Monday, March 16, 2009

Creationism in education

I recently came across a website called Education News. It seems to be, as the name would imply, a site dedicated to news and information about education. I haven't really explored it too much, but on the surface it seems pretty good. Just a big repository for news about education, both K-12 and higher ed. Unfortunately I was on the site for about 30 seconds when I noticed a column titled "No one is really talking about any weaknesses in evolution."

Even more unfortunately, it is exactly what it sounds like, creationist propaganda. It is written by a "guest columnist" named David Shormann.

Shormann begins his column with:
In March, the State Board of Education will vote on amendments to the new Texas high school biology teaching standards. Please contact your State Board of Education (SBOE) representative and encourage them to unanimously approve of teaching strengths and weaknesses regarding all scientific theories, particularly evolution.

Oh no. I should have stopped there, but I continued:

Consider for example a female sockeye salmon in Alaska's Copper River. Let's say she lays 3,000 eggs, and all of them hatch. Now, to keep the population stable, only two of those eggs need to mature to adults and return, which means 2,998 of them will probably not make the return journey and produce offspring. Some will get eaten by birds, others by bears, or maybe even a salmon shark. Some will get smashed against rocks, others may starve. Only two are likely to survive to journey from their birthplace to the sea, then venture thousands of miles, before returning to their birthplace.
Now, do you really think the two salmon that survived to adulthood did so because they were clearly the best suited for the environment? Perhaps, but in reality, there is only a 1 in 3000 chance the salmon with the best set of genes survived to adulthood. And the likelihood gets smaller when you consider redfish, which can lay over one million eggs each season.

Okay. Wow. Where to start with that? It appears Dr. Shormann does not consider the possibility that perhaps some of the 3000 young salmon that starved to death did not have the best ability to find food, or that some of the ones that survived predators may have been a little faster than some of their kin which did not, or that just maybe a few of those young salmon who met their untimely fate by getting smashed against rocks were not as strong of swimmers as those that did not.

I say it appears Dr. Shormann did not consider any of these possibilities because he finishes with
Genes mutate, resulting in differences in parents and offspring. However, the low probability of mutation and selection working together to produce fitter populations is a weakness of natural selection theory, and Texas high school biology textbooks should explain such weaknesses.

I am not going to go into a complete take down of his argument here, because the presence of this column is not my big problem here. After I read the column I of course looked at the comments. allows commenters to rate the article with 1 to 5 stars. I am assuming the visitors to this site are mostly professional educators, which is why I found it so disturbing to see so many 5 star comments singing the praises of the article. In fairness, there are many one star comments that are excellent rebuttals to the article, but on a site dedicated to education and educators there are far too many responses that sympathize with the columnist. This is a problem. Far too many professional K-12 teachers (unfortunately including science teachers) are either outright creationists or simply don't understand evolution.

1 comment:

  1. whoa, 2 comments in one dayApril 2, 2009 at 9:43 PM

    Apparently he's never heard of genetic drift? Even my 8th graders learn that one.