March 5, 2004
M. Hens, Ph.D.
Evolution and the Nature of Science:
Challenges in Teaching
Dr. 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
Click below to return to the list of 2004 Meetings or to go to
the previous meeting report.