Evolution Teaching: Asinine, Unfocused and Erroneous. Time to get HOLISTIC!

Mention the word ‘evolution’ and what springs to mind?

The Charles Darwin (and Alfred Wallace) theory of evolution of species, plus a number of refinements (including Mendelian genetics, DNA) and speculations (eg. the role of symbiosis), and, of course, palaeontology. Also, the dispute with creationism.

In discussions about evolution in thread after thread on this board (and most other boards) this is about all that people seem to focus on and flog to death.

It’s possible that teaching just the final stage of the total process in isolation of the foundation parts makes it difficult for some people to see the big picture.

Evolution should be taught as a unified subject. It should cover each stage in a logical order and from the ground up, and not commence at the third floor, by which I mean the ‘evolution of living species’, the final stage of the process.
Stage 1 – Cosmology - Evolution of the Universe

The creation of the universe. The creation of the first elements and their spread throughout the universe to form planets. Discuss various competing theories for the creation of the universe (Note: ‘Big Bang’ – Inflation theory is not the last word and shouldn’t be taught as if it were). The formation of the first stars made of the lightest elements that eventually formed the first heavy elements and spread them around via novas and supernovas. Some idea of the vast periods of time involved should be instilled in the student.

Stage 2 – Geology – High Metallicity Star Systems, Planets and Satellites

Start from the evolution of stars and galaxies, the creation of the first heavy elements in the first stars. The dispersal of the first heavy elements via novas and supernovas and the formation of high Metallicity solar systems and galaxies. An explanation of how planets and moons form and evolve and the many eons it took for them to reach their present stage. The contribution of simple life forms to the development of rock formations on Earth in the later stages should not be ignored. This should be linked to the ordering of the fossil record from old rock layers to more recent.

Stage 3 – Bioscience - Evolution of Life

Development of life forms on Earth during the last three or four billion years, from the simple to the complex, as revealed through the fossil record from K bacteria to sea and land life forms (not omitting periodic extinction events) leading to the life forms common today. This part of the course should cover speciation, the rise of new orders, genetics, cladistics, and more recently, the significance of DNA as a means of identifying relationships between species and orders. For a bit of historical background, briefly touch on Lamarckianism, Piltdown Man, Intelligent Design, Creationism and even Sheldrake’s highly speculative theories.
To focus exclusively on biological evolution as “evolution” is a poor strategy. By omitting an in depth explanantion of the crucial forerunners to the origin of life, teachers of “bio-evolution” have, to date, provided an incomplete picture of what evolution (in the complete sense) is all about and this approach may have caused a lot of unnecessary confusion.

To sum up, I believe that it would be better to teach evolution as a complete package, rather than the “start at stage three” approach adopted by modern educationists.

Don’t confuse a given debate topic with how people think science should be taught. If you look at the CA state content requirements for science, it looks like they do pretty much what you recommend. In particular, click on grades 5-8 and it looks pretty comprehensive. Once you get into HS, you take electives. I suspect other states operate similiarly.

The “complete package” is that evolution is a biological phenomenon. All those other topics simply help to establish the necessary “deep time” in which evolution can produce the results we see today. None of those other topics are, really, at all necessary to establish either the reality of evolution (populations change over time) or its mechanisms (natural selection, genetic drift, etc.).

Neither geology, astronomy, palaeontology nor biology were as advanced in the mid-19th century as they are today, yet several people were still quite able to grok what Darwin had to say about evolution.

The real problem is that even the basics of evolution are not taught in a satisfactory manner, if at all.

I’m not suggesting that teaching the big picture doesn’t exist but that it’s rare.

I’m not convinced that the majority of 14 year olds who get taught “evolution of life” necessarily have been taught all, or even most, of the items listed on that particular curriculum before encountering theories about evolution of life, nor does everyone progress through every subject listed. I think there was a Cecil column not long ago where nearly half the people polled thought that humanity appeared in the last 10,000 years, so a lot of people are not being taught basic science at school.

The public debate as currently conducted is almost exclusively on the ground chosen by the ID/creationists, ie creation of life, and the science group that engages them in debate with the greatest frequency are scientific evolutionists like Gould and Dawkins. These debates tend to resemble the similar interminable debates that are sometimes held on SDMB and other boards.

By responding to the creationists’ narrowly focused case with an equally narrowly focused response, and omitting the big picture, the bio-evolutionists miss the opportunity to educate the public as to the scope and depth of evolution as a theory.

I disagree; calling those other things ‘evolution’ in the sense that they’re all part of one big process just muddies the waters. They are distinct topics, best understood by studying them in focus (or even breaking them into subtopics). Lumping them all together as you suggest is just contrived, counterproductive and quite possibly adds false weight to some of the nonsense spouted by creationists.

