January 25, 2010 3:14 PM

Launch of Explore Evolution "Further Debate" Website

Since its publication in 2007, the innovative science textbook Explore Evolution: The Case For and Against Neo-Darwinism has helped trailblaze a new way of teaching about evolution, one based on Charles Darwin's own acknowledgment that

"a fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question."
The original goal of Explore Evolution was to provoke discussion about Darwinian evolution, and provoke discussion it has!

This week Discovery Institute launches an extensive "Further Debate" website inspired by the book in the hope of encouraging even more discussion. The new site offers cogent responses to a variety of reviews of the book issued by Darwinists over the past two years, including a hopelessly inaccurate "critique" mounted by the Darwin-only National Center for Science Education.

Explore Evolution has been targeted for attack by the Darwin lobby because it promotes critical thinking and provides an evenhanded discussion of the scientific evidence. Pro-Darwin ideologues are frightened that students might think for themselves when exposed to conflicting scientific data and views. They have reason to be afraid, because Explore Evolution's approach is catching on. The textbook has been adopted for use by 25 secondary schools and 11 universities. Educators at 14 additional schools and educational institutions use the text as a supplementary resource. In the United Kingdom, a British edition of the textbook was released in early 2009, and several thousand copies of the textbook were distributed to school libraries there late last year. In Asia, a Korean edition of the textbook is currently in preparation.

For the most part, Darwinists have responded to Explore Evolution with their usual stale mix of ad hominem attacks and red herrings. Chief among the bogus claims about Explore Evolution is the tired old chestnut that the book promotes "creationism." Of course, it doesn't. We hope the new "Further Debate" site will encourage teachers, students, and others interested in evolution to explore the evidence and arguments for themselves.

November 7, 2008 12:45 PM

Explore Evolution Author Responds to Critics

CSC Fellow and Explore Evolution co-author Paul Nelson has a substantive series of responses to biologist and science writer John Timmer's online critique of the biology textbook:

On September 24, 2008, biologist and science writer John Timmer published an online review of the supplementary biology textbook Explore Evolution (EE). Timmer had previously written about EE without having read it, so Discovery Institute sent him a copy. Alas -- having EE in his hands improved neither the quality of Timmer's writing about the book, nor indeed his coverage of the relevant science. In fact, Timmer so baldly misrepresents both the content of EE, but especially the associated scientific evidence and controversies, that his review perfectly illustrates the need for a book like EE.

Dr. Nelson's responses continue on the Further Debate page of this site.

Already published in the series are:

  • The Catechism Versus the Data (part 1): A Reply to John Timmer about Explore Evolution
  • The Catechism Versus the Data (Part 2): Much Ado About A Footnote Citing Christian Schwabe
  • The Catechism Versus the Data (Part 3): The "Fact" of Evolution
  • The Catechism Versus the Data (Part 4): The Origin of the Tetrapods Stay tuned for more in this series defending Explore Evolution.
  • And a fifth response by CSC's Casey Luskin: The Catechism Versus the Data (Part 5): When Did Neo-Darwinism Become a Dirty Word?

Stay tuned for further debate over teaching the controversy.

October 31, 2008 9:54 AM

Explore Evolution Errata Sheet (October 2008)

An updated errata sheet is now available for the first edition of Explore Evolution: The Arguments For and Against Neo-Darwinism (2007 Hill House Publishers)

Click here to download errata sheet.

July 1, 2008 9:53 AM

Explore Evolution Favorably Reviewed by Kirkus

The groundbreaking textbook, Explore Evolution: The Case For And Against Neo-Darwinism (Hill House Publishers 2007), continues to make inroads in science education. Recently Kirkus Discoveries issued a fair and favorable review of Explore Evolution saying: "through succinct language and extensive use of illustrated sidebars and summary boxes, an impressive amount of terrain is covered in a colorful and lively fashion."

Here is the full review:

Two microbiologists, two philosophers of science and a technical writer present for students a concise introduction to the cases, both pro and con, regarding major aspects of neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory.

