Saturday, December 03, 2005

ID, Evolution, and Volcanoes

Pramahaphil's comment on a previous post raises the question of Intelligent Design and evolution in the schools.

I'm not entirely certain where I stand on this subject. But I think that it is important to make a distinction between introductory learning and advanced learning. One of the apparent problems with teaching evolution is the lack of qualifying statements like “Although there are some major questions in [whatever theory], many scientists believe that this occurs in nature.” The reason these qualifying statements get left out is simple: most teachers (especially in middle and high school) don’t have the time to address those major questions. Their students don’t have the background to understand the problems. And so the theory is explained without the qualifiers, which leads the students to believe that the theory is on the same level as the facts they have learned.

When I taught Introductory Geology at a state college, I was teaching students who had little science background and often a lack of interest in science generally. Although I tried not to, occasionally I would simplify certain processes to the point of inaccuracy. For example, when a tectonic plate is subducted (pushed down) into the mantle, it causes volcanoes to erupt above it. This is because of melting—that is what I tell my students. This conjures up images of the tectonic plate melting as it is shoved into the hot mantle, which is actually very rare. The actual melting occurs in the mantle, because of complex chemical reactions related to water. But in an intro class with no chemistry requirement, do we go into that? Heavens, no! I’m trying to get them to understand a much broader process. If they decide to pursue geology, they will learn all about water-flux processes in a higher level class, when the teacher has the time and the students have to background to discuss it.

So where does that leave us? I’m not sure. Should you discuss theories without mentioning complexities and problems? Should you discuss a possibly un-falsifiable theory such as evolution? Should you mention the theory of Intelligent Design (which is also probably un-falsifiable, at least in scientific terms)?


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  • Keryn, there are many ways that evolution can be falsified. (ID is a different story.)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/05/2005 10:38 AM  

  • Will,

    Thanks for commenting! Could you give a few examples of how to falsify the theory of evolution? I'm a geologist, but my emphasis has been volcanoes and igneous rocks, and I have never really studied evolution in great detail. So I'd love some information--especially so I don't unintentionally mislead anyone with my post. Thanks!

    By Blogger Keryn, at 12/05/2005 11:20 AM  

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