Three Tips for Students Going Back to School to Study Evolution (HT / Evolution News)
After attending public schools from kindergarten through my masters degree, I learned a few lessons about staying informed while studying a biased and one-sided origins curriculum. My large, inner-city public high school was rich in diversity, and I learned to appreciate a multiplicity of viewpoints and backgrounds. Unfortunately, this diversity did not extend into the biology classroom. There I was told there was one, and only one, acceptable perspective regarding origins: neo-Darwinian theory. As students head back to school this year, I want to share some tips I’ve learned to help students stay informed on this topic:
Tip #1: Never opt out of learning evolution. In fact, learn about evolution every chance you get.
Evolutionary biologist Patrick J. Keeling claims in a recent letter to the editor in the journal Science that, after “a creationist visited my biology class,” his class was promised a lecture in evolution, which “never materialized.” He writes, “I wanted to know what we were missing, and why.”
I can empathize with Keeling. I had an analogous but opposite experience studying evolution in high school. At the end of our stridenly pro-Darwin unit on evolution, my public high school biology teacher promised us a debate, which like Keeling’s evolution lecture, never materialized. Then in college, I took many courses covering evolution at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. But just like my experience in high school, there was virtually no meaningful debate or dialogue over the fundamental questions. Neo-Darwinian evolution was always taken as a given. Exactly like Keeling, I wanted to know what I was missing.
Despite the one-sided nature of my education, I’m glad I studied evolution. In fact, the more evolutionary biology I took, the more I became convinced that the theory was based upon unproven assumptions, contradictory methodologies, and supported weakly by the data.
So my first tip is to never be afraid to study evolution. But when you do study evolution, always think critically and keep yourself proactively informed about a diversity of viewpoints (see tips 2 and 3 below).
Tip #2: Think for yourself, think critically, and question assumptions.
Though my professors rarely (if ever) would acknowledge it, I quickly discovered in college that nearly all evolutionary claims are based mostly upon assumptions. Modern evolutionary theory is assumed to be true, and then the data is interpreted based upon Darwinian assumptions. The challenge for you, the truth-seeking student, is to always try to separate out the raw data from the assumptions that guide interpretation of the data.
Keep your eyes out for circular reasoning. You’ll see that very quickly, evolutionary assumptions become “facts,” and future data must be assembled in order to be consistent with those “facts.”
Realize that evolutionary thinking often employs contradictory logic and inconsistent methodologies. The logic employed to infer evolution in situation A may be precisely the exact opposite of the logic used to infer evolution in situation B. Here are a couple examples:
• Biological similarity between two species implies inheritance from a common ancestor (i.e. vertical common descent) except for when it doesn’t (and then they appeal to processes like "convergent evolution" or "horizontal gene transfer").
• Neo-Darwinism predicts transitional forms may be found, but when they’re not found, that just shows that the transitions took place too rapidly and in populations too small to (statistically speaking) become fossilized.
• Evolutionary genetics predicts the genome will be full of useless junk DNA, except for when we discover function for such “junk” DNA. Then evolution predicts that cells would never retain useless junk DNA in the first place.
When both A and (not) A imply evolution, you know a theory is based upon an inconsistent scientific methodology. Keep an eye out for assumptions and contradictory methodologies, for they abound in evolutionary reasoning.Finally, you must be careful to always think....(more)