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Cans and Can'ts of Teaching Evolution

by Eugenie C. Scott

High school teachers are in a quandary about teaching evolution. Sometimes they are pressed to teach creation "science" or "intelligent design theory", or "evidence against evolution"; sometimes they are pressed just to forget about teaching evolution. What should a teacher do? What, legally, can and can't a teacher do?

Defining Evolution

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.

Theory and Fact

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."

"Eroding Evolution" in Louisiana


"Eroding Evolution," a new article in the July/August 2008 issue of Church and State, addresses the recently enacted "Science Education Act" in Louisiana, which threatens to open the door for creationism and scientifically unwarranted critiques of evolution to be taught in public school science classes.

"A Teacher on the Front Line"


"A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash" -- a story on the front page of The New York Times (August 24, 2008) -- examines the creationism/evolution controversy as it plays out in the classroom of David Campbell, a biology teacher in Orange Park, Florida.

"Evolution and Creationism in America's Classrooms"


A noteworthy new paper reports on a national survey of high school biology teachers concerning the teaching of evolution. According to Michael B.

Padian on improving evolution education


In a commentary published in the February 2008 issue of Geotimes, Kevin Padian argues that the way to improve evolution education is to start with the textbooks. Discussing his testimony in Kitzmiller v.

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