established to enforce politically correct thought so we can move on to our united destiny. The earth our mother is melting, melting. No place for dissenters lest we all die. Better union thugs kill a few fundies now. That is reality. Evolution aids the revolution, not Christians.

Posted by: queman | March 2, 2011 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Evolution is a stronger theory now than when it was first formulated. It explains the vast majority of observed facts and is contradicted by none. Occasionally a new strain of creationism will come along and talk about the demise of evolution, but it's wishful thinking. The creationist intelligentsia, such as it is, puts out some nonsense, and their followers - eager to prove their beliefs are true instead of just trying to understand - will not check their facts and will soak and perpetuate the comic book understanding of science and of evolution that they are spoon-fed.


Creationists are not "skeptical" - they are denialist. If they assumed the role of honest opposition they might fill a valuable role.Creationism - to include "intelligent design" creationism - cannot be taught without misrepresenting the facts, theories, laws, philosophy, history, and methods of science. These are the guys who were bad at science and went into apologetics instead.

Quoting Darwin out of context, misrepresenting scientific results, and a puny list of "scientists who reject evolution" is the best they have come up with. The AGW denialists have borrowed the creationist's playbook.

There is no scientific debate about whether evolution is correct - the debate is entirely political and is driven by religious extremists. Most of the debate denialism about global warming is politically driven by economic interests.

There's an easy fix, though. From now on, before scientists publish, we make them get imprimatur for their papers. They send of pre-publication copies to the Vatican and to various Baptist seminaries to make sure it's okay with the Christians. We send it to some Madrassahs to run it past the Muslims, and to BYU to make sure it's copacetic with the Mormons. Then it's off to the Cato Institute to make sure Rand and the libertarians say it's okay, then to some Worker's Party to confirm the communists don't have a problem.

All we need to do is find the appropriate experts for tea leaves, Ouija boards, and chicken guts and the problem is solved.

Because that's what the world really needs - to ignore the scientists who are doing the actual research and accept the "explanations" of ideologues like Kent Hovind, William Dembski, and "Lord" Monckton.

Posted by: kgreen1 | March 3, 2011 7:49 PM | Report abuse

There are several different factors involved here.

Evolution is well-supported by the evidence; even if one wants to reject it based on personal adherence to religious dogma one ought at least understand what one is rejecting.

Climate change - that is, the claim that 'global warming' or the buzzphrase-du-jour is abnormal, anthropogenic, and potentially harmful - is at best a hypothesis for which the adherents seem unwilling to produce a falsifiable theory. Present the arguments on both sides, fairly. To present it as 'settled' or otherwise something approaching fact is a political manipulation having nothing to do with science whatsoever.

Posted by: mrkwong | March 4, 2011 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Actually, teaching the controversies is the best way to teach. You teach the good with the bad, and you get kids interested in actually studying science instead of memorizing it. Your view that you just show them the results is simply a way to indoctrinate kids into a way of thinking, not understanding science.

You must have screwed up many children through your years. Pathetic.

Posted by: astonerii | March 4, 2011 6:26 PM | Report abuse

Here in Canada, we have the opposite problem.
Evolution is taught with very little objection. It's the man made climate change supporters that are pushing a religion on our kids.

Posted by: UpNorth7 | March 4, 2011 9:31 PM | Report abuse

There is no problem teaching "both" sides in a science classroom, except that one can't teach both sides equally without misrepresenting the science.

It would be quite educational to teach creationism and then to explain exactly every way that it is not just wrong, but outright stupid.

Then show how the AGW denialists use the same techniques that the creationists use.

Posted by: kgreen1 | March 5, 2011 12:02 PM | Report abuse

We keep hearing that tired old refrain that evolution is"central" to biology, or some such drivel. That is like saying that because manufacturing is the origin of engineered things, manufacturing engineering is central to engineering. Other engineeering disciplines -- e.g.mechanical,electrical, and chemical -- are needed to understand and design those things.


Posted by: LarryFafarman | March 8, 2011 7:59 AM | Report abuse

It's not drivel that evolution is central to biology. Laws explain WHAT happens. Theories explain HOW it happens.

The Theory of Evolution (ToE) is an organizing explanation that ties together diverse observations about the natural world.

Unfortunately, evolution is taught poorly in the country and few people actually learn this. My oldest daughter was barely taught any evolution in HS; however, in my youngest daughter's school nearly every single chapter had a section on how evolution was relevant. This was over and above the actual chapters on evolution.

Unfortunately, many people in my generation think they have "learned evolution" in school. Most of them are deluded. Few of us learned any evolution; it may have been discussed offhandedly a few times, but for most of us it was essentially gossip along the lines of learning sex education from the local drug dealer.

The problem isn't that people don't know anything about evolution; the problem is that lots of people know a lot about evolution - most of it wrong.


"The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents and the ocean was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge." -- from The Discoverers, by Daniel Boorstin, Former Librarian of Congress

Posted by: kgreen1 | March 8, 2011 9:43 AM | Report abuse

astonerii said- --

"Actually, teaching the controversies is the best way to teach. You teach the good with the bad, and you get kids interested in actually studying science instead of memorizing it. Your view that you just show them the results is simply a way to indoctrinate kids into a way of thinking, not understanding science.

You must have screwed up many children through your years. Pathetic."

Right on

If the students can't understand the weaknesses, then they can't understand the strengths,either . I say teach both.

Posted by: LarryFafarman | March 8, 2011 11:09 AM | Report abuse

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