The approach we are using in this book is called “inquiry-based” education. This approach allows you, the student, to follow the process of discovery, deliberation, and argument that scientists use to form their theories. It allows you to evaluate answers to scientific questions on your own and form your own conclusions. Our goal in using this approach is to expose you to the discoveries, evidence, and arguments that are shaping the current debates over the modern version of Darwin’s theory, and to encourage you to think deeply and critically about them.
The inquiry-based approach to education has a number of advantages. First, by enabling you to think critically about scientific theories and ideas, the inquiry-based approach will prepare you to be a better, more informed citizen. You will soon be asked to decide on many political and personal issues that involve science—debates about stem-cell research, decisions about personal medical care, and issues of environmental policy. Teaching scientific ideas openly and critically not only helps prepare you for possible careers in science, but it helps you learn to make informed decisions about such issues.
The second advantage to inquiry-based education is that students typically enjoy science more when it’s taught this way. Scientific conclusions don’t just pop up fully-formed from a lifeless collection of facts, so why would we teach science that way? Instead, the inquiry-based approach teaches about the arguments scientists have had, and are having, about current theories in light of the evidence. This allows you to do what scientists do -- think and argue about how best to interpret evidence.
Third, many science educators are convinced that students gain a better understanding of a subject if they are taught about the arguments that scientists have in the process of formulating their theories. For this reason, the educational standards of several countries now encourage this approach.
United States federal education policy, for example, calls for teaching students about competing views of controversial scientific issues. As the U.S. Congress has stated, “[W]here topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of views that exist.”* In the United Kingdom, the National Curriculum for Key Stage 4 Science currently recommends that, “Pupils should be taught how scientific controversies can arise from different ways of interpreting empirical evidence (for example, Darwin’s theory of evolution).”
Controversies in science are nothing new. As recently as the early 1960s, for example, most geologists accepted the “geosynclinal theory” as the explanation of how mountain ranges form. After a significant period of controversy, most scientists came to accept the theory of plate tectonics because it provided a better explanation for a larger number of scientific observations. Yet without understanding the arguments that led to the acceptance of plate tectonics, it is very difficult to understand the theory itself or its current standing in the scientific community.
Today we continue to have important unresolved scientific controversies in many branches of science. In climatology, for example, scientists disagree over what global warming is, whether it is a natural phenomenon or a man-made problem, how big a problem it presents, and what (if anything) should be done about it. In theoretical physics, scientists disagree over the meaning and importance of string theory.
This book is one of the first textbooks ever to use the inquiry-based approach to teach modern evolutionary theory. It does so by examining the current evidence and arguments for and against the key ideas of modern Darwinian theory. We hope examining the evidence and arguments in this book will give you a deeper understanding of the theory and help you to evaluate its current status.