Learning Evolution
and the
Nature of Science

Michigan State University
Dr. Robert T. Pennock

Creationist Attacks | Defending Science from ID | Evolution Teaching Resources | Student Projects | LENS in Michigan | Contact Info

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) "calls upon its members to assist those engaged in overseeing science education policy to understand the nature of science, the content of contemporary evolutionary theory and the inappropriateness of 'intelligent design theory' as subject matter for science education".
- From the AAAS Resolution regarding Intelligent-Design.


This page began in 2002 as a list of supplemental material for science teachers in my "Teaching Evolution and the Nature of Science" Frontiers in Science Workshop to help them answer this call.

Creationist Attacks

• Current major creationist flareups:

  • Georgia - Evolution disclaimer sticker case.
  • Kansas - Creationists on the State Board of Education working to include ID criticisms of evolution in science classes.
  • Ohio - ID proponents working to get ID model lesson plan into the science standards.
  • Pennsylvania - The Dover School Board voted to require that Intelligent Design be included in science classes.  ACLU and Americans United are representing parents who are suiing the district to challenge this policy.  The case—Kitzmiller v. Dover Board of Education—goes to trial September 26th.
  • Michigan - A new anti-evolution bill—HB5251—was introduced in the House on October 29, 2005.  This one follows the new strategy recommended by the Discovery Institute, calling for students to "assess the validity" and to "formulate arguments for or against" evolution. This is a backdoor way of getting in discredited ID arguments.

• The religious basis of Intelligent Design was made explicit in the leaked Wedge Document of the Discovery Institute, which is the main lobbying organization of the ID movement.  The movement seeks "nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies" and their Wedge Strategy sets out a detailed plan "to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and hurnan beings are created by God."

• The courts have consistently ruled that teaching creationism is unconstitutional.   School administrators that allow ID to be taught therefore put their districts at significant legal and financial risk.  This article discusses the possible legal costs—"at least seven figures"—to the Dover school disctrict should it lose the case that is currently being tried in Pennsylvania.

• Many scientific and other professional groups have issued statements supporting evolution education and opposing intelligent design creationism.  Here are a few recent ones:

  • American Association for the Advancement of Science "[T]he lack of scientific warrant for so-called "intelligent design theory" makes it improper to include as a part of science education." [See full resolution]  (AAAS serves some 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals)
  • American Association of University Professors "deplores efforts in local communities and by some state legislators to require teachers in public schools to treat evolution as merely a hypothesis or speculation, untested and unsubstantiated by the methods of science, and to require them to make students aware of an "intelligent-design hypothesis" to account for the origins of life. These initiatives not only violate the academic freedom of public school teachers, but can deny students an understanding of the overwhelming scientific consensus regarding evolution." [See full statement]
  • American Astronomical Society "'Intelligent design' isn’t even part of science – it is a religious idea that doesn’t have a place in the science curriculum."  [See full statement [pdf] adopted by its governing Council]
  • American Chemical Society "urges... State and local education authorities to support high-quality science standards and curricula that affirm evolution as the only scientifically accepted explanation for the origin and diversity of species." [See the press release and full statement [pdf]]  (ACS includes 159,000 chemists and chemical engineers)
  • American Geophysical Union: "Advocates of intelligent design believe that life on Earth is too complex to have evolved on its own and must therefore be the work of a designer. That is an untestable belief and, therefore, cannot qualify as a scientific theory."  [Press release]  (AGU includes 43,000 Earth and space scientists)
  • American Institute of Physics Governing Board policy statement supporting evolution and opposing creationism.
  • American Society of Agronomy: "Intelligent design is not a scientific discipline and should not be taught as part of the K-12 science curriculum. Intelligent design has neither the substantial research base, nor the testable hypotheses as a scientific discipline. There are at least 70 resolutions from a broad array of scientific societies and institutions that are united on this matter."  [See full statement]  (ASA has 10,000+ members)
  • American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology: [Article in ASBMB Today Sept 2005 p. 4 and full statement]
  • Botanical Society of America: "The proponents of creationism/intelligent design promote scientific ignorance in the guise of learning. As professional scientists and educators, we strongly assert that such efforts are both misguided and flawed, presenting an incorrect view of science, its understandings, and its processes."  [See full statement]
  • National Academy of Sciences: "We stand ready to help others in addressing the increasingly strident attempts to limit the teaching of evolution or to introduct non-scientific 'alternatives' into science courses and curricula. If this controversy arrives at your doorstep, I hope that you will both alert us to the specific issues in your state or school district and be willing to use your positon and prestige as a member of the NAS in helping to work locally."  [Full letter from Bruce Alberts, President , NAS]
  • National Science Teachers Association: "We stand with the nation's leading scientific organizations and scientists, including Dr. John Marburger, the president's top science advisor, in stating that intelligent design is not science.…It is simply not fair to present pseudoscience to students in the science classroom."  [Press release with full statement]  (NSTA is a professional association of 55,000 science teachers and administrators)
  • Nobel laureats' letter calling upon the Kansas Board of Education to reject intelligent design.
  • Project Steve:  A statement supporting evolution as a "well-supported, unifying principle" and dismissing intelligent design as "creationist pseudoscience".  Signed by over 600 scientists, all named Steve.  [Project Steve home page with full statement]

Defending Science from ID Creationism

• You can read my detailed criticisms of Intelligent-Design Creationism in my book Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism.

