According to Paul Rees "textbooks for GCE Advanced Level Biology have provided over-simplified and inaccurate accounts of Charles Darwin's contribution to the study of evolution over a period of many decades." The author has 20 years of teaching the subject and is now an academic in a British university. The paper reminded me of Jonathan Wells' book-length critique of the way US textbooks portray the classic 'evidences' advanced to support Darwinism. Rees' contribution is much more modest in what it attempts to do, but he is rightly concerned about the way the textbooks "have perpetuated myths about Darwin and his work". It would have been an interesting exercise for him to offer some analysis of the phenomenon, but maybe this would create a hostile reception, similar to that experienced by Wells.
An interesting addendum is his observation about "a worrying absence of references to Darwin in current A-level Biology specifications and some texts." This trend is also found in the US, where evolutionary biologists tend to point the finger at creationists and ID activists, inferring that the textbook authors are swayed by sales potential. This is quite unjust, as creationists and ID educators consistently call for more accurate information (rather than content that is cherry-picked to advance the case for Darwinism). But what can be said when the same trend of diminishing the significance of Darwin is observed in the UK? There is no parallel with the US case: this is not a trend linked to the market for textbooks. Maybe Darwinism is actually not as significant for biology as many would like to make it? Maybe the textbook authors have a problem showing its relevance to the curriculum? This may be a revolutionary thought to those who keep telling us that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution, but more and more people are coming to realise that Darwinism explains everything but predicts nothing. This is not something that fits well into the ethos of science.
The evolution of textbook misconceptions about Darwin
Paul A. Rees
Journal of Biological Education, 41(2), Spring 2007, 53-55.
Abstract: Textbooks for GCE Advanced Level Biology have provided over-simplified and inaccurate accounts of Charles Darwin's contribution to the study of evolution over a period of many decades. They have credited him with field skills and insight that he did not possess, and repeated several historical inaccuracies. Darwin's strength was as a synthesiser of information but, at least in his early life, he was not a particularly observant or careful field biologist. The specimens collected on his voyage on HMS Beagle were largely identified and analysed by others, but this is rarely acknowledged. This article criticises the historical accuracy of the treatment of Darwin and his ideas in a range of A-level textbooks, and notes a worrying absence of references to Darwin in current A-level Biology specifications and some texts.
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