Utterly Meaningless » Blog Archive » STEP 3


Filed at 6:10 pm under by dcobranchi

Claim: The biology textbook “Of Pandas and People” is an introductory-level overview of origins from an ID point-of-view.

Evidence: The publisher’s description is pretty clear.

From the Publisher
Biological origins can be one of the most captivating subjects in the curriculum. As a biology teacher, you have probably already seen how the topic excites your students. The allure of dinosaurs, trilobites, fossilized plants, and ancient human remains is virtually irresistible to many students. Indeed, many prominent scientists owe their interest in science to an early exposure to this topic.

The subject of origins, however, is not only captivating. It is also controversial. Because it touches on questions of enduring significance, this topic has long been a focal point for vigorous debate–legal and political, as well as intellectual. Teachers often find themselves walking a tight-rope, trying to teach good science, while avoiding the censure of parents or administrators.

To complicate things, the cultural conflict has been compounded by controversies within the scientific community itself. Since the 1970s, for example, scientific criticisms of the long-dominant neo-Darwinian theory of evolution (which combines classical Darwinism with Mendelian genetics) have surfaced with increasing regularity. In fact, the situation is such that paleontologist Niles Eldredge was driven to remark: “If it is true that an influx of doubt and uncertainty actually marks periods of healthy growth in science, then evolutionary biology is flourishing today as it seldom has in the past. For biologists are collectively less agreed upon the details of evolutionary mechanics than they were a scant decade ago. Moreover, many scientists have advocated fundamental revisions of orthodox evolutionary theory.”

Similarly, the standard models explaining chemical evolution–the origin of the first living cell–have taken severe scientific criticism. These criticisms have sparked calls for a radically different approach to explaining the origin of life on earth.

Though many defenders of the orthodox theories remain, some observers now describe these theories as having entered paradigm breakdown–a state where a once-dominant theory encounters conceptual problems or can no longer explain many important data. Science historians Earthy and Collingridge, for example, have described new-Darwinism as a paradigm that’s lost its capacity to solve important scientific problems. They note that both defenders and critics find it hard to agree even about what data are relevant to deciding scientific disagreements. Putting it more bluntly, in 1980 Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould pronounced the “neo-Darwinism synthesis” to be “effectively dead, despite its persistence as textbook orthodoxy.”

In this intellectual and cultural climate, knowing how to teach biological origins can be exceedingly difficult. When respected scientists disagree about which theories are correct, teachers may be forgiven for not knowing which ones to teach.

Controversy is not all bad, however, for it gives teachers the opportunity to engage their students at a deeper level. Instead of filling young minds with discrete facts and vocabulary lists, teachers can show their students the rough-and-tumble of genuine scientific debate. In this way, students begin to understand how science really works. When they see scientists of equal stature disagreeing over the interpretation of the same data, students learn something about the human dimension of science. They also learn about the distinction between fact and inference–and how background assumptions influence scientific judgment.

The purpose of this text is to expose your students to the captivating and the controversial in the origins debate–to take them beyond the pat scenarios offered in most basal texts and encourage them to grapple with ideas in a scientific manner.

Pandas does this in two ways. First, it offers a clear, cogent discussion of the latest data relevant to biological origins. In the process, it rectifies many serious errors found in several basal biology texts.

Second, Pandas offers a different interpretation of current biological evidence. As opposed to most textbooks, which present the more-or-less orthodox neo-Darwinian accounts of how life originated and diversified, Pandas also presents a clear alternative, which the authors call “intelligent design.” Throughout, the text evaluates how well different views can accommodate anomalous data within their respective interpretive frameworks. As students learn to weigh and sort competing views and become active participants in the clash of ideas, you may be surprised at the level of motivation and achievement displayed by your students.

I’ll stop here for a while to let everyone catch up. The next step will show that the terms “creationism” and “intelligent design” have been used interchangeably by IDists.

2 Responses to “STEP 3”

Comment by
December 23rd, 2005
at 9:55 pm

This is going to confuse folks… why not use the definitions per the DI? All this PoP stuff is silly.

Comment by
Daryl Cobranchi
December 24th, 2005
at 5:23 am

I’m not using the DI definitions because the debate, such as it is, is whether and how to teach ID in the schools. The DI can do and define whatever they want as long as they stay away from the schools.