Some come armed with “Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution,” a document circulated on the Internet that highlights supposed weaknesses in evolutionary theory.
- Q: DARWIN'S FINCHES. Why do textbooks claim that beak changes in Galapagos finches during a severe drought can explain the origin of species by natural selection -- even though the changes were reversed after the drought ended, and no net evolution occurred?
A: Textbooks present the finch data to illustrate natural selection: that populations change their physical features in response to changes in the environment. The finch studies carefully - exquisitely - documented how the physical features of an organism can affect its success in reproduction and survival, and that such changes can take place more quickly than was realized.
I said "unfortunately" earlier because, if we use public opinion of economics and foreign policy as our basis, the average observer apparently has very little capacity or interest in making subtle and nuanced distinctions. Thus I wonder how prepared high school students are to appreciate the answers to these Ten Questions or even, for that matter, if they are capable of understanding what the questions mean.
Then it occurred to me: what a great opportunity these questions are for teaching science! Instead of just giving these answers, or even waiting for a student to come in with them, pre-empt by using the questions and the quest for the answers as the basis for a biology course. In order to address each question the students would need to figure out:
- What do the terms used mean?
- On what information did the author base the question?
- What information would be needed to answer the question?
I would argue that students who demonstrate fluency with the concepts and familiarity with the sources but still refuse to budge on religiously based convictions are ultimately far better served than those who are spoon-fed answers; better even perhaps than those who dutifully record data and draw graphs in lab sessions.
Just an idea.