Friday, November 20, 2009

What I Wish I Said I: I'm Still Learning about Evolution

Call it author's remorse, but now I'm thinking of all the things that I should have said in writing The Missing Link. I guess there's no way to get a book right on the first edition. My mentor Tom Koballa said the other day that you never really get any book absolutely right.

What I wish I had said in the Introduction was that I'm still learning about evolution. I'm not an expert at all. I come to learning about evolution late because I was schooled in the American South, where evolution is often skipped due to controversy. Also, my background in fundamentalist Christianity made me fearful of studying evolution. Writing The Link put me on the road to learning about evolution, but I know that road is a long one before I've filled in the holes in my background.

I'm sure that readers will find mistakes in the science in The Link. I just don't know enough yet to have nailed down the science clearly. I'd be fine if the topic were chemistry or physics. the areas I have taught as a high school teacher. Biology was actually my first love, but as a high school student I began veering away from biology because of the conflict I saw between evolution and my faith. Now, here I am 30 years later, turning back to what I was most interested in all along.

All of this is why I wish I had said in the book blatantly, "I'm an evolution learner." First, it's the reality. Although I wish I knew more about evolution, that's just not where I am right now. Second, I wish I had said that for the sake of the other teachers out there who, like me, are still catching up on their knowledge of evolution. Some may have had backgrounds similar to mine where they were afraid to study evolution. Others might be teachers from another certification area who find themselves unexpectedly teaching evolution. The Appendix in The Link is titled, "Help! I'm a Biology Teacher, and I Don't Think I Understand Evolution Myself." I wrote it to help teachers who, like me, need to learn more about evolution. In fact, that appendix presents the resources that were most helpful to me in deepening my understanding of evolution while I was writing the book.

I'm also wondering now if identifying ourselves as evolution learners is a good, not a bad, thing. Every week I see news of new findings in evolution, and I find another good book on it that I want to read. I can't keep up! I know students respond well to teachers who are open about how they are still learning. I think we'd all agree that if students say at the end the evolution unit, "Hmmm. I want to know more," that would be a great result of their study of evolution. With all of the new fossils coming out of the ground these days, I would think that we'd all have to be evolution learners.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Hearing Ken Miller's Balance

Ken Miller spoke at UAB last week, and I had the privilege of attending his lecture. I was impressed by two things he did. When it came scientific questions and issues, he stuck tenaciously to the evidence. He did this with clarity and expertise in his talk and in the Q&A time afterwards. When it came to questions and issues outside of science, he responded with grace and openness. The combination of the two approaches was powerful to watch.

With regard to evolution, he stuck to the science, and he didn't blink in the face of tough questions during the follow-up period. Some might think that he was attacking creationism and intelligent design, but I didn't. I heard him clearly delineating scientific approaches from non-scientific ones. He kept coming back to scientific evidence and scientific processes, and he kept exposing the inherently religious nature of creationism and ID.

When the issues touched on anything other than science, however, he was gracious and non-dogmatic. He defended religion throughout the Q&A time as something valuable and enriching to humans. He spoke easily and quickly of his own faith (Catholicism) without proselytizing. He pointed out the non-scientific statements that those like Richard Dawkins have made as they've used evolution to attack religion, but he refused to attack Dawkins himself and instead spoke kindly of him.

If you're not familiar with Dr. Miller's work, take a look at his evolution webpage. For me, I'm off to order a couple of his books to see what else I can learn from a man who is unapologetic about the evidence, but gracious in all else. (Also, I'm pretty challenged by his deep knowledge of the evidence for evolution. I still have much so much to learn about the evidence for evolution, but I'm getting more and more comfortable with viewing myself as someone learning about evolution. More on that soon.)