• For those who are gluttons for punishment, delve into the issues further in my anthology Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological and Scientific Perspectives.

• I also have published various journal articles.  Many can be downloaded from my DISE page.  Here are a few to start with:

  1. On Teaching Evolution and the Nature of Science
    In Cracraft, J. and R. Bybee (eds.). Evolutionary Science and Society: Educating a New Generation. Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, Colorado Springs, CO. (pp. 1-12, 2005)
    [Download pdf file]


  2. Creationism and Intelligent Design  Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics. (Vol. 4: 143-163, Sept. 2003) [Download pdf file.]

    :  This review article gives a thorough overview of conclusions from the published lliterature regarding creationism, especially intelligent design, and its key arguments.
  3. Should Creationism be Taught in the Public Schools?   Science & Education (Vol.11 no.2, March 2002, pp. 111-133)
    [Also available online]

    : I consider what it might mean to teach creationism and offer a variety of educational, legal, religious, and philosophical arguments for why it is improper to teach it in public school  science classes and possibly elsewhere as well.  I rebut the standard creationist arguments for inclusion.  I also rebut Rawlsian arguments offered by philosopher of religion Alvin Plantinga.



Evolution Teaching Resources

The following sites provide useful materials developed by scientists and science educators to help teachers improve the way they teach evolution and the nature of science.

ENSI (Evolution and the Nature of Science Institutes) at Indiana University has developed a variety of great material over the years.

• The site for the PBS NOVA series Evolution includes recently developed material for teachers.

• The SETI Institute, NASA, San Francisco State University and the California Academy of Sciences are collaborating to develop a high school integrated science curriculum covering cosmic evolution, planetary evolution, evolution of life, hominid evolution and more, in a package called Voyages Through Time.

Evolution and Education is a new resource page from the Education Committee of the Society for the Study of Evolution.

• The National Academies of Science published Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science, which provides advice and activity plans.

Understanding Evolution is a rich and recently updated site by the UC Berkeley Museum of Paleontology.  See especially the section with materials for teachers

• Representatives from a wide range of scientific organizations who attended the National Conference on the Teaching of Evolution (NCTE) put together a matrix of curricular resources.

• The American Astronomical Society has an accessible educational pamphlet [pdf] outlining some of the scientific evidence for an ancient universe.


Student Projects

As a project in my Senior Seminar on Evolution and Creationism at MSU's Lyman Briggs School of Science, students had to design web pages that would be of use to teachers to help them understand and learn how to respond to common questions concerning creationist challenges to evolution. Here are a few of the pages they came up with:

Aren't genetic mutations always harmful?

What are the main points in Behe's Darwin's Black Box, and what are the scientific reactions to it?

Isn't evolution only believed by dogmatic atheists?

What happened in the Scopes Trial?


Learning Evolution and the Nature of Science in Michigan

The State of State Science Standards 2005 (put out by the Fordham Foundation) included an evaluation of how well evolution was incorporated into state science curriculum standards and benchmarks.  Michigan only earned a 'D' overall, but got a full 3 out of 3 points for its coverage of evolution.  (For comparison, check the 2000 Learner Report "Good Science, Bad Science: Teaching Evolution in the States")

• The complete Michigan Science Standards may be browsed on-line at the Michigan Teacher Network site. Compare them to the National Standards to see where we still need improvement with regard to coverage of evolution and the nature of science.

• In Michigan, creationists in the last two legislative sessions tried to pass bills to allow "Intelligent-Design Theory" in the public school science curriculum. Michigan Citizens for Science was formed to help oppose this legislation and to support science education in the state; their site provides links to the bills and information about how to help defend science education. Another good site for Michigan science educators is the Michigan Scientific Evolution Education Initiative.

• ID Creationists regularly cite their book Darwin, Design and Public Education, published by MSU Press, as a "peer-reviewed scientific anthology."  But the editor of the press states this is inaccurate. 


Contact Info You can find complete contact information for me at
Dr. Robert T. Pennock's Home Page at MSU

Page created: 11/14/02. Last updated: 10/13/06
© Robert T. Pennock