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Daily Nation : January 27th 2014
DAILY NATION Monday January 27, 2014 THE WAG 5 The miseducation of biology students odongo THE WAG waga Information to our students must be presented without bias for a better understaning of the world around us to be achieved. Questioning evolution or introducing competing explanations for the origin of the species withour supporting facts makes us look foolish in the teaching of evolution since I wanted to write an article for a friend on why the majority of Kenyans do not believe in Darwin’s theory. Out of seven textbooks I L identified used to teach biology in Form Four, six prefaced the chapter with a topic on “special creation” as a possible origin of life on earth. The mode of presentation in the various textbooks was the same: all talked of a possible “theory” of how the species came from nothing due to the efforts of an intelligent being. No evidence was presented, and the hypothesis was asserted as a “theory” before the real lessons on evolution began. A few books even mentioned creation stories from the two main religions to which 95 per cent of Kenyans belong. Three of the books mentioning the special creation “theory” proclaim that they are approved the Ministry of Education for teaching biology. Six out of seven textbooks is an awfully high number to begin with a false start, and it made me look for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) ast week, I spent time in a bookshop comparing several biology textbooks. I was particularly interested PHOTO I COURTESY Olorgesailie, one of the sites in Kenya where important pre-historic materials were found could not find a single question on this special creation idea! There are religions without creationism, but there is never creationism without religion. There is a difference between what we believe and what we know. There is so much evidence for evolution that it is self-deluding to deny its truth. It is even worse to present a competing idea as a theory and place it on equal footing with evolution. Anthropologist, botanists, paleontologists and zoologists have all independently found evidence for evolution across all continents. A lot of work in genetics would not work if evolution was false. A good scientific theory usually We are not apart from nature or exalted above, but part of it. There is no other way to explain why human embryos are covered with a coat of hair called lanugo like other primate embryos unless you invoke our shared origins. Evolution allows us to better understand and appreciate our place in the world Biology syllabus. Just like I suspected, our education ministry has approved the teaching of “Special creation” in biology. There is no “special creation” theory in science. However, there is a “special creation” doctrine in theology. A theory is a coherent set of facts that describe something. Special creation is not a scientific theory and our textbooks are misusing the term “theory” to confuse students. So, is this “special creation” hypothesis ever tested in the KCSE exam or do we just put it there to assuage the consciences of men in frocks? I got a bound up copy of previous KCSE biology papers and makes predictions. Scientists studying evolution made predictions concerning the theory that have been confirmed decades later by other scientists studying different fields. For example, it was predicted in Darwin’s time by Thomas Huxley that birds and reptiles shared a common ancestry from a reptilian species. More than a century later, science has found several fossils in China of feathered reptiles that prove this lineage. We have fossils showing how land mammals evolved into whales and how fish gave rise to amphibians. Darwin predicted that human fossils would be found in Africa, and they were, more than half a century later. Studies involving human DNA and those of other animals show how much kinship we share with the rest of nature and should be compelling enough to prove that we are merely a less hairy species of mammalian apes. We bear the lowly stamp of previous species that are our forebears. We are not apart from nature or exalted above it, but part of it. There is no other way to explain why human embryos are covered with a coat of hair called lanugo like other primate embryos, unless you invoke our shared origins. Evolution allows us to better understand and appreciate our place in the world.There are things that can only be understood in light of evolution. We could not explain why different mammalian embryos look alike in special creation, or why there have been discoveries of snakes and whales with limbs. We even have numerous cases of bacteria evolving in our lifetime for those who would like to see it. Several experiments involving organisms with short lifespans are ongoing in various American universities to show natural selection in action. The evidence is in, and it is overwhelming. Information, especially to our students, must be presented without bias for a better understanding of the world around us to be achieved. This idea that evolution is a rumour that should be counterweighted with the “special creation” hypothesis is a sad dereliction of duty by the creators of this syllabus. We chose to say no to evolution in a way that we can’t do with other theories like the atom theory on the nature of matter. For example, no one would doubt that our world is made of atoms because they would look foolish. None of the chemistry or physics we perform would work. Imagine if, instead of teaching the germ theory of disease in biology, we recommended miracles from the prophet of the day to cure disease. Or even more sinisterly, we taught about miracle cures alongside germ theory to our future doctors. Allegations The designers of the syllabus refuse to adjudicate on the evidence concerning the matter of species origin despite that being their job. They have chosen to print allegations which have no evidence to support a nonscientific cause. Demanding theories that are backed up by valid evidence to be taught in school is logical. All other concepts taught in class should have a firm grounding in fact. If we do not insist on facts, it will lead to an educational free for all. Kenya is even the site of the discovery of various hominid remains. One type even bears the name of our country: Kenyanthropus platypos. This is a great honour bestowed on our country and a source of pride. The rest of the world comes to Kenya to see fossils that describe our progress as a species, yet our education ministry sabotages the teaching of this truth to the young. Questioning evolution or introducing competing explanations for the origin of species without supporting facts makes us look foolish. Ignorance and mysticism cannot be taught side by side with scientific theory. The usefulness of these textbooks as manuals of instruction does not extend beyond our borders due to this mistake. The people who came up with this syllabus have refused to stand on the side of enlightenment, truth and the scientific process. Evolution is one of the best achievements of the human intellect as it presents detailed evidence of where the species on earth came from. Life is fragile It is important that we embrace the nature of reality because our existence on this pale blue rock on our universe depends on it. When discussing global warming, it is best to do so with people who know just how fragile life really is and just how easy it would be to upset the balance that allows us to thrive. There is no cosmic trapdoor or heavenly escape plan if we ruin our planet. You only need to look back and see all previous mass extinctions of species in order to appreciate how lucky we are. We are not stewards of this blue rock, just its most prominent inhabitants. We cannot teach belief alongside facts. We need students to better understand evolution to help them have better chances of going into scientific fields that rely heavily on theory like genetics. Which geneticist would want to hire a technician who does not believe in the field he is meant to be working in? There are grave economic implications of not teaching the theory of evolution. Who wants to have paleontologists who were taught pseudoscience? Who would want to set a biological research centre in a country where the student’s interaction with reality is hampered by the Ministry of Education? Who wants to hire scientists who actually harbour doubts about facts with over a century worth of proof? We have a duty to tell the next generation the truth and give them the best available information on matters. We aren’t doing that.
January 26th 2014
January 28th 2014