Within the evolutionary-biology realm, the authors explore how Darwin's theories of natural selection and universal common descent are faring these days. They use an inquiry-based approach: point, counterpoint. The book's brevity precludes extended treatment of topics, but through succinct language and extensive use of illustrated sidebars and summary boxes, an impressive amount of terrain is covered in a colorful and lively fashion. The role of the fossil record, biogeography and anatomical, molecular and embryonic similarities are rolled out to buttress the theory of universal common descent. Counterclaims follow that seek to undermine the earlier conclusions, including the circular reasoning of the molecular clock, the potential fabrications of Haeckel's "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny," how differing family trees are created via anatomical and molecular patterns of relationships and the meaning of gaps in fossil evidence. They move on to probe how the evidence squares with theories of variation, heritability and differential reproduction; that is, the creative power of natural selection. Challenges to examples of artificial selection and microevolution--namely, the "beak of the finch" and the "peppered moth" classics--take them apart without necessarily dismissing the theories writ large. The same can be said for natural selection as a whole, from disagreements that impugn the validity of co-option in forming complex organisms, or the importance of mutation in producing fundamentally new life forms. Still, in the end, it is Darwinism that raises the interesting questions, which is what good science is all about.

Substantive food for thought about natural selection and universal common descent, and surprisingly rich for so concise a treatment.

May 14, 2008 9:52 AM

No, We Didn't Make Up The Controversies - A Reply to John Timmer

Does the biology textbook Explore Evolution manufacture false controversies about evolution, while ignoring real ones?

That's what biologist and science writer John Timmer claimed in a post earlier this week at Ars Technica. Timmer attended a two-day symposium on evolution at Rockefeller University and noted the many debates brewing there. "Evolution clearly has no shortage of controversies," he concluded . But those real controversies have "no overlap," he claimed, with the "ostensible" (i.e., fake) controversies supposedly "manufactured" by Explore Evolution. Bottom line for Timmer: while students may, or may not, need to learn about controversies in evolution - he leans strongly towards "not" - Explore Evolution is misleading at best, and the academic freedom bills being introduced around the country aren't needed.

Now, when he wrote his blog entry, Timmer hadn't actually read Explore Evolution. His comments about the book were based on what he could glean from the book's website, and from other writings by its authors.

But, as Timmer will see when his review copy of Explore Evolution arrives (one is on its way to his office in New York), the book does not manufacture the controversies it reports and many of the very debates he saw firsthand at the Rockefeller symposium were already featured in Explore Evolution's pages.

To take one example, students who might have learned from the book about the ideas of Canadian molecular geneticist W. Ford Doolittle, concerning problems with molecular homology would have been primed to ask Doolittle questions following his Rockefeller lecture.

In other words, those students would have been well-educated. Amazing, isn't it?

Open Any Evolutionary Biology Journal: Controversies Abound, at All Levels

First, let's correct the record. Timmer writes that Explore Evolution "presents common descent as controversial exclusively within the animal kingdom." That's false: the book considers, in some detail, molecular evidence, such as ORFan sequences (i.e., genes with no known homologues) and variant genetic codes, that is used to evaluate relationships among single-celled organisms. Thus, Timmer's claim that the controversies on display at Rockefeller have "essentially no overlap with the areas that Discovery would like to pretend are controversial" is simply wrong.

More seriously, Timmer should know that a single symposium - even one as fascinating as the Rockefeller event - does not a science make. Consider the topic of anatomical homology, central to arguments about the common ancestry of the animals. Explore Evolution focuses on the revolution in evolutionary theory's understanding of homology that has been brought about by discoveries in developmental biology and genetics within the past two decades. Many biologists unfamiliar with these findings still hold the standard textbook view that homologous anatomical structures are caused by homologous genes and developmental pathways.

But those textbooks need to be updated. As Gunther Wagner (2007, 473) notes,

Intuitively, one would expect that the historical continuity of morphological characters is underpinned by the continuity of the genes that govern the development of these characters. However, things are not that simple: one of the most important results of the past 15 years of molecular developmental genetics is the realization that homologous characters can have different genetic and developmental bases. This seems paradoxical, because the historical continuity of morphological characters implies continuity of the (genetic) information about the characters.

Are students likely to learn about these discoveries from their standard biology textbooks? No. Will they learn about them in Explore Evolution? Yes.

Or consider Timmer's discussion of what he sees as a settled climate of opinion about the efficacy of natural selection:

Explore Evolution seems to think a reply can be made to the arguments in favor of natural selection. Based on the symposium, the scientific community clearly doesn't. Selective pressure made appearances in nearly every session.

