Evolution explained

The Scopes Trial isn't over. John T. Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolutionary science in the high-profile 1925 case not because his lawyer Clarence Darrow failed to make his point, but because the jury had their minds made up well before the 15-day trial began.

As recently as 1999 the evolution vs. creation controversy gained the spotlight in Kansas, where the state school board excluded evolution from required curricula.

For Eugenie Scott Ph.D., director of the National Center for Science in Berkeley, Calif. there is no controversy.

"Evolution is good science and it needs to be taught," she said.

Scott spoke at the University of Alaska Anchorage Thursday Sept. 20. A small group of students and teachers listened intently and scribbled notes during her presentation titled "When science teaching becomes controversial." Her views fully support the instruction of evolution as a part of the biological sciences.

"Most Americans really haven't a clue what evolution is," Scott said. "The broadest definition of evolution is change through time."

Scott believes the common image of evolution is that humans evolved from monkeys, but change through time includes stars, galaxies, planets, plants, animals, humans and cultures.

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"Evolution goes far beyond man evolved from monkey," she said. Many high schools have avoided the controversy by either not teaching evolution theory or by calling it another name.

"Evolution is not controversial at the college level-it's science," Scott said.

But it is not necessarily the particles to people evolution that Scott supports.

"The origin of life is conceptually different from evolution," she said.

Biological evolution, Scott says, is as Darwin stated, "descent with modification."

"Evolution is a branching process through time," she said. "Students are being taught biology as a set of facts to memorize, not as branching."

For life to continue, Scott says, it must do three things: It has to survive, pass on genes and adapt to environmental conditions.

"The genealogical relation of species through time makes evolution make sense," she said.

Scott explains that it is not individuals that evolve, but groups of individuals.

"Individuals are born, they live, they die-that's it folks," she said. "What evolves really are populations."

Scott also discusses genetic recombination, speciation and natural selection in her support of evolution. Natural selection Scott says, is "not chance, but adaptive."

Her presentation is designed for biology teachers at all levels who will have to deal with the controversy during their careers.

"We are here to help citizens and teachers understand the challenges of evolution," Scott said.

Creationists are increasingly demanding equal time.

Teachers will face arguments that include evolution as anti-theistic and the root of social evils such as abortion, the women's movement and euthanasia.

Creationists have labeled their beliefs of the origins of species Creation Science.

"Creation Science is something of an oxymoron," Scott said. "They had to repackage creation against evolution. I don't believe in evolution like I don't believe in gravity."

Creationists also want equal time in the classroom.

"They say if you teach evolution, they [schools] should be required to teach creationism," Scott said.

By federal law, public schools cannot advocate religion.

"You can teach about creationism," she said. "You can't advocate a religious view. If you teach it was a science, that is kind of advocating it."

And Creation Science shouldn't be taught in school regardless of federal law Scott says.

"It is really lousy science," she said. "This [evolution] is critical thinking, this is lacking in Creation Science. All of the Bible has to be true or none of it, you can't pick and choose."

“Many times when a student learns what evolution is, that student isn't afraid of it anymore,” she said. "If it's not taught, people won't understand."

While the debate will continue until science produces irrefutable evidence in support of evolution or the Bible is proven as fact, students and faculty were treated to a concise and articulate argument for one side of the controversy.

"I thought she made some interesting points, I disagreed with a lot of them," UAA student Hannah Sanders, a Born Again Christian said. "Evolution is not compatible with the Bible."

"It did seem to give a good view on the controversies," adjunct English professor Jackie Cason said. "It was definitely geared toward science teachers."