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Just as creationists relabeled creation science following the 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard decision, creationists are currently attempting to promote intelligent design creationism with new catchphrases. ID arguments (themselves merely dandified versions of arguments made by "creation scientists" and earlier generations of creationists) are now being presented under the guise of "critical analysis" or "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution.
Whether providing students with an opportunity to evaluate the scientific credibility of creationism actually advances their understanding of evolution depends on the level of students, the objective of the assignment, and how the assignment is designed. Research indicates (Verhey 2005) college students gain a better understanding of why evolution is accepted science, and why creationism, creation science, and intelligent design are not appropriate scientific topics when given an opportunity to examine antievolutionist claims.
Science uses specialized terms that have different meanings than everyday usage. These definitions correspond to the way scientists typically use these terms in the context of their work. Note, especially, that the meaning of “theory” in science is different than the meaning of “theory” in everyday conversation.
According to the National Science Board's 2002 study Science and Engineering Indicators, only one-third of Americans can adequately explain what it means to study something scientifically. As a nation, we are easy prey for those promoting pseudoscientific claims, and the National Science Board survey blames education and the media for this.
The word "evolution" can evoke a variety of meanings, especially for students and members of the general public. For some, evolution is equated with natural selection. Others think that evolution addresses the origin of life. Still others impose a distinction between micro-evolution and macro-evolution. Part of the issue stems from an unclear understanding of what evolution is in a scientific sense.
One source of confusion about the status of the science or theory of evolution stems from the difference between the "everyday" meaning of the word "theory" and the scientific meaning the word.
Below we list some common misconceptions about the term "theory" and describe a classroom activity that can help students rethink their understanding of this term.
Misconception 1 "Evolution is 'just a theory'".
Misconception 2 "Theories become facts when they are well supported and/or proven."
Dear NCSE: I teach 9th grade biology and the principal informed me that in response to the request of a parent, a student in my class has been given permission to opt out of the evolution section.
Teachers who teach evolution whether at the K-12 or college level face a number of challenges. One set of challenges comes from misunderstandings about evolution or the nature of science. For example, students may have difficulty in understanding basic concepts such as speciation or in grasping the immense scale of geological time. Another set of challenges comes from "outside" of science, that is, from creationist efforts to weaken (or even block) the teaching of evolution.