Maybe, but that's not because the role of natural selection in biological explanation is uncontroversial, as Timmer asserts. Big fat volumes seeking alternatives to selection - Mary Jane West-Eberhard's massive Developmental Plasticity and Evolution (Oxford, 2003) tips the scales at 794 pages, printed in a magnifier-begging tiny font - dedicated symposia, and indeed entire research programs within evolutionary theory derive from a deep dissatisfaction from the neo-Darwinian emphasis on the centrality of natural selection. Michael Lynch of Indiana University (2007, xiii) expresses this dissatisfaction about as bluntly as anyone could: is quite remarkable that most biologists continue to interpret nearly every aspect of biodiversity as an outcome of adaptive processes. This blind acceptance of natural selection as the only force relevant to evolution has led to a lot of sloppy thinking, and is probably the primary reason why evolution is viewed as a soft science by much of society.

Timmer calls Explore Evolution's discussion of natural selection "hallucinatory" - on the contrary, if anything, the book soft-peddles the problems. Again, will students learn about these debates from their standard texts? Almost certainly not.

The Coming Crisis for the Science Establishment

No, I don't much like the paranoid or ominous-sounding phrase "science establishment," but for the moment, it will have to do. (I have in mind organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences, the major professional scientific societies that regularly issue anti-ID edicts [you know who you are], and lobbying groups such as the National Center for Science Education.) There is a growing disconnect between statements issued for public consumption by "the establishment," about the certainties of evolution, and the actual state of evolutionary theory, as one finds it in the primary research literature, at meetings (such as the one Timmer attended, and where I often find myself), and in personal conversations and communications with evolutionary biologists. I speak from long experience. As that distance - that disconnect - increases, an inevitable crisis looms.

Here's an example. Natural selection, as Darwin discovered, explains the origin of biological complexity, novelty, and innovation. There's a stock phrase that populates any number of official statements about evolution. One could utter that statement in any biology classroom around the USA, and no one would blink. You know: Darwin found the process by which new structures evolved where they did not exist before.

Now here's the opening argument from a research paper I happen to be reading this week, from the evolutionary theoretician Armin Moczek (2008):

Given its importance and pervasiveness, the processes underlying evolutionary innovation are, however, remarkably poorly understood, which leaves us at a surprising conundrum: while biologists have made great progress over the past century and a half in understanding how existing traits diversify, we have made relatively little progress in understanding how novel traits come into being in the first place.

What happens to the credibility of the science establishment - on the subject of the bona fides of standard evolutionary theory - when "Darwin already explained that, put your hand down" comes into contact with "Well, we don't really know?"

Not letting the kids talk about it...there's a winning strategy.


Lynch, Michael. 2007. The Origins of Genome Architecture. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.

Moczek, Armin. 2008. On the origins of novelty in development and evolution. BioEssays 30:432-47.

Wagner, G√ľnther. 2007. The developmental genetics of homology. Nature Reviews Genetics 8:473-479.

August 22, 2007 9:51 AM

Explore Evolution In the Boston Globe

Recently the Boston Globe ran a letter to the editor by Stephen Meyer, responding to Sally Lehrman's ridiculous claim that the Explore Evolution textbook "uses pseudoscience to attack Darwin's theories."

Meyer's response? There's nothing "pseudo" about saying what the evolutionists themselves admit, even citing the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.

Perhaps Lehrman judges our book pseudoscience because we also describe current scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory. Perhaps she is unaware that skepticism about the creative power of natural selection and random mutation is common in peer-reviewed scientific literature and in the scientific community. No less an authority than the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences published a recent paper stating: "Natural selection based solely on mutation is probably not an adequate mechanism for evolving complexity."

"Explore Evolution" not only tells students about such skepticism, but offers the evidential basis for it. But it does so alongside a thorough discussion of the strengths of evolutionary theory. That isn't pseudoscience, that's good science education.

August 20, 2007 9:50 AM

WORLD Magazine Cover Story on New Biology Textbook Explore Evolution

EE_Cover%28sm%29.jpgA recent WORLD Magazine cover story is about teaching the controversy and focuses primarily on Explore Evolution, the new textbook which teaches both the strengths and weaknesses of Darwin's theory. The article features an interview with Discovery senior fellow Dr. John West, along with Doug Cowan, a high school biology teacher who plans on incorporating the textbook in his curriculum next year.

According to the article:

This fall, the 34-year teaching veteran will restructure his evenhanded presentation around a new textbook from the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. Explore Evolution: The Arguments for and Against Neo-Darwinism (Hill House Publishers, 2007) does not address alternative theories of origins but succinctly lays out the scientific strengths and weaknesses of the most critical elements of Darwinism. "It's made my work a lot easier," Cowan said.
The article praises Explore Evolution as "encapsulat[ing] a teach the controversy paradigm that the Discovery Institute has advocated for the better part of the past decade."

