“it eats through just about every traditional concept, and leaves in its wake a revolutionized world-view, with most of the old landmarks still recognizable, but transformed in fundamental ways.”
”Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea
Four in ten Americans are creationists in the most literal sense, believing that humans were put here in their present form some time in a not-so-distant past. Many of the remaining 60% accept various contrived versions of evolution that have little to do with the one described by the scientific world. This cultural rejection of one of the great “showcases” of the scientific enterprise has severely undermined the intellectual and scientific legitimacy of our educational system. We have reliably out-maneuvered the enemies of education in both the courts and the legislative sessions time after time. Great appreciation is due to organizations like the National Center for Science Education and local Citizens for Science groups for their effective work thereUnfortunately, evolution is still not being taught as the unifying principle of biological science that it ii and in many classrooms, It’s not being taught at all. Teachers are under-trained, pressured by outside forces, or allowed to “fly under the radar.”
The job ahead for those defending educational integrity looks as difficult and discouraging as ever
It’s been 152 years since Darwin’s “acidic” idea was introduced to the world and its corrosive effects on some of society's most deeply held and fiercely defended views are as profound as ever. That will be true for a long time. The competing ideas, while not rooted in evidence, are long-cultivated and deeply entangled in our once-perceived place in the universe.
For those us of us who have looked Darwin’s idea squarely in the face and embraced it, there is consolation. We understand that our scientific view of evolution is in a position of great luxury. The intense cultural war being fought around it can’t actually influence in any meaningful way how we ultimately judge its validity. The public’s acceptance of evolution is important, but not to evolution. Its challenge comes from the scientific process and the reliability of its rigorous, progressive, and self-correcting nature. In the end, It only has the evidence to hide behind.
Our modern understanding of evolution is built on the original insights of Darwin but also exposed to a mountain of observation, testing, and significant refinement. Evolutionary biology, in fact, is as vibrant and compelling an area of study as ever. It continues to provide new findings that enrich this massive body of knowledge and allow us to look at its mechanisms with ever-increasing resolution.
While there is plenty to be concerned about, we can find comfort in the fact that popularity can’t decide what’s true. With that, we should take a day or two to forget about the polls and “academic freedom” bills. We should join one of the over 500 Darwin Day events taking place around the world over a two week period. There we can revel with others who recognize what Darwin and ultimately science mean. We can celebrate Wallace, Lyell, and old Erasmus—celebrate Mayr, Smith, Gould, finches and fruit flies. Celebrate science and recognize how it has improved our lives, both in the most tangible ways and through this inspiring exercise in curiosity that it is. The endeavor of evolutionary biology has certainly been both.
We can return to the fight in the morning, reminded why this all matters so much.
To see what others are saying, visit this thread for a discussion about teaching evolution and teachers beliefs http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=200198.
For more dicussions, please visit this link: http://forums.randi.org/tags.php?tag=evolution
Michael Blanford is Director of Educational Programs for the James Randi Educational Foundation