Dr. Eugenie Scott on Teaching Evolution (B&I 21)

Eugenie Scott, the Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, was interviewed in Episode 21 of Books and Ideas. The focus of our conversation was the importance of teaching evolution in the public schools. Dr. Scott and the NCSE have worked for over 20 years to promote the teaching of evolution because it is an essential component of a modern education in the life sciences. Unfortunately, nearly 150 years after Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859) many Americans still reject this fundamental idea and much of Scott's work is focused on trying to keep creationism and so-called Intelligent Design out of school curriculum. Recently the NCSE launched a very valuable site called Expelled Exposed, which focuses on exposing the many inaccuracies presented in Ben Stein's recent pro-intelligent design "documentary" Expelled. One of the things that has come out in numerous interviews is that the producers of the film mislead all the pro-evolution guests that appear in the film. We discuss this briefly near the end of the interview, but it was not the focus of our discussion. (see below for more links regarding Expelled) Since Dr. Scott has been interviewed about Expelled and Expelled Exposed on several other podcasts, I wanted to focus our interview more on the importance of accurate science education. Also, we discussed the fact that despite the claims of right-wing fundamentalists there are many Christians and people of other faiths who accept the theory of evolution as scientifically valid. Accepting evolution does not mean one is choosing atheism. I think this is a very important distinction because while atheists are outspoken in their support of evolution they represent a small minority. I was encouraged to learn from Dr. Scott that the NCSE is working closely with religious leaders and scientists of faith to try to educate their members. Since Books and Ideas reaches an international audience I thought that it was important that we discuss the origins of the evolution versus creationism controversy, which is unique to the United States. Scott does an excellent job of explaining how our unique religious heritage along with our locally controlled school systems combine to create a situation that most of the world find's rather mystifying. Her book Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction also provides an excellent overview of the subject from both an historical and scientific prospective. Finally, we talk about the importance of evolution as a basic idea in modern biology. While we didn't dwell on this, I think we are both concerned about the implications for the future if a majority of young Americans are reaching college without a solid foundation in the principles of evolution. We also talked about why intelligent design fails to meet the basic definition of a scientific theory since it provides no testable hypotheses. Dr. Scott also provides a excellent review of the basic writings for those who want to learn more.

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Episode Transcript (Download PDF)

Links and References: Other Books mentioned by Dr. Scott:
  • Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins by Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon : the 1989 textbook that introduced the term “intelligent design”
  • Darwin on Trial by Phillip E. Johnson, 1991.
  • Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution by Michael J. Behe
  • The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities by William A. Dembski
  • Behe MJ, Snoke DW. 2004. Simulating evolution by gene duplication of protein features that require multiple amino acid residues. Protein Science 10:2651-64.
Responses to Expelled Exposed by Christians

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Could the eye have evolved? The answer is YES!

I have been meaning to recommend the excellent website Expelled Exposed, which documents all the lies and misleading statements in Ben's Stein's creationist "documentary," Exposed. A central claim is that professors who believe in intelligent design are being persecuted, a claim that is totally unfounded. Expelled Exposed was created by the National Center for Science Education. You can hear an excellent interview with Director Eugenie Scott on the April 9th episode of Science Talk, Scientific American's podcast. One of the claims that is popular with ID proponents is the idea that the eye is too complex to have been the product of evolution. Actually, as was pointed in David Bainbridge's excellent book, Beyond the Zonules of Zinn: A Fantastic Journey Through Your Brain, nothing could be further from the truth, because there is evidence that eyes have actually evolved a surprising number of times. (For more on Bainbridge's book listen to Episode 32 of the Brain Science Podcast.) To learn more about the evidence for the evolution of the eye check out this new video which NCSE has posted on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOtP7HEuDYA
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