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Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science
A fossil of Archaeopteryx, a bird that lived about 150 million years ago and had many reptilian characteristics, was discovered in 1861 and helped support the hypothesis of evolution proposed by Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species two years earlier.
been made so many times that it's assumed to be okay. How facts are explained is where theories come in: theories are explanations of what we observe. One place where students get confused about evolution is that they think of 'theory' as meaning 'guess' or 'hunch.' But evolution isn't a hunch. It's a scientific explanation, and a very good one."
"But how good a theory is it?" asks Doug. "We don't know everything about evolution."
"That's true," says Karen. "A student in one of my classes at the university told me that there are big gaps in the fossil record. Do you know anything about that?"
"Well, there's Archaeopteryx," says Doug. "It's a fossil that has feathers like a bird but the skeleton of a small dinosaur. It's one of those missing links that's not missing any more."
"In fact, there are good transitional fossils between primitive fish and amphibians and between reptiles and mammals," Barbara says. "Our knowledge of fossil intermediates is actually pretty good.4 And, Doug, it sounds like you know more about evolution than you're letting on. Why don't you teach it?"
"I don't want any trouble. Every time I teach evolution, I have a student announce that 'evolution is against his religion.'"
"But most of the major religious denominations have taken official positions that accept evolution," says Barbara. "One semester a friend of mine in the middle school started out her Life Science unit by having her students interview their ministers or priests or rabbis about their religion's views on evolution. She said that most of her students came back really surprised. 'Hey,' they said, 'evolution is okay.' It defused the controversy in her class."
"She didn't have Stanley in her class," says Doug.
"Who's Stanley?" asks Karen.
"The son of a school board member. Given his family's religious views, I'm sure he would not come back saying evolution was okay."
"That can be a hard situation," says Barbara. "But even if Stanley came back to class saying that his religion does not accept evolution, it could help a teacher show that there are many different religious views about evolution. That's the point: religious people can still accept evolution."
"Stanley will never believe in evolution."
"We talk about 'believing' in evolution, but that's not necessarily the right word. We accept evolution as the best scientific explanation for a lot of observations—about fossils and biochemistry and evolutionary changes we can actually see, like how bacteria become resistant to certain medicines. That's why people accepted the idea that the earth goes around the sun—because it accounted for many different observations that we make. In science, when a better explanation comes around, it replaces earlier ones."
"Does that mean that evolution will be replaced by a better theory some day?" asks Karen.