Saturday, September 12, 2009

Can natural sciences be taught without recourse to evolution?

That's the question for a discussion over the American Philosophical Society museum website. I think the answer to the question would have to be no. Now of course that does not mean it's technically impossibly; after all before Darwin natural sciences were taught without recourse to evolution. But evolution ties together all the threads like nothing else, and to teach the natural sciences without it would be to present disparate facts without really connecting them together. It would be like presenting someone with a map of a city without a single road in it.

In fact natural sciences were largely taught to us without recourse to evolution during our high school and college days. Remember those reams of facts about the anatomy of obscure animals that we had to memorize. If it wasn't the hydra it was the mouse. If not the mouse then the paramecium. I can never resent my biology teachers enough for not connecting all these animals and their features through the lens of evolution. What a world of difference it would have made if the beauty of the unity of life would have been made evident by citing the evolutionary relationships between all these exotic creatures.

In fact "Evolution" was nothing more than a set of two clumsy textbook chapters that got many of the details wrong and left countless other facts wanting. Granted, some of the teachers at least had good intentions, but they just didn't get it. Teaching biology without constantly referring to evolution is like asking someone to learn about a world without using language. Would you teach physics without recourse to mathematics? Then you should not teach biology without recourse to evolution, at least not in the twenty first century.

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OpenID vishal12 said...

I agree that the answer to that question is no.

But I think this question shouldn't even be raised. We never ask questions like "can we teach physics without the laws of thermodynamics, or theory of relativity?" (of course, you've mentioned it in your post!)... then even by raising this question, I think someone is trying to undermine the importance of evolution.

By the way, check out my latest post on evolution:


6:10 AM  
Blogger Deepak Shinde said...

The answer is a vehement NO. Science is more about "why", rather than just "what". Many questions may still remain unanswered, but the framework exists in "Evolution".

6:54 AM  
Blogger Wavefunction said...


2:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nature science doesn't have to be taught if it is experienced directly by people who are connected with nature. One example would be the primative tribeman in a do or die situation learning to live with nature instead of fighting aginst it like the majority of western science.


To take advantage of the energy stored in the plants, animals eat the plants directly or eat other animals that do. Like the plants, they use oxygen during metabolism and produce waste water and carbon dioxide. Both plants and animals need additional water for a variety of functions: For example, the transport of nutrients up from the roots is powered by the evaporation of water from the leaves and animals use water to regulate temperature through evaporative cooling and to dispose waste products.

The photon energy is sunlight activates electrons, which are removed from the chlorophyll before they can reemit that energy. These “excited” electrons are used to charge a membrane battery, which is used to make the energy transfer compound, adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Every organism faced nutrient poor conditions and so for every 99.9 percent of new life forms that evolved only one-tenth of one percent survived while all the rest are now extinct. --James L. Gould, Carol Grant Gould
–Chemical Evolution and the Origin of Life, By Richard E. Di ckerson; Scientific American, September, 1978
Many meteorites and comets contain abundant inorganically formed organic compounds. Natural selection must have been at work from the very onset, favoring liposomes with the most useful chemistry favoring those with the most useful building blocks and excluding those that might be toxic. At this point in time most organisms were autotrophs—that is, creatures that took energy or energy-rich materials from the nonliving world around them—as apposed to heterotrophs, which eat other organisms (you).
The next step in the evolution of living organisms was the development of cyclic photosynthesis—cyclic because the electron energized by an incoming photon from the sun is quickly returned to the chlorophyll molecule from which it came. Chlorophyll is embedded in a membrane along with the enzymes that steal the activated electron and harvest its energy; that energy is used to charge the membrane, and the electrostatic potential created is later employed to make ATP.
It takes about two photons to charge the membrane; enough to make one ATP, and since photons ---
Most photoautotrophs (all true plants) use the more efficient noncyclic process with the eight-fold increase in energy production.
Because eight times more ATP was being produced by all the plants they were able to create more energy storage in the form of carbon-based, starches and sugars. The noncyclic process not only created more free oxygen it also allowed millions of other life forms to evolve to feed on the extra, eight-fold energy created by this process. This is why we have coal, oil and limestone on Earth plus myriads of other oxygen-breathing animals like Hillary Clinton.
--The Assembly of Cell Membranes by Mark S. Bretscher; Scientific American, October 1985
--The Photosynthetic Membrane by By Kenneth R. Miller Scientific American, October 1979
--Molecular Mechanisms of Photosynthesis by Douglas C Youvan and Barry L. Marrs; Scientific American, June 1984
--Cytochrome C and the Evolution of Energy Metabolism, by Richard E. Dickerson, Scientific American, March 1980 Offprint 146
Me: Captain Hank Kroll, navigator

6:50 PM  

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