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Teaching Evolution and the Nature of Science

Teaching Evolution and the Nature of Science
Reported by
Mary Crowley

Posted July 21, 2009

Presented By

New York Academy of Sciences


In response to an ongoing assault on the teaching of evolution, and on science in general, a team of scientists and science educators organized an Academy conference entitled "Teaching Evolution and the Nature of Science." The conference was held at the City University of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice on April 21 22, 2006, and brought together researchers, philosophers, and pedagogues to review the nature of science and evolution, how it should be taught, and what strategies are required for keeping creationism out of public schools.

The conference had two goals: first, to explain evolution and the processes by which scientific theories are developed and, by contrast, to demonstrate that creationism and its sibling, intelligent design, are not science. And second: to provide educators and education policy-makers with tools for responding to the challenge posed by intelligent design, and to create networks to support teachers facing pressure to "teach the controversy."

Use the tabs above to find a meeting report, complete multimedia, and resources. Speakers include:

Leslie Aiello (Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research)
Bruce Alberts (University of California, San Francisco)
Glenn Branch (National Center for Science Education)
John F. Haught (Georgetown University)
Wen-Hsiung Li (University of Chicago)
Jennifer Miller (Dover Senior High School, Dover, Pennsylvania)
Kenneth R. Miller (Brown University)
Robert T. Pennock (Michigan State University)
Gerald Skoog (Texas Tech University)
Gerald Wheeler (National Science Teachers Association)

Web Sites

Americans United for Separation of Church and State
A religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. that educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation. Evolution vs. creationism is one of its focuses.

Becoming Human
A broadband documentary from the Institute of Human Origins, at Arizona State University, which dedicated to the recovery and analysis of the fossil evidence for human evolution.

This exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History is scheduled to run through May 29, 2006.

Darwin Online
A searchable collection of the complete works of Charles Darwin, including books, articles and manuscripts.

Dayton, Tennessee: A Summary
In a 1925 article for The New Yorker, Marquis James reported on the famous Scopes monkey trial.

Evolution—and Alternatives—in the Classroom
RealAudio recording of a November 2002 Science Friday program concerning a decision to begin teaching criticisms of evolution in Ohio's public schools. Appearing on the show were Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute, Kenneth Miller of Brown University, Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University, and Deborah Owens Fink of the Ohio State Board of Education.

"Intelligent Thought" on Edge
A compilation of recent op-ed pieces about evolution and intelligent design by members of the Edge community, including Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Marcelo Gleiser, and others.

Judge Jones' Ruling Against Teaching Intelligent Design in Dover, PA
(PDF, 310 KB)

Ken Miller's Evolution Page
Kenneth Miller testified in the Dover, Pennsylvania evolution trial, and writes and speaks widely to promote the importance of teaching evolution. He has created this page to compile his writings and interviews on the subject.

Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District
A complete, indexed set of transcripts of testimony in the Pennsylvania intelligent design case.

LENS: Learning Evolution and the Nature of Science
Robert Pennock at Michigan State University has created a page linking to policy statements on intelligent design from major scientific organizations, and featuring additional evolution teaching resources.

The National Academy of Sciences Science and Creationism Page
Evolution resources from the National Academy of Sciences, including information on books published by the NAS, as well as statements, research papers, and other resources.

National Association of Biology Teachers Statement on Teaching Evolution

National Center for Science Education
A national clearinghouse for information and advice to keep evolution in the science classroom and "scientific creationism" out. Their Web site offers a rich reading list, called Creationism/Evolution 101.

National Science Teachers Association
A membership organization of science teachers and others committed to science education. Visit SciLinks to connect to other science-related resources on the Web.

New York Times Evolution Site
Complete coverage of the ongoing debates about evolution in the classroom, including news articles, editorials, and commentaries.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
A part of the Pew Research Center, this nonprofit, nonpartisan organization has sponsored events on the teaching of evolution and intelligent design, and has published the results of a poll of American attitudes towards evolution.

PBS: Online Evolution Course
An eight-session professional development course examining major evolutionary concepts and teaching methodologies.

Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science
An online book for teachers from the National Academy of Sciences.

Teaching the Science
Steve Mirsky reports on the conference, "Teaching Evolution and the Nature of Science," on the Scientific American blog.

The University of California Museum of Paleontology
An excellent information source about evolution for teachers.


The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design, by Richard Dawkins. 1996. W.W. Norton, New York.
Reprint edition of Dawkins's authoritative defense of Darwin.

Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, by Daniel C. Dennett. 1996. Simon & Schuster, New York.
In this National Book Award and Pulitzer finalist, philosopher Daniel Dennett lucidly argues in support of evolution.

The Evolution-Creation Struggle, by Michael Ruse. 2005. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction, by Eugenie C. Scott. 2005. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.
Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, outlines the debate over the teaching of evolution for parents, students, and teachers.

Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution, by Kenneth W. Miller. 2000. Harper Perennial, New York.
Miller, a professor of biology at Brown who also believes in God, provides an argument reconciling evolution and the Judeo-Christian creation story.

God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution, by John F. Haught. 2001. Westview Press, Boulder, CO.
Theologian Haught reconciles the theory of evolution with belief in God.

Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological and Scientific Perspectives, by Robert T. Pennock, Ed. 2001. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
This anthology is the most complete source-book on the ID creationism controversy, compiling key articles from the main ID proponents and critical responses from scientists, philosophers and theologians. The Journal of Scientific Exploration called it "a 'must have' book for anyone interested in the ongoing debates over evolutionism and creationism."

Intelligent Thought: Science Versus the Intelligent Design Movement, by John Brockman, Ed. 2006. Vintage, New York, NY.
Sixteen preeminent scientists, including psychologist Stephen Pinker, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, physicist Lisa Randall, evolutionary psychologist Marc D. Hauser, and paleontologist Tim D. White contribute original essays arguing for the power of Darwin's theory.

Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism, by Robert T. Pennock. 1999. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
The New York Review of Books called this "the best book opposing creationism in all of its guises."

Triumph of Evolution and the Failure of Creationism, by Niles Eldredge. 2001. Owl Books, New York.
Paleontologist Eldredge unearths the flaws in creationism, promotes engaging in a cultural battle with those who believe in intelligent design, and focuses on the importance of teaching how science works.


Federica Raia, PhD

City College of New York
email | web site

Federica Raia is an assistant professor in both the earth and atmospheric science and secondary education departments at City College of New York. She is a scientist whose research career in volcanology evolved to focus on science education. In her current work, she is developing methods for improving how students learn earth science, using innovative student-centered instruction, teacher education, and community outreach to local schools. She holds a PhD from the University of Naples.

Lucie W. Saunders, PhD

Lehman College

Lucie Saunders is professor emerita and former head of the department of anthropology at Lehman College of the City University of New York.

Sydel Silverman, PhD

City University of New York
Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research

Sydel Silverman is professor emerita of anthropology at the City University of New York and president emerita of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. She has written extensively on the history of anthropology as a discipline, including in her books Totems and Teachers: Perspectives on the History of Anthropology and The Beast at the Table: Conferencing with Anthropologists, which reflects on her thirteen years of organizing international symposia of the Wenner-Gren Foundation. She has also written on culture and society in Italy in books including Three Bells of Civilization: The Life of an Italian Hill Town and Agricultural Organization, Social Structure, and Values in Italy: Amoral Familism Reconsidered.

Hessy L. Taft

St. John's University

Before taking her current position teaching chemistry at St. John's University, Hessy Taft worked at the Educational Testing Service, where she was in charge of Advanced Placement Chemistry and the SATII Chemistry and Biology examinations at the College Board. Today she is also a docent at the American Museum for Natural History, where she works in the Space Center and as a tour guide for the museum, and serves on the advisory board for science education at the New York Academy of Sciences.

Claudia M. Toback

Science Council of New York City

Claudia Toback is a member of the program committee at the Science Council of New York City, and a past president of the National Middle Level Science Teachers Association. She is also the chair of the steering committee of the New York Academy of Sciences Science Education Section.


Leslie Aiello, PhD

Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research
email | web site | publications

Leslie Aiello was recently appointed president of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, based in New York City. The new post caps off her 30-year career at the University College London where she was head of the anthropology department and most recently, head of the graduate school. A biological anthropologist, Aiello's research examines the evolution of human adaptation, with a particular emphasis on the relationship between diet, climate, brain size, and cognitive and social evolution. She also served for six years as the co-managing editor of the Journal of Human Evolution and is a frequent contributor to the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, among many others. Aiello received her PhD in anatomy from the University of London.

