I recently finished listening to an abridged version of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species. I had always accepted the scientific theory of evolution as a good way for conducting science, but I’d only studied it sporadically. I don’t remember learning about it in high school, and my poor high school science education made me scared to take science classes in college. The book’s thesis’s organization impressed me a great deal. From memory, here’s a list of Darwin’s assertions in the sequence he presented:
- Humans, through selective breeding, have developed new traits in animals and plants in historical time (i.e. since humans have kept records). He takes care to note how haphazard the practice of breeding actually is. Despite the process’s weaknesses, it has produced the desired results.
- Geology has demonstrated that animals and plants have changed over geologic time, which is a much larger scale than historical time.
- Living organisms produce more offspring than could possibly survive the limits their ecological systems present (think Malthus).
- Living organisms’ offspring vary. Note that Mendel’s discovery of the patterns of inheritance in pea plants which led to the modern understanding of genetic inheritance had not yet occurred as of the time of Darwin’s writing.
- Any trait which gave an organism a competitive advantage over other members of its species would tend to spread within the species, as the members of the species with that trait would tend to survive to reproduce more often and their offspring would have that trait through the “strong principle of inheritance.”
- There are two reasons for the lack of evidence of intermediate forms:
- Since the main competitors to any living organism are its sibling members of its own species, the species would soon be dominated by its members with the new, advantageous trait. This explains why one does not observe in the geological record the coexistence of members of the same species with widely diverging traits.
- The geographical record is sparse.
- The phenomenon of geographical contiguity in the populations of living organisms supports the contention of evolution by natural selection.
- Specialization allows more organisms to survive in a smaller area. Hence, evolution tends to split a species into two or more “descendant” species with traits tending in opposite directions along a continuum, the ends of which allow organisms to thrive as specialists in a particular environment.
There are more, but memory has failed me!
As a member of the Central Savannah River Area chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, I am concerned that religious considerations would cause public schools to neglect science education.
I wonder if my organization, in coordination with other local organizations, could plan a Symposium on Science Education. These might be some of the components:
1. A science fair. My idea for a science would be focused on the theory of evolution by natural selection. We would supply a list of Darwin’s contentions and ask the students to produce a display which addressed/illustrated a specific contention. But I’m open to anything, as I’m not a professional educator.
2. Panels on obstacles to science education. These obstacles could be citizen religiously-motivated opposition to science or budget constraints or general educational problems.
3. Panel on legality of specific initiatives some groups have instituted to restrict science education.
4. Panel on every day technological applications using theory of evolution by natural selection.
Local organizations which I think may support this kind of symposium might be science and education departments in local colleges, Sierra Club, agnostic/atheist associations, civil liberties groups, teacher organizations and local industries.
Perhaps we could get a grant from an organization such as the Georgia Humanities Council.
Update 2013-May-20: A friend reviewed this and had several suggestions. She was not excited about the idea of a science fair. She believed too many parents did all the work, although another person said that you could weed that out by requiring an oral explanation by the child of the work. I thought a science fair would be a way of attracting a wider audience. My friend talked about doing a Science Olympiad instead. She warned me that that was as much work as the science fair.