Author Mark Bergin goes on to quote CSC associate director John West, saying:

"The policy that we've recommended turns out to be the precise common-ground approach we said it would be. It reduces the decibel level; you don't get sued; you get good education; and the Darwinists don't have a leg to stand on."

Read the rest of the article here (subscription)

July 6, 2007 9:48 AM

New Textbook Seeks to Improve Teaching of Evolution by Promoting Inquiry-Based Approach

Explore Evolution: The Arguments For and Against Neo-Darwinism (Hill House Publishers Ltd., Melbourne and London, 2007) is the first biology textbook to present the scientific evidence both for and against key aspects of Darwinian evolution.

EE_Cover%28sm%29.jpg"Sadly, the majority of biology textbooks in use today are dumbed-down and do a poor job explaining evolution," said Dr. John West of Discovery Institute, the book's United States distributor. "Explore Evolution will improve the teaching of evolution by providing teachers and students with more information about evolution than they are likely to find in any other textbook written at the same level." West is Associate Director of the Institute's Center for Science and Culture.

Explore Evolution promotes inquiry-based learning, encouraging students to participate in the process of discovery, deliberation, and argument that scientists use to form their theories.

"Explore Evolution brings to the classroom data and debates that already are raised regularly by scientists in their science journals," emphasized science education policy analyst Casey Luskin, M.S., J.D. "Exposure to these real-world scientific debates will make the study of evolution more interesting to students, and it will train them to be better scientists by encouraging them to actually practice the kind of critical thinking and analysis that forms the heart of science."

Co-authored by two state university biology professors, two philosophers of science, and a science curriculum writer, Explore Evolution was peer-reviewed by biology faculty at both state and private universities, teachers with experience in both AP and pre-AP life science courses, and doctoral scientists working for industry and government. The textbook has been pilot-tested in classes at both the secondary school and college levels.

The textbook looks at five areas of biology that are typically viewed as confirming the modern theory of evolution: fossil succession, anatomical homology, embryology, natural selection, and natural selection and mutation. For each area of study, Explore Evolution explains the evidence and arguments used to support Darwin's theory and then examines the evidence and arguments that lead some scientists to question the adequacy of Darwinian explanations. Each chapter concludes with a section called Further Debate that explores the current state of the discussion.

Explore Evolution is ideally suited for:

  • AP Biology teachers who need a stimulating capstone unit for the last 5-6 weeks of their AP course after their students have taken the AP biology test.
  • High School General Biology teachers who wish to deepen their own understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of modern evolutionary theory and want to incorporate inquiry-based learning into their teaching of evolution.
  • College-level biology instructors who teach freshman or honors General Biology courses or stand-alone courses on evolution.
  • Home school teachers who want to provide their students with a rigorous college-preparatory curriculum in the life sciences that stresses critical thinking skills.
  • Parents who desire to supplement and enrich their children's school instruction in biological evolution in preparation for college.
  • Interested adults who wish to inform themselves about the scientific debates over key aspects of modern evolutionary theory.For more information, visit the textbook website at, where you will find the introduction to the textbook, table of contents, author and publisher information, as well as sample pages from the book.

    About the Publisher
    Established in 1982, Hill House Publishers Pty. Ltd. (Melbourne and London) specializes in publishing science and nature books of exceptional quality. In addition to Explore Evolution, its books include The Concise Atlas of Butterflies of the World (2001), The Birds of Asia, vol. 7 (1992), The Mammals of Australia, vol 2 (2002), and World Butterflies (2006). A publishing partner of the Natural History Museum in London, Hill House has been awarded an exclusive license by the museum to produce authentic facsimiles of priceless and rare antiquarian books, prints and maps from the world-famous libraries of that institution. For more information about Hill House Publishers, visit

  • May 25, 2007 9:47 AM

    Explore Evolution Errata Sheet (May 2007)

    Page 27, left-hand column, first paragraph, first sentence:

    Should read: Though a possible land-dwelling mammal to fully aquatic mammal (cetacean) transitional sequence has recently been uncovered, critics maintain that transitional sequences are rare, at best.

    Page 129, 4th complete paragraph, second sentence:

    Should read: Most reptiles lay eggs, while mammals carry fertilized eggs internally, which they nourish through a placenta, and bear live young.

      For Discussion on the Debate