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Preface

Explore Evolution systematically misrepresents scientific facts and the scientific process. Its effect is to proselytize fringe ideas outside of science and to confuse students about evolution. Many of the errors that lace Explore Evolution are introduced in the preface.

p. v: “…the theory of evolution remains the focus of intense public controversy … [and there are] real (and more interesting) scientific controversies about evolution.”

Evolution is not scientifically controversial. To claim otherwise is simply wrong and, worse, unfair to students. Evolution is the fundamental, unifying principle of the life sciences, including medical and agricultural research, and recent advances in genomics and developmental biology.

Explore Evolution misleadingly equates the social controversy over evolution with past and present controversies over string theory, plate tectonics, and global warming. This serves only to confuse students. String theory is currently scientifically controversial, just as plate tectonics was controversial until the 1960s, and global warming was scientifically controversial until the late 1990s. There has not been a scientific controversy about whether life evolved since the 19th century. Social controversies are independent of scientific assessments--and are subjects best taught in social studies, rather than science classes.

p. v: “…scientists question key aspects of [contemporary Darwinian theory].”

These alleged “key aspects” are issues that are not scientifically controversial, yet for decades, creationists have claimed that they are. Biologists have reached a strong consensus about the validity of universal common descent, the power of natural selection, and the importance of studying fossils, embryology, biogeography, and homologous structures. Ongoing disputes about the details of evolution do not support the implication of Explore Evolution that there is scientific doubt of the underlying validity of evolution itself. This classic creationist strategy is simply false.

p. v: “The approach we are using in this book is called ‘inquiry-based’ education.”

The approach toward learning actually used in Explore Evolution is old-fashioned, and directly at odds with the inquiry-based approaches developed by leading science educators. Inquiry-based education provides students with appropriate background information and encourages them to formulate testable hypotheses. Explore Evolution does not do this.

p. vi: “[U.S. and U.K. national policies] call for teaching students about competing views of controversial scientific issues.”

Neither government treats evolution as scientifically controversial, nor do they recommend that students should be taught that they are. The “policy” statements from Congress and the United Kingdom cited in Explore Evolution are misrepresented and misquoted. The phrase “Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of views that exist” occurs nowhere in the No Child Left Behind education act, but in an addendum called a conference committee report. The NCLB does not even mention evolution, much less suggest how it should be taught. The sentence, from what is informally called the “Santorum Amendment to NCLB” is regularly used by creationists who justify their attacks on evolution by claiming it is policy or law. It is neither. Although creationists attempted to get wording inserted into NCLB that would weaken the teaching of evolution, they failed. But constant repetition of the Santorum Amendment language has led to belief in what has become an urban legend: that teachers have been directed by Congress to teach that evolution is a scientifically controversial topic.

The quote allegedly from the British national standards (“Pupils should be taught how scientific controversies can arise from different ways of interpreting empirical evidence [for example, Darwin's theory of evolution]”), is also false and misleading. It is not found in the National Curriculum, which was revised in 2006. It does occur in the decade-old 1999 National Curriculum for England, but it is not part of current British national policy. Where you will find the quotation in abundance is on creationist websites, where, as in Explore Evolution, it is cited to claim governmental imprimatur for teaching that evolution is scientifically controversial.

p. vii: “The main thing you need to know is that ‘the critics’ are not … the same from chapter to chapter.”

To further the misinformation that scientists seriously are debating whether evolution occurred, the authors suggest that a scientist might be cited in the “Case For” (pro-evolution) section in one chapter and in the “Case Against” section in another. A reader ought to know a good deal more about the “critics” cited throughout the book than that they might change from chapter to chapter. In fact, most of the critics cited are creationists, who have been repeatedly shown to misrepresent the facts and concepts of evolution and other sciences. We will illustrate this claim in the remainder of our analysis of Explore Evolution

Major flaws

Scientific controversy vs. social controversy: Explore Evolution consistently muddles the idea of controversy within the scientific community with societal disagreement about the political and moral implications of a scientific idea. Evolution is scientifically well-established and accepted by every major scientific society. The only controversy surrounding it comes from particular religious groups who object to evolution for reasons well outside of science.

Educational policy: Despite claims in Explore Evolution, neither the British nor American governments treat evolution as scientifically controversial, nor do they encourage social controversies to be taught in science classes.

Educational terminology: Inquiry-based learning is a new pedagogical system that holds great promise for the improvement of science education. Explore Evolution does not employ this pedagogical approach. Explore Evolution discourages inquiry and independent exploration of topics, especially evolution. Instead, Explore Evolution harangues students, confusing them with irrelevant and often erroneous information, and encourages them to give up on answering what questions it raises.