The journal Nature is regularly regarded as the pinnacle of scientific publication. Being published in Nature is like winning the Superbowl or World Series. You made the big time!

I recently mentioned that 2009 is the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birthday which I celebrated yesterday in most of my classes by providing a brief synopsis of evolutionary theory and Darwin’s original contributions: descent with modification and natural selection. At every level, from grade nine to grade twelve, I am often surprised at how misinterpreted and misunderstood evolutionary thought, and science in general, are. And I think I know why.

At least in Ontario, Canada, the curriculum refuses to use evolutionary theory as the grand unified theory of biology. The connections to, the implications of, and the unification of most other branches of biology cannot be adequately performed without this central theory. Biology is regularly taught as a group of distant ‘units’ with some connection to each other. Often the sections are broekn apart as chemistry of life, organism anatomy and physiology and ecology. As an example, molecular genetics, gene structure, and mutation contrasting with [I’m just picking ONE example] R and K growth curves, habitat and biotic/abiotic factors. They can be so easily be relegated to distant unconnected sections of the year long course. Yet, so easily connected by the umbrella of evolutionary thought. They should be connected.

We don’ teach chemistry by ignoring atomic theory. Atomic theory is the glue that explains so much of matter and its changes. Atomic theory is often begun being taught in middle school. It forms the basis of explanation of macroscopic properties, bonding, reactivity, periodicity, and more. Why do we ignore evolutionary thought until the senior grades? I cannot help but feel it is the misunderstanding of the process of science and the use of evidence to substantiate claims. Every curriculum I have been expected to teach places too much focus on information retention and not enough on information generation and analysis. People, all of us, simply have difficulty gathering and using information properly. We all too readily ignore connections between the data we acquire.

A colleague of mine entered my chemistry class at the moment I was discussing evolutionary theory and made a comment about how he will be the antagonist of the debate and I can be the protaganist. I immediately stated – there is no debate! Not within science class. He immediately told my students they were being taught dogma and need to think critically. I think my colleage needs to go back to science class. First of all the scientific process is the opposite of dogma. Dogma is defined as a religious belief which does not undergo alteration. Science is not based on belief. Science bases explanations of the natural universe based on evidence acquired through a reduction process. Science, by its very structure, incorporates new evidence to allow theories to become more accurate descriptions of the natural universe. It is the opposite of dogma because it is meant to change with new data. Please, dear reader, you need to undertand this.

Why does science SEEM dogmatic? It is a result of the mountain of evidence some theories have supporting them. Atomic theory/quantum theory is probably the most scientifically supported and accurate model in science. It is incredibly powerful at prediction. So to is modern evolutionary theory. The vast amount of evidence supporting these theories prevents them from being quickly or radically being altered. Yet it could happen if the evidence is provided. They simply have a great deal of evidential inertia. They SEEM dogmatic as a result.

I’ll be surprised if you are still reading so I’ll drop in a quick link to Nature’s 15 Evolutionary Gems. A good read and resource.