If you don’t establish the “deep time” as a backdrop, then you the likelihood that teaching the evolution of life forms, which take some hundreds of millions of years to develop, will be readily understood diminishes. If a bunch of 14 year olds is asked how old they think the Earth is I doubt that even half would come up with an answer above a million years.

The “deep time” aspect needs to be established in the mind of the student to prpare the ground for the next stage of learning.

Although I didn’t realise it at the time, my first encounter with evolution was a long series of documentaries from something called the Moody Bible Institute. However, the ‘‘E’’ word was not mentioned once in them.

My first reading of evolutionary theory did not happen until I was about 16 and it made sense but, I believe, only because I had a long standing interest in astronomy and, to a lesser extent, the geo sciences. That provided me with an understanding of the “deep time” needed for life evolution.

Creationists and ID folk have long been trying to confuse evolution with inflation and other theories. I don’t think treating them as part of the same subject - which they aren’t; one is biology, the other is astronomy or cosmology - would make anything clearer. You could say that the universe evolved into its present form, but you’re correct that “evolution” is widely understood to mean the biological process Darwin wrote about. If you try to change that, I think you’ll just end up confusing more people.

I don’t think I’m lumping them all together except in the sense that the topic of evolution should be taught as a coherent whole. They’re split into distinct stages, each stage progresses logically to the next but with all stages having an important level of inter connection.

I don’t think our science education is very good in the US K-12 program, but I don’t think that’s the main problem. Most people just forget what little they learn about it because it has little or no application in everyday life. How often does the average person have to use evolutionary concepts to solve problems? Never.

And it’s not so much that evolution should be taught as a coherent whole with those other subjects, but science should be taught that way.

That’s a surprise. I’ve never encountered that. Not that I’ve delved much into creationist writings but from what I’ve observed creationists stay well away from cosmology.

What exactly is this “total process” you mention?
Taking three essentially unrelated fields and calling them different stages of a “unified subject” is an interesting approach… one that bears no relationship to reality, of course, but interesting.

The fight against pseudoscience isn’t about defending an atheist just-so story about the progression of the universe since Time0. It’s about making sure kids get a coherent education based on observable reality. If just teaching kids the basic cornerstone topics in various branches, so they can understand the fundamental bases for the various science fields, fails to present them with a holistically pleasing atheist worldview… oh well. That’s not the purpose of science education.

Until you can coherently define this unifying total process and justify linking those “stages”, expect to be associated with the other scientistic crackpots trying to promote their ideological agenda at the expense of good science.

I guess I was thinking more of abiogenesis, but I don’t think they see all of these things as separate theories. Certainly the idea of a 6,000-year-old Earth is incompatable with inflation and other theories.

The stages are related.

Without stage 1 there can be no progression to stage 2 and, in turn, there can be no progression to stage 3.

The intent would be to try to build an understanding of evolution from the very start of the process and to leave no gaps or omissions that might hinder a full understanding of the evolutionary theory.

[QUOTE=Aquila Be]
The stages are related.

Without stage 1 there can be no progression to stage 2 and, in turn, there can be no progression to stage 3./QUOTE]
That’s not relation of process; that’s simple dependency. Actually, it’s not even that - biological evolution can still be a real phenomenon even if the fairies poofed the world into existence last Thursday.

Philip Gosse wrote a book Omphalos on this very subject. :cool:

Here is the classic example:
http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0055/0055_01.asp
(panels 9 and 10)

It’s generally the creationists that try to lump everything from cosmology to ontology into the subject of evolution. I don’t think it’s appropriate or helpful. These are such vastly different scientific domains that they really belong in different subjects, not grouped by how they might best prove evolution.

Evolution ISN’T a complete package with the other things you mention, or at least no any moreso than ANY temporal phenomenon or theory that operates in the context of Earth. Evolution isn’t particularly special on that score.

Yes, the tenth panel mentions the full scope of evolution but the rest of the debate, such as it is, mainly focuses on disputes about animal evolution.

the tract wasn’t a total dead loss from a scientific point of view. The 22nd panel accurately depicts MODERN MAN with glasses and a beer gut.

There is no “the evolutionary theory” running through your stages. There is no common process at work there that is correctly described as “evolution” in any singularly meaningful sense.

What is the advantage of trying to push evolution (in the biological sense) as a unifying concept in fields other than biology? Especially when it doesn’t fit the data? Is this a exercise in semantic dishonesty? “Well start calling all these unrelated processes ‘evolution’ so it’ll look like we’ve got an easy answer like ‘god did it’!”

The most unified title you could give it is “history of the universe.” And that course would involve so many different fields that you can easily understand why they are normally separated.