Bruce Alberts, PhD

University of California, San Francisco
email | web site

Bruce Alberts is professor of biochemistry & biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, and former president of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC. He is a respected biochemist noted particularly for his extensive study of the protein complexes that allow chromosomes to be replicated. Alberts earned a doctorate from Harvard University, joined the faculty of Princeton University in 1966, and after 10 years moved to the UCSF Medical School. Alberts has long been committed to the improvement of science education, dedicating much of his time to educational projects such as City Science, a program seeking to improve science teaching in San Francisco elementary schools. He has served on the advisory board of the National Science Resources Center—a joint project of the National Academy of Sciences and the Smithsonian Institution working with teachers, scientists, and school systems to improve teaching of science—as well as on the National Academy of Sciences' National Committee on Science Education Standards and Assessment.

Glenn Branch

National Center for Science Education
email | web site

Glenn Branch is deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science that defends the teaching of evolution in the public schools.

John F. Haught, PhD

Georgetown University
email | web site

John Haught is a Distinguished Research Professor in the department of theology at Georgetown University. His teaching and research interests focus especially on issues in science and religion, cosmology and theology, and religion and ecology. He has published several books, including God after Darwin: A Theology of Evolution and Science and Religion: From Conflict to Conversation. He completed his PhD at the Catholic University of America.

Wen-Hsiung Li, PhD

University of Chicago
email | web site | publications

Wen-Hsiung Li is James Watson Professor in the department of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago. One of the world's leaders in the study of human evolution at the molecular level, he is renowned for showing that, from a genetic point of view, the difference between chimpanzees and human beings is much less than had been previously thought. In his lab he studies the evolution of gene regulation, the evolution of duplicate genes, and how new statistical methods might be developed to perform computational analyses of genetic information.

Born in Taiwan, Li completed his PhD at Brown University. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and an Academician of the Academia Sinica in Taiwan.

Jennifer Miller

Dover Senior High School, Dover, Pennsylvania

Jennifer Miller teaches biology at Dover Senior High School in Dover, Pennsylvania. After walking out of the classroom in protest of an order to read a statement questioning Darwinian theory, she testified in the case against the Dover School Board that eventually ruled that intelligent design could not be taught in the district's science curriculum.

Kenneth R. Miller, PhD

Brown University
email | web site | publications

Kenneth Miller is professor of biology at Brown University. He has coauthored three different high school and college biology textbooks which are used by millions of students nationwide, and is the author of Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution. He has also written many articles in the popular press defending evolutionary theory, and arguing against the teaching of intelligent design. He was the first witness to testify in the Dover intelligent design trial.

Miller completed his PhD in biology at the University of Colorado, taught at Harvard University for several years, and joined the faculty at Brown in 1980. In his research he studies the relationships between structure and function in biological membranes.

Robert T. Pennock, PhD

Michigan State University
email | web site | publications

Robert T. Pennock is professor of history and philosophy of science at Michigan State University in the Lyman Briggs School of Science and also the departments of philosophy, computer science and engineering, and ecology, evolutionary biology and behavior. He is the author of Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism and editor of Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological & Scientific Perspectives. He is also a recipient of a Friend of Darwin Award from the National Center for Science Education, and of a National Science Foundation grant to develop digital organisms for teaching evolution and the nature of science. Articles about his work have appeared in Discover, National Geographic, New Scientist, and other publications. He writes about and advocates for the teaching of evolution, and served as an expert witness in Kitzmiller et al v. Dover Area School Board.

Gerald Skoog, EdD

Texas Tech University
email | web site

Gerald Skoog is Paul Whitfield Horn Professor of Curriculum and Instruction in the department of science education at Texas Tech University. He has conducted research projects focusing on topics concerned with evolution and the way it is approached in textbooks, and in the establishment of state science standards. He has taught at the secondary and college levels for over 40 years, and has served as president of the National Science Teachers Association.

Gerald Wheeler, PhD

National Science Teachers Association
email | web site

Gerald Wheeler is executive director of the National Science Teachers Association. Prior to that he was professor of physics at Montana State University, director of MSU's Science/Math Resource Center, program director (Public Understanding of Science and Technology) at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and professor of physics at Temple University. Wheeler received his BS in 1963 from Boston University with a major in science education and his PhD at the State University of New York, Stony Brook in 1972 in experimental nuclear physics. Between undergraduate and graduate school, he taught high school physics.

Mary Crowley

Mary Crowley produces a weekly news service for Cover the Uninsured, a national campaign sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Formerly, she was the editorial director of Praxis Press, where she co-created Praxis Post, a webzine of medicine and culture. She also developed the Praxis Press News Bureau and was founding editor of Johns Hopkins Health after 50, a widely circulated monthly consumer-health newsletter.