Every so often, I hear something that makes me go, “Huh?” As a fairly non-traditional college student in a traditional program at a small liberal arts university, this happens more frequently than I would like to admit.
Such was the case in one of my education courses earlier today. A biology ed major was talking about the idea of sending out a newsletter at the beginning of the school year (as a future teacher, of course), and (I can only presume he expects to teach high school biology rather than a middle school course like life science) he said that he would explicitly tell parents in the newsletter that he plans to teach evolution and exactly why he feels such.* This isn’t bad in itself, but the way he delivered it was fiery in his fervor – as if he had something to prove. Moreover, he said that the reason he felt compelled to do so is because evolution is necessary to understanding anything in biology.
Now, I’ve not been secretive about my views on evolution, particularly that I do not doubt that macro/microevolution has happened, nor do I doubt common descent. But I am curious – why is the understanding of evolution so vital to understanding literally anything in biology? I took biology as a freshman in high school, and I’d like to think that my understanding of the subject wasn’t hindered by the fact that we didn’t cover any evolutionary theory in the course. (It should be noted that the teacher wouldn’t have shied away from the topic on her own principles – she was/is a staunch atheist and also affirms the truth of modern evolutionary theory.)
So here’s my open question: If, as [edit: Dobzhansky’s] infamous dictum goes, “nothing makes sense in biology except in light of evolution,” what makes this claim true? Note here that I’m not asking for a rationale of why evolution should be studied in the biology classroom – clearly, if it’s good science, it belongs there – but rather why evolution is indispensable in the study of biology. If it’s not vital to the study, that doesn’t mean it should be discarded, but it seems to me that the claim might just be hyperbolically made out of a knee-jerk reaction to those who openly reject it (i.e. creationists), as I suspect is the case with this future biology teacher. If so, then that is worth reflecting on for those who are so sorely tempted to react similarly.
*What occurred to me immediately is that this teaching candidate might have a shock coming depending on the district he gets hired in – evolution might not be a standard part of the curriculum for the courses he gets as a first year teacher.
Edit (2/1): I also found the way he expressed his fervor at telling parents that they could not allow their children to opt out to be a little counter-intuitive – teachers shouldn’t be so openly antagonistic at some unknown set of parents who might be not be totally on board with evolution because it only sets them up for problems. It makes me wonder what would happen if I taught freshman English and sent a note home, “We’re reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and if you don’t like it, tough.” Granted, there is a difference between science and English in this regard, but the attitude is equally detrimental to good parent-teacher relations, possibly even among parents who wouldn’t have a problem with their child being taught evolution.