Do you believe in evolution?
Article Type: Essay
Subject: Evolution (Study and teaching)
Evolution (Analysis)
Beliefs (Analysis)
Sciences education (Analysis)
Author: Jaskot, Bunny
Pub Date: 02/01/2010
Publication: Name: The American Biology Teacher Publisher: National Association of Biology Teachers Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Biological sciences; Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 National Association of Biology Teachers ISSN: 0002-7685
Issue: Date: Feb, 2010 Source Volume: 72 Source Issue: 2
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 245037732

This is a question that I have been asked mostly by students but even by family This is a question that deserves an answer. This is a question that, when uttered, perpetuates a major misconception about the nature of science, confusing it with the process of developing religious convictions. This is a loaded question!

Educators, I challenge you to refrain from uttering "belief" and "evolution" in the same sentence. It is up to educators to articulate the difference between a belief system and a system based on the principles of science. We can't do that with sloppy language.

The theme of this month's ABT is evolution, but it's really a theme of every issue. Our journal continually seeks to elucidate the distinction between a system that requires a basis of faith and openness to the supernatural and one that requires evidence obtained from the natural world.

It is not my intent to diminish belief. Belief sustains the spirit, the "heart and soul," and adds a dimension to our lives in the often stark natural environment in which we find ourselves. In our biology classrooms, however, we do not espouse belief. Science is our book; it is the story we tell. If we want that story to stick, according to Chip and Dan Heath (2007), we must start with the simple: What is the essential core information that needs to be shared? Second, we must capture students' attention with the unexpected and really engage them. Third, we must be concrete in presenting ideas with vivid imagery so that those ideas are understood. Fourth, we must be credible in that our ideas are based on research data. Finally, we must facilitate meaningful learning by linking our stories in ways that promote personal involvement: Tap into the connections.

This may seem simple, but according to the Understanding Science Web site, understanding the nature of science is actually difficult. Science is hard to define, and arguments about its definition have persisted for decades. So, how can we get our students to appreciate the attributes of the nature of science? Start by using peer-reviewed resources such as those you will find in the pages of this journal. Comparing an article with the following checklist from the Understanding Science site (, ask students whether the article

* Focuses on the natural world

* Aims to explain the natural world

* Uses testable ideas

* Relies on evidence

* Involves the scientific community

* Leads to ongoing research

* Benefits from scientific behavior

Evolutionary thinking aims to produce natural explanations of how living things have changed over time using the processes of science. Natural explanations for change may be "rejected or modified" over time and are "supported by many lines of evidence." Evolution is testable. Religious belief is not testable by scientific processes--nor should it be.

Look at this issue: Examine the anatomy of australopithecines as an evolutionary intermediate and as evidence of the evolutionary process. Use stories from Darwin's plant investigations to illustrate the key concepts in the life sciences and model how questions are asked and answered in science. Try thought experiments to teach natural selection and the nature of science. Introduce Darwin, using his diary to add emotion and to illustrate some of the comparisons between his world and ours. Connect to a study that reveals how a sample of private school teachers approach evolution. Glimpse the attitudes toward evolution in Florida, where teachers report being criticized, censured, or disparaged for teaching evolution. Learn how to use freely available computer models with your students to develop and test hypotheses with replicated virtual experiments with virtual fish. There's more--just start by looking at the cover.

Evolutionary science is not a belief system. It is a model of the natural world, composed of testable theories used within the realm of science. It has been tested and continues to be tested, as all theories and models in science are. Much information has been published, scrutinized, and tested, and never has this process resulted in just one answer. Like our lives, evolution is a journey to discoveries. Evolution is a process, not a destination (much like happiness, according to my favorite refrigerator magnet). There are all kinds of destinations. We can make up stories to describe the process of getting there or we can develop stories that test, gather evidence, communicate, and construct accurate knowledge about the natural world.

From the President

Bunny Jaskot



Heath, C. & Heath, D. (2007). Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. NY: Random house.

DOI: 10.1525/abt.2010.72.2.1
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