In this lesson plan, the fundamentals of evolutionary biology will be explained in order to shed light on the controversy about the teaching of evolution in public schools in the United States. The following are some landmark events in this controversy:

• In 1925, Tennessee passed the Butler Act making it illegal to teach evolution in public schools. A teacher was prosecuted in the famous Scopes Monkey Trial.

• In 1987, the Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal to teach creationism in public schools and the movement for intelligent design began.

• In 2005, a federal judge ruled that intelligent design was not a valid scientific theory.

• On March 16, 2009, the New York Times criticized the Texas School Board for conducting a hearing about teaching evolution.

Lesson 1: Science, Metaphysics, and Theology

Learning Objective

Students will learn to distinguish between science, metaphysics, and theology. These separate branches of knowledge overlap in the controversy—not about evolution—but about the teaching of evolution.

What Is Science?

Science is a method of inquiry based on knowledge obtained by one of the five senses. All concepts in science are well defined and all theories can be tested and verified. Biology is the study of living organisms and evolutionary biology is the study of the evolution of organisms.

What is Metaphysics?

The Mind-Body Problem

It is a matter of common knowledge that slavery is immoral and illegal, but it is okay to own animals and use them for food. The reason is that human beings have free will, but animals do not. No lion, for example, has ever said that it regretted killing a gazelle. We cannot see, hear, feel, taste, or smell free will. It is not a scientific concept, it is a concept in a method of inquiry called metaphysics. Free will means we can control our bodies, but we can't explain what the relationship is between our bodies and ourselves. This mystery is called the mind-body problem. The source of our knowledge of free will is our ability to make ourselves the subject of our own knowledge. This ability to rise above ourselves is called transcendence. Metaphysics addresses such questions as:

•What is a human being?

•What are dreams, abstractions, past and future, and mental constructs?

•Are human beings embodied spirits?

•What is the conscious knowledge of humans as opposed to the sense knowledge of animals?

•Why do beings change in time?

•Why are beings finite or limited?

•Why are some beings members of a class or category of beings?

•What is the concept of God?

•Does God exist?

Limits of Evolutionary Biology

Stephen Jay Gould (1941–2002) was a famous evolutionary biologist because of his popular writings and research the field. The following quote indicates that evolutionary biology only applies to the bodies of human beings, not their souls:

Catholics could believe whatever science determined about the evolution of the human body, so long as they accepted that, at some time of his choosing, God had infused the soul into such a creature. I also knew that I had no problem with this statement, for whatever my private beliefs about souls, science cannot touch such a subject and therefore cannot be threatened by any theological position on such a legitimately and intrinsically religious issue. (Stephen Jay Gould, “Nonoverlapping Magisteria,” Natural History, March 1997, 13th paragraph)

Cosmological Proof of God's Existence

Because human beings have free will and conscious knowledge, humans are indefinabilities that become conscious of their own existence. Another way of expressing this is to say humans are embodied spirits. Free will means that we possess a center of action that makes us unified with respect to ourselves and different from each other. In metaphysics, we say humans are finite beings. God is a being that is totally other, not finite, or infinite. An infinite being exists because a finite being needs a cause. If every being in the universe needed a cause the universe would not be intelligible. This argument is called the cosmological proof of God's existence.

What Is Fundamental Theology?

Revelation refers to the idea that God has communicated Himself to mankind through the prophets and sacred literature. Theology is the study of revelation. Fundamental theology or apologetics is the study of reasons to believe in revelation.

What is the Big Bang?

In the 1940s scientists discovered that the universe was expanding and proposed the theory that the universe began as an infinitely small bundle of energy of infinite density 13.7 billion years ago. In 1960s microwave radiation coming from all directions was discovered. This radiation had exactly the same wavelength physicists expected from the formation of hydrogen atoms soon after the Big Bang. The Big Bang is now considered a phenomena. The following quote is from a famous physicist and indicates that there is no scientific explanation for the Big Bang:

As far as we are concerned, events before the Big Bang can have no consequences and so should not form part of a scientific model of the universe. We should therefore cut them out of the model and say that the big bang was the beginning of time. This means that questions such as who set up the conditions for the big bang are not questions that science addresses. (Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, A Briefer History of Time New York: Random House, 2005, p. 69)

Did God Cause the Big Bang?

The idea that God caused the Big Bang is not good science because it is not testable. It is not good metaphysics, either, because the Big Bang could have been caused by an angel or there could be a scientific explanation. However, the Big Bang is a reason to believe the Bible was inspired by God:

•In the beginning was the Word… (John 1:1)

•In the beginning God created heaven and earth. (Genesis 1:1)

The "Word" in John refers to the concept of the universe in God's mind. According to the Bible, God created the universe from nothing other than His idea of the universe. A reason to believe in revelation is called a sign.

Questions for Discussion

1. What do you think Stephen Jay Gould meant by "private beliefs about souls"?

2. What does the Catholic Church and others mean when it uses the term soul?

3. Is the Big Bang a theory or a fact?

4. What arguments are there against the cosmological proof of God’s existence?

5. According to Charles Darwin, humans evolved from animals. Is this science or pseudo-science?

Lesson 2: The Origin of Life and Evolution

Learning Objective

Students will learn what physics, chemistry, and biology say about the history of the universe over the past 13.7 billion years.

Origin of Stars and Galaxies

Stars are formed when hydrogen atoms, attracted by the force of gravity, come together. There are so many hydrogen atoms in a star that the force of gravity is very great. The resulting compression forces protons and electrons to combine in nuclear reactions to form helium and other elements in the periodic table. Stars emit light because of the energy released in these nuclear reactions. Our own solar system condensed from matter in outer space around 5 billion years ago.

Origin of Earth and Life on Earth

Earth cooled down, solidified, and formed a non-oxygen based atmosphere about 3.5 billion years ago. This is when living one-celled organisms capable of reproduction appeared. The following quote is from a book written by a professors of biology at Harvard Medical School and the University of California, Berkeley:

Everything about evolution before the bacteria-like life forms is sheer conjecture, so we start this narrative with the bacteria-like ancestor and its complex collection of biochemical and molecular biological core processes. (John C. Gerhart and Mark W. Kirschner, Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005, p. 50)

Evolution of Life

The following is a summary of major evolutionary steps:

•Earth and the solar system formed from material in outer space. (5 billion years ago)

•Bacteria appeared and photosynthesis produced oxygen. (3.5 billion years ago)

•Single-celled organisms with nuclei and other organelles evolved from the simpler forms of life. (1.5 billion years ago)

•Multi-cellular life evolved. (700 million years ago)

•Dinosaurs evolved. (70 million years ago)

•Chimpanzees evolved. (8 million years ago)

•Hominids such as the Neanderthals evolved. (2 million years ago)

•Modern human beings appeared in Africa and spread around the world. (150, 000 years ago)

The scientific observation that all living organisms today descended from the original bacteria is called common descent. It was verified late in the 20th century from the similarity of chemical processes in bacteria and in mammals. A related phenomena is called adaptation. Adaptation refers to the observation, known in ancient times, that living organisms adapt to their environment. Polar bears are white and grizzly bears are brown because their colors make them more fit to survive in their habitats.

Jean-Baptiste Lamark (1744–1829)

In the 19th century, this French scientist advanced the theory that species were adapted to their environment because acquired characteristics were passed on to offspring. Giraffes, for example, have long necks from stretching to get leaves high on trees. This theory is not consistent with the fact that acquired traits are not generally inherited. The children of blacksmiths, for example, are not any more muscular than the children of accountants. An example supportive of Lamarkism is that the feet of infants have thick soles. It is not unreasonable to think that having thick skin where there is a lot of friction is an acquired trait.

Charles Darwin (1809–1892)

Charles Darwin advanced the theory of natural selection to explain the adaptation of species. The following description of natural selection can be found in many biology textbooks:

1 The birth of more individuals than the environment can support leads to a struggle for survival.

2 Individuals whose inherited characteristics fit them best to the environment are likely to leave more offspring than less fit individuals.

3 This unequal ability of individuals to survive and reproduce will lead to a gradual change in a population, with favorable characteristics accumulating over the generations.

Natural selection is a great improvement over Lamarkism because it is supported by observations made in connection with the breeding of animals. The question of whether natural selection explains common descent will be discussed in the next lesson.

Questions for Discussion

1. Why does the breeding of animals support the theory of natural selection?

2. Is natural selection a theory or a fact?

3. The terms microevolution and macroevolution are sometimes used. What do you think this terminology means?

4. Is there a difference between the way the word theory is used in science and the way it is used outside of science?

Lesson 3: Natural Selection and Common Descent

Lesson Objective

Students will acquire a deeper understanding of the theory of natural selection.

Natural Selection and Pseudo-Science

Many non-biologists, even science writers, consider natural selection to be a reasonable explanation for common descent as well as adaptation. The following quote is from a science writer with a Ph. D. in linguistics from Cambridge University:

They [Pinker and Bloom] particularly emphasized that language is incredibly complex, as Chomsky had been saying for decades. Indeed, it was the enormous complexity of language that made is hard to imagine not merely how it had evolved but that it had evolved at all.
But, continued Pinker and Bloom, complexity is not a problem for evolution. Consider the eye. The little organ is composed of many specialized parts, each delicately calibrated to perform its role in conjunction with the others. It includes the cornea...:Even Darwin said that it was hard to image how the eye could have evolved.
And yet, he explained, it did evolve, and the only possible way is through natural selection—the inestimable back-and-forth of random genetic mutation with small effects…Over the eons, those small changes accreted and eventually resulted in the eye as we know it. (The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language by Christine Kenneally, Penguin Group: London, pp. 59–60)

Natural Selection and Science

Christine Kenneally, Steve Pinker, and Paul Bloom are highly accomplished scientists and authors, but are not trained biologists. This is a statement from biologists about evolution:

Facilitated variation is not like orthogenesis, a theory championed by the eccentric American paleontologist Henry Osborn (1857–1935), which imbues the organism with an internal preset course of evolution, a program of variations unfolding over time. Natural selection remains a major part of the explanation of how organisms have evolved characters so well adapted to the environment. (The Plausibility of Life, p. 247)

Facilitated variation is an improvement over natural selection. Professors Gerhart and Kirschner are not saying facilitated variation or natural selection explains the complexity of life. Their use of the word "“adapted” indicates they are claiming facilitated variation explains only adaptation. The following quote from the same authors sheds light on this issue:

By comparison, if we question how long it would take a high-speed computer to write randomly a specific Shakespearean sonnet, we are asking that all the letters of the words of the sonnet will come up simultaneously in the correct order. It is an impossible task, even if all the computers in the world today had been working from the time of the big bang to the present. Even to compose the phrase, “To be or not to be,” letter by letter, would take a typical computer millions of years. (Plausibility of Life, p. 32)

The reason a book about evolution is talking about sonnets is that a sonnet is a combination of 600 letters. There are 26 letters and 20 amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. Proteins are made up of hundreds of amino acids:

Each of the four identical polypeptide chains that together make up transthyretin is composed of 127 amino acids…The primary structure is like the order of letters in a very long word. If left to chance, there would be 20127 different ways of making a polypeptide chain 127 amino acids long. (Biology, Neil A. Campbell and Jane B. Reece, Benjamin/Cummings: Menlo Park, CA, 7th edition, p. 82)

In Darwin’s day, one could see intuitively that the human eye was very complex. But with the discovery of DNA and the structure of proteins, it became possible to quantify the complexity of life by using the concepts of statistical mechanics and thermodynamics. One can calculate the odds of getting the amino acid sequence of a protein by random chance. Random chance is the mechanism natural selection proposes for evolutionary changes. The result of “millions of years” to get a six-word epigram does not take into consideration natural selection and facilitated variation.

To simulate natural selection, Gerhart and Kirschner stopped the computer when it got part of the epigram and keep that part. To take into consideration facilitate variation, the computer generated only dictionary words randomly. With this modification, Gerhart and Kirschner state, a computer can generate an epigram in a short period of time.

The authors do not do the calculation for an entire sonnet because the primary structure of a protein only hints at the complexity of life. There is also complex molecular machinery involving dozens of proteins. There is also the timing of biological processes, such as the development of a fully grown human from a single fertilized cell over a period of 20 years.

The first probabilistic computation of this sort was in a paper titled, “Natural Selection and the Complexity of the Gene.” The subtitle of this peer-reviewed article was ”Conflict between the idea of natural selection and the idea of uniqueness of the gene does not seem to be near a solution yet.“ The paper calculated the odds of getting a protein with 300 amino acids by random chance. The first paragraph says:

Modern biology is faced with two ideas which seem to me to be quite incompatible with each other. One is the concept of evolution by natural selection of adaptive genes that are originally produced by random mutations. The other is the concept of the gene as part of a molecule of DNA, each gene being unique in the order of arrangement of its nucleotides. If life really depends on each gene being as unique as it appears to be, the it is too unique to come into being by chance mutations. There will be nothing for natural selection to act upon. (Nature, Vol. 224, 1969, p. 342)

These kinds of probability calculations are the basis of the second law of thermodynamics, which states that in a system of particles there is a tendency for greater disorder. A gas will fill the entire container because of the second law of thermodynamics. There is less order in the gas with the molecules spread out because there is less knowledge about the location of each gas molecule. In a protein, the location of every amino acid is exactly known. The following quote is from one of the founders of general systems theory, which is a study of complex systems in nature, society, and science. Professor Bertalanffy is saying that the Darwinian mechanism does not explain the increase in complexity of life:

Considered thermodynamically, the problem of neo-Darwinism is the production of order by random events. (Ludwig von Bertalanffy, “Chance or Law,” in Beyond Reductionism: New Perspectives in the Life Sciences, The Macmillan Company, 1969, p. 76)

Questions for Discussion

1. Why does the following quote from a famous writer show a lack of understanding of the second law of thermodynamics:

When creationists say, as they frequently do, that the theory of evolution contradicts the Second Law of Thermodynamics, they are telling us no more than that they don’t understand the Second Law (we already knew that they don’t understand evolution). There is no contraction, because of the sun!…energy from the sun powers life, to coax and stretch the laws of physics and chemistry to evolve prodigious feats of complexity, diversity , beauty, and an uncanny illusion of statistical improbability and deliberate design…Natural selection is an improbability pump: a process that generates the statistically improbable. It systematically seizes the minority of random changes that have what it takes to survive, and accumulates them, step by tiny step over unimaginable timescales, until evolution eventually climbs mountains of improbability and diversity, peaks whose height and range seem to know no limit, the metaphorical mountain that I have called ‘Mount Improbable’…Life evolves greater complexity only because natural selection drives it locally away from the statistically probable towards the improbable. (The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, Richard Dawkins, p. 415)

2. What would motivate scientists and writers to misstate and misrepresent the theory of evolution?

Lesson 4: Biologists and Integrity

Learning Objective

The students will learn about the public and private behavior of scientists about the teaching of evolution.

Seminar Honoring Charles Darwin

On November 24, 2009, I attended an event held at the New York Academy of Science honoring Charles Darwin. The program included a question and answer period with three prominent evolutionary biologists: Gerald M. Edelman (1972 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology), Paul Ekman (1971 Research Scientist Award from the National Institute of Mental Health), and Terrence Deacon (Professor of Biological Anthropology and Linguistics at University of California-Berkeley). The program can be see at the website of the Public Broadcasting Service.

After telling the panel of experts I made a video on YouTube titled “The Truth About Evolution and Religion”, I said:

1. Evolution applies only to the bodies of humans, not their souls.

2. Natural selection only explains the adaptation of organisms to their environment, not the increase in the complexity of organisms as they evolved from bacteria to mammals (common descent).

The panel did not respond to the first point. The panel’s answer to the second point gave the many school children in the audience and web conferences the impression that natural selection was indeed a scientific explanation for adaptation and common decent. My question is 2 hours, 21 minutes, and 43 seconds into the video.

Six minutes before my question, a young woman in the audience pointed out that there was no scientific definition of “consciousness,” a word that the panel was bandying about. The panel avoiding commenting on this point and the implication that human beings are indefinabilities or embodied spirits.

Questions for Discussion

1. Why didn't the panel respond to the questions about the soul and human consciousness?

2. Was the panel's answer to the question about natural selection honest?