[Taxacom] evolution education

murrellze murrellze at appstate.edu
Mon Feb 7 16:05:04 CST 2011


As a college professor teaching junior level Introduction to Evolution 
classes, I use the term "preponderance of the evidence" and I tell 
students that I am not trying to change their belief system, only asking 
them to examine this evidence.  I explain my role as a scientist as 
someone who works to be a skeptic, who views the evidence and uses that 
evidence to build a foundation of knowledge. 

I think this same conflict of "belief" versus "evidence" is especially 
important with our own work, where it is critical to avoid being ego 
involved with our own data, and being open to new ideas and data that 
are in conflict with our own. 

I find it interesting to examine how we determine "facts" and it seems 
we can extend this discussion back to Socrates and the Sophists.  I was 
under the impression that Descartes gave us a real starting point for 
evidence, with "cogito ergo sum", and I try to take the students through 
a time-line of philosophical thinking to help them explore these issues. 

I'm not sure how well this approach would work at the high school level, 
but it seems that it has the benefit of being less threatening to the 
student than asking them to completely rethink their belief system in 
order to become a biologist. 

Zack Murrell

Frederick W. Schueler wrote:
> On 2/7/2011 10:16 AM, fautin at ku.edu wrote:
>> I learned from Genie Scott how pernicious it is to speak or write of
>> "believing in evolution."  Unlike religion, it is not a matter of belief
>> -- it is a matter of persuasion by evidence.
> * but just as science can be diversely defined - 
> http://pinicola.ca/kitchen.htm#scidef - "belief" can include the results 
> of both faith and of persuasion (and of course every belief is a mixture 
> of  different proportions of these).
> It may be nicer to say that "biological data are best explained by 
> evolutionary hypotheses" but this means that one "believes that there's 
> no real alternative to believing that evolution has occurred," which is 
> easily blurred into the more tawdry "belief in evolution." This slides 
> the phrase over towards the faith-based kind of belief embodied by 
> "believe in God," or "believe in UFO's," which are rather different from 
> "believing that Pongo is the sister-group of Homo."
> In this case, it's not a question of what one would write or say 
> oneself, but how it's best to reply when a naive or hostile questioner 
> asks: "Do you believe in evolution?"
> fred.
> ------------------------------------------------------------
>           Frederick W. Schueler & Aleta Karstad
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