February 22, 2004 March 21, 2004Meeting Report

March 5, 2004

Samantha M. Hens, Ph.D.
Evolution and the Nature of Science:
Challenges in Teaching

Dr. Samantha HensDr. Hens spoke about evolution and the challenges she has had in teaching it in the Bible Belt (specifically Tennessee) and in Sacramento.

She said that, in technologically simple societies, creation myths have been used to explain the origins of the world and of people. There has been a great variety of such myths, many of which show a lot of imagination. In modern times, the introduction of the scientific method has allowed us to test ideas against the evidence provided by the real world. Science and religion are two methods people use to gain the "truth." Science is based on natural causality and evidence. Religious statements are based on faith, with no evidence required.

There are many creation myths; there is only one scientific explanation of origins—evolution through natural selection.

Dr. Hens continued with a quick history of evolutionary thought. The circumnavigation of the globe began to give evidence that the world was not as static as had been believed. There were plants and animals that had previously been unknown to Europeans. There was also evidence of extinctions. Buffoon (whose name became an undeserved term of derision) claimed that changes in the environment could result in changes in life forms. Dr. Hens gave three sources that helped Darwin come up with the idea of evolution through natural selection. One was the voyage of the Beagle. The other two were the book, "Principles of Geology," by Lyell and the "Essay on Population" by Malthus. Since Darwin's time, the work of Mendel became known and we have recently developed DNA analysis. The evidence gained since then has made the scientific case for evolution through natural selection stronger than ever. Evolution is not a belief; it is based on evidence.

Finally, Dr. Hens gave a sometimes-amusing account of her experiences in teaching evolutionary theory in college. There is a lot of ignorance among young people, as many high school biology instructors are afraid to go against the community norms in many areas that prevent good biology teaching. She wanted to reach out and dispel such ignorance, but realizes that there is a significant number of young people who cannot be reached because they have closed their minds as a result of religious indoctrination.

Report prepared by Wayne Luney, HAGSA Recorder


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February 22, 2004 2004 Meetings March 21, 2004