The fact of evolution: Implications for Science education

Science and Education 12 (8):729-760 (2003)
Abstract
Creationists who object to evolution in the science curriculum of public schools often cite Jonathan Well’s book Icons of Evolution in their support (Wells 2000). In the third chapter of his book Wells claims that neither paleontological nor molecular evidence supports the thesis that the history of life is an evolutionary process of descent from preexisting ancestors. We argue that Wells inappropriately relies upon ambiguities inherent in the term ‘Darwinian’ and the phrase ‘Darwin’s theory’. Furthermore, he does not accurately distinguish between the overwhelming evidence that supports the thesis of common descent and controversies that pertain to causal mechanisms such as natural selection. We also argue that Wells’ attempts to undermine the evidence in support of common descent are flawed and his characterization of the relevant data is misleading. In particular, his assessment of the ‘Cambrian explosion’ does not do justice to the fossil record. Nor do his selective references to debate about molecular and paleontological phylogenies constitute a case against common descent. We conclude that the fossil and molecular evidence is more than sufficient to warrant science educators to present common descent as a well-established scientific fact. We also argue that diagrams depicting the ‘tree of life’ can be pedagogically useful as simplified representations of the history of life.
Keywords evolution  scientific fact  creationism  common descent  molecular evolution
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