From the National Center for Science Education:
Am I a Monkey?: Six Big Questions about Evolution, by Francisco Ayala (Baltimore, MA: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), 83 pp.
Despite the ongoing cultural controversy in America, evolution remains a cornerstone of science. In this book, Francisco J. Ayala—an evolutionary biologist, member of the National Academy of Sciences, and winner of the National Medal of Science and the Templeton Prize—cuts to the chase in a daring attempt to address, in nontechnical language, six perennial questions about evolution:
• Am I a Monkey?• Why Is Evolution a Theory?• What Is DNA?• Do All Scientists Accept Evolution?• How Did Life Begin?• Can One Believe in Evolution and God?
This to-the-point book answers each of these questions with force. Ayala’s occasionally biting essays refuse to lend credence to disingenuous ideas and arguments. He lays out the basic science that underlies evolutionary theory, explains how the process works, and soundly makes the case for why evolution is not a threat to religion.
Brief, incisive, topical, authoritative, Am I a Monkey? will take you a day to read and a lifetime to ponder.
The National Center for Science Education has a free preview of Am I a Monkey?, here.
I don’t think I have mentioned on this blog that the National Center for Science Education, an organization I have long supported for its efforts in defending evolution education in public schools and ceasing efforts to push creationism, has branced out to doing the same regarding the education of climate change science. There are lots of great videos on their YouTube page, including this latest one on “A Brief History of Climate Science”:
Last year biologist Rudolf A. Raff published Once We All Had Gills: Growing Up Evolutionist in an Evolving World (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2012):
In this book, Rudolf A. Raff reaches out to the scientifically queasy, using his life story and his growth as a scientist to illustrate why science matters, especially at a time when many Americans are both suspicious of science and hostile to scientific ways of thinking. Noting that science has too often been the object of controversy in school curriculums and debates on public policy issues ranging from energy and conservation to stem-cell research and climate change, Raff argues that when the public is confused or ill-informed, these issues tend to be decided on religious, economic, and political grounds that disregard the realities of the natural world. Speaking up for science and scientific literacy, Raff tells how and why he became an evolutionary biologist and describes some of the vibrant and living science of evolution. Once We All Had Gills is also the story of evolution writ large: its history, how it is studied, what it means, and why it has become a useful target in a cultural war against rational thought and the idea of a secular, religiously tolerant nation.
The National Center for Science Education has an excerpt from the book, chapter 19 on creationism, here.
Dawn Publications specializes in science and nature books for kids. Their series of evolution books by Jennifer Morgan and beautifully illustrated by Dana Lynne Anderson capture for young curious minds the wonder of our connection to the natural world. They tell, from the perspective of the Universe, our cosmic, earth, and evolution stories. Each book contains at the end a section with further detail of topics featured in the story, a glossary, and suggested readings and other resources.
Born With a Bang: The Universe Tells Our Cosmic Story, by Jennifer Morgan and illustrated by Dana Lynne Anderson (Nevada City, CA: Dawn Publications, 2002), 48 pp.
Get ready to hear the Universe tell its own life story of chaos and creativity. Time after time the Universe nearly perishes, then bravely triumphs and turns itself into new and even more spectacular forms—like the Sun and Earth. It even turns itself into Earthling scientists who help the Universe discover more about itself. This is a science story from the inside. It’s a story about you, from the time you were really born—about 13 billion years ago. First in a trilogy, this illustrated book ends as the Universe forms a young Earth.
From Lava to Life: The Universe Tells Our Earth Story, by Jennifer Morgan and illustrated by Dana Lynne Anderson (Nevada City, CA: Dawn Publications, 2003), 48 pp.
Settle in with your favorite pillow while the Universe tells the thrilling story of Earth. It’s a story about the beginning of life, and how Earth triumphs over crisis to become bacteria… jellyfish… flowers… dinosaurs! It’s a science story that is your story, too, the story of your living Earth and the unbroken chain that connects you to the very first life that began to twitch in the sea four billion years ago.
Mammals Who Morph: The Universe Tells Our Evolution Story, by Jennifer Morgan and illustrated by Dana Lynne Anderson (Nevada City, CA: Dawn Publications, 2006), 48 pp.
This remarkable illustrated evolution series, narrated by the Universe itself, concludes with Book Three, the amazing story of mammals. It picks up with the extinction of dinosaurs, and tells how tiny mammals survived and morphed into lots of new Earthlings… horses, whales and a kind of mammal with a powerful imagination—you! It’s a story of chaos, creativity and heroes—the greatest adventure on Earth! And it’s a personal story… about our bodies, our minds, our spirits. It’s our story.
Some seem to think these books, through personification of the Universe as storyteller, are masquerading as creationism/intelligent design. I don’t think so. The intention here is to provide a grand story of sorts for children about the origins of our universe, earth, and life. Some call this the Epic of Evolution or The Great Story. If you’re religious, you can take these books as you will. If you’re secular, you can read these books in a wholly secular tone. As the author notes in the third book, in response to queries about where God is in these books, “The word ‘God’ is purposefully not in the story so that it can be embraced by people of all religious traditions, or of none at all.” What is important is that children are being offered good science through the stories, and that is the case with Born with a Bang, From Lava to Life, and Mammals Who Morph.
Carl Zimmer blogged about some new resources from the Darwin Correspondence Project, “Creating Young Darwins.” Based on a university course at Harvard, “Get to Know Darwin” equips educators (and parents!) curriculum for teaching students (or children!) about Darwin’s many experiments. Through some of his papers and letters, they can learn why Darwin did them, how they were conducted, his results, and the context of their connection to his theoretical work.
Integrating Darwin’s correspondence with exercises in experimental science and study of his published work has been a great success. For students in the course, reading the letters enriched their understanding of Darwin’s life and work. The letters provided “a glimpse of his thought process” and “brought the other works we were looking at to life, and gave much context to who Darwin was from childhood to old age, as a father and a husband, and ultimately as a scientist.” They showed students “what excited him, what his hobbies were, and what went on in his daily life.” This kind of historical texture was not merely incidental to students’ learning. As one student in the course put it, “These details may not be present in On the Origin of Species, but they are, in my opinion, an integral part of the full comprehension of it. Knowing that Darwin was a devoted family man, meticulous observer, and a charming individual is more than just interesting – it gives his published work more purpose.”
Here’s the list of available topics: Early Days, Barnacles, Biogeography, Variation Under Domestication, Orchids, Instinct and the Evolution of Mind, Insectivorous Plants, Climbing Plants, Floral Dimorphism, Power of Movement in Plants, and Earthworms.
Bringing the history of science alive for education. I love it!
Two new books about evolution are available, but not as traditional books. The first is an ebook: Pepper’s Special Wings: A Story About Natural Selection by Mary Anne Farah with art by Megan Stiver (Humanist Press, 2012):
Children have the right to know the truth about how life evolved on earth. Pepper’s Special Wings shows children aged 4-7 how Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory of natural selection works, using easy words and colorful pictures they can understand, but based on an actual scientific case study. Children will also identify with Pepper’s social struggle, since self-esteem, self-image, bullying, and being teased are recurring childhood themes. Children will see that sometimes being different is what makes them amazing! A special section for parents gives background information and suggestions for research to share with their children as they mature.
Also available through Amazon: Pepper’s Special Wings: A Story about Natural Selection. You can read more about it in EVOLUTION MADE CLEAR FOR KIDS IN “PEPPER’S SPECIAL WINGS” from the American Humanist Association. Or like its Facebook page.
It tells the story of the Rinkidinks, who have to change and adapt after the home is flooded and they were split into two groups.
Always great to have new titles to add to a child’s science library!
In December of last year some folks cried out (1/2/3) against a new kids book that promotes anti-vaccination, and rightly so! But so far I have only come across one person who is crying out over a kids book about Charles Darwin. Why no others? Surely a book about the life of Darwin would be dangerous in the hands of children.
The book in question is Darwin: British Naturalist by Diane Cook (which is the same as Charles Darwin), and the Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin does not like that it is being sold in a public – and taypaxer-funded (oh, no!) – museum. First, visitors of the museum are not required to purchase the book, so what’s the problem? Second, why are they fussing? They quote a passage from the book:
How did all the many different species of plants and animals in this world come into being? The simple explanation that God had created everything did not satisfy him. It could not explain everything he had observed.
And their response:
Now I have no problem with people writing about the historical controversy between Darwin’s theory and religion, but why is this partisan message in a kids book being sold at a taxpayer-funded publicly-operated science museum?
I see no problem with the passage from the book not because I accept the theory of evolution and am (obviously) a Darwin aficianado, but because it’s true. It is historically accurate. Darwin did indeed think that special creation could not explain the origin and distribution of species on Earth. His travels in the 1830s gave him firsthand experience in observing many plants and animals of the world. The claim that this passage is “partisan” is unfair.
The DI post then goes on to charge the author of Darwin: British Naturalist of “concoct[ing] a story about how the church and religious ideologues supposedly persecuted Darwin”:
Darwin was criticized by many scientists and denounced by the religious community who claimed his theory was blasphemous. … Articles and cartoons satirizing Darwin appeared regularly in newspapers and magazines. The most common images were of Darwin’s head on an ape’s body or Darwin crawling among worms or other simple creatures. Darwin did nothing about this deliberate misrepresentation of his theory. He only smiled sadly. He had no wish to waste time defending or explaining his ideas. Instead, he went on living his quiet peaceful life, taking daily walks through the woods and continuing his scientific research and writing. Nevertheless, in his heart he hoped that one day people would understand that his purpose had not been to overturn God and destroy their beliefs, but just to prove one thing — that life was always changing.
Was Darwin criticized by scientists? Yes. Was his theory considered by some in the religious community as blasphemous? Yes. Did cartoonists use Darwin and turn him into all manner of monkeys and apes? Yes. Did Darwin respond publicly to these cartoons? Not to my knowledge. Did he live a quiet life, take daily walks, and continue working on science? Yes. Did Darwin travel the world, collect data, correspond with folks from all over the world, conduct experiments, and write many books and articles to “overturn God and destroy their beliefs”? No.
And yes, while the image from the book they share in the post may be silly, this “concocted story” is by all means fair to Darwin historically. But, since it paints a positive light on Darwin the man, the Discovery Institute of course thinks it is rubbish. What Darwin did or wrote is only a good thing for the Discovery Institute when it lends to their purposes, no matter how misleading.
I just looked up the book in the catalog of the Multnomah County Library, and there is a copy of Darwin: British Naturalist at my local branch. Looks like I will have to stop by and check it out.
From The Bad Astronomer:
I did a guest post for the blog of the Foundation Beyond Belief, which I copy here:
This post is part of our Humanist Perspectives series. In this series, we invite guest contributors to explore active humanism and what it means to be a thoughtful, engaged member of society. Please share your thoughts in the comments!
by Michael D. Barton
I have many favorite quotes about children and nature, but here are two very simple yet insightful ones:
What is the extinction of a condor to a child who has never seen a wren? – Robert Michael Pyle, author
How can we expect [children] to really care about their natural environment if they’ve never had an experience in it? – Martin LeBlanc, Sierra Club
Taking your child or children on an afternoon trip to the zoo is a great thing to do, but what does that matter if a child is not connected in some way to the animals that live near their home? Why should we care to learn about pandas and cheetahs and polar bears if we haven’t learned about salmon and owls and dragonflies? My five-year-old son is a member of a generation that will face serious issues regarding the environment. As his father, I strive to raise him to be a scientifically literate and environmentally conscious adult. While I am not a homeschooling parent and my son will be going to public school, there are two aspects of education I feel fall into my hands: teaching about evolution and raising an outdoor kid.
Parents are first and foremost the responsible party when it comes to getting children away from television, computers, and digital devices and into nature. While environmental education is increasingly being recognized in schools and other educational avenues, it is not enough. Education begins in the home and with family. Here in Portland, Oregon, the outdoor education program for Multnomah County sixth graders has been cut from a full week outdoors to just a few days. There will always be funding issues with schools and education, and extra programs are the first to go (except football, of course). While many schools do participate in environmental education (field trips, school gardens, etc.), teachers are overworked. That is why I find it a parental duty to share nature experiences with my child. We’re not backpackers nor experienced campers — we simply leave the house a few times a week and head to local nature parks or nearby trails and participate in nature programming at museums and libraries. There is not a lot of effort involved (unless you live somewhere with less-than-ideal weather). I find myself having had a better day than if I had not gone outside.
Since I do not consider nature in any way the creation of a supernatural deity, for me bringing evolution into our experiences makes them more personal. We’re part of the natural world along with every creature great and small, plant, rock, wave, and breeze. As Alan Watts put it: “You didn’t come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here.” We must care for our planet not just for ourselves to remain, but for all of our extended family.
The National Center for Science Education is not going anywhere. Creationist attacks on public education are not going to disappear in the foreseeable future. And now the NCSE has had to branch into protecting climate change education as well. I, as a parent, need to do my best to expose my son to these important ideas in science, not as an expert, but as a fellow learner. We have plenty of Darwin and evolution books geared toward children on our shelves (too many, my wife probably thinks). While my son learns, I learn, too. He is going to teach me things. What he is going to teach me is not just the neat stuff about the natural world, like different bird species for example. He is going to teach me that immersing oneself in nature has a deeper meaning. To feel that we are a part of nature is crucial in thinking about how we want to treat this planet. This is where evolution comes in strong. It is no surprise that some creation-minded folks also discredit the idea that humans have had an effect on the climate of this planet. Certainly understandable if one views themselves as above nature and given dominion over it. But my son is not going to be taught that he belongs to some group of humans created by some god (he will of course learn about religions). He will learn what we can know for sure about our world and our place in it. He will learn about evolution and how humans are not the epitomy of creation but just one (and yes we are unique, but so are all other organisms) animal in the tree of life. This is not indoctrinating a young mind, as some might suggest. Rather, it is teaching a young mind about his place in a world that could get along just fine without him. Earth is not ours for the taking, but ours for the caring.
I’m fond of a snippet from an 2009 article in Forbes by Kathryn Tabb, “The Debate Over Intelligent Design”:
But what would this ghost [Darwin], who would find the separation of church and state unthinkably radical, have to say about the legal battles over evolution being waged across America? An indifferent student, Darwin preferred the outdoors to the schoolhouse and once confessed, ‘Observing, thinking & some reading beat, in my opinion, all systematic education.’ My guess is that Darwin would urge the children … to take advantage of all the mayhem to sneak out while the adults aren’t looking — and, equipped with magnifying glasses and notebooks, take to nature and draw their own conclusions.
Take to nature, indeed.
I encourage you to look into the Children & Nature Network, a nonprofit organization that promotes connecting children to the outdoors (its founder is Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder), and the blog writings of paleontologist and science educator Scott Sampson, which describe his vision of an evolutionary worldview.
There are many books about evolution for children, but Bang! How We Came to Be stands out for its beautiful paintings of ancient life and a detailed yet engaging narrative of “how we came to be.” Written and illustrated by Michael Rubino, and published by Prometheus Books (70 pages, paperback, 2011), the text in this book is geared not for the kindergarten child – like my son – but for older elementary children. However, anyone with an interest in science and art should take a look.
Rubino starts with the oft-quoted “From so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved” (Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, 1859). Here it works great because he soon offers almost 30 gorgeous color paintings of endless forms. The first few are astronomical and geological in nature, and then it moves on chronologically to the biological lineage leading to humans. While this may seem to favor humans over other forms of life, Rubino does well to describe what other lineages of organisms were up to at the time.
Highly recommended (Amazon.com), and I look forward to reading this with Patrick when he is a little older, but for now we can enjoy the beautiful reconstructions of our ancient ancestors.
Over the last week I teamed up with the organization Nature Rocks to provide tips about getting children outside and into nature. My voice came through on their Facebook and Twitter pages as I posted on my other blog, Exploring Portland’s Natural Areas. If you’re interested, here are those posts, with plenty of pictures of my son exploring in nature:
October 31st – This week I am a Nature Rocks Ambassador!
November 3rd – Ways to extend outdoor experiences beyond outside
November 4th – Nature in your neighborhood
Eugenie Scott of the NCSE in Scotland:
Bora Zivkovic is in the habit of posting interviews with participants of the ScienceOnline conferences.
Mine went up today: ScienceOnline2011 – interview with Michael Barton.
Someone has put together a preview for a proposed animated version of On the Origin of Species for kids, posting it on Richard Dawkins’ website:
A new book about science for children from Richard Dawkins, The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True (out in early October):
The National Center for Science Education has since 2009 been offering free PDF downloads of chapters from a variety of books related to evolution. The most recent is The Evolutionary World: How Adaptation Explains Everything from Seashells to Civilization.
Here’s their list of past offerings that are still available:
Am I a Monkey? (Johns Hopkins University Press) by Francisco J. Ayala
Charles Darwin’s On the Origin Of Species: A Graphic Adaptation (Rodale) by Michael Keller
The Darwin Archipelago (Yale University Press) by Steve Jones
The Darwinian Tourist (Oxford University Press) by Christopher Wills
Darwin’s Lost World (Oxford University Press) by Martin Brasier
Darwin’s Armada: Four Voyages and the Battle for the Theory of Evolution (WW Norton) by Iain McCalman
Darwin’s Universe: Evolution from A to Z (UC Press) by Richard Milner
Evidence of Evolution (Abrams Books) by Susan Middleton and Mary Ