In the midst of the kerfuffle about atheism, religion, and teaching evolution in high school, the NY Times article made me wonder if focusing part of the curriculum on molecular evolution would be a better way of teaching evolutionary biology* (and ScienceBlogling Sandra describes some good ways of doing so).
I pose this as a question–it could be a dreadful idea, but here are some things to consider:
- Molecular biology is viewed as more ‘scientific.’ Like it or not (and I don’t), molecular biology is viewed as more rigorous than organismal biology.
- DNA sequence is pretty easy to understand. A, T, C, and G, which then gets translated into proteins. This is not ‘fuzzy’, nor does it require extensive organismal knowledge (yes, I realize molecular evoluiton is far more complex than this, but we don’t teach string theory to fifteen year-olds either).
- If students have access to the internet (and perhaps computers), they can do their own analyses. Between Genbank and most analysis programs either being very cheap or freeware, students could design their own projects (although cutting open a fetal pig is kinda cool…).
- There are some very good natural history and laboratory examples of molecular evolution.
- Teaching basic phylogenetics is a lot easier with molecular data than with fossil data. Again, it’s that four-character state thing.
- I think it’s harder to ‘explain away’ the molecular evidence for evolution than the organismal evidence (or at least, the creationists have less practice at it).
Mind you, I’m not saying we should get rid of the organismal approaches to teaching evolution, but do you think more of an emphasis on the molecular evidence for evolution would work?
Update: More thoughts on the topic here.
*Unlike PZ, I don’t see ‘religion’ as a problem, but particular religions as problematic, and they should be called out, although not in a public school. A government institution has no business directly telling students that their religion is hooey (as long as there is no imminent harm to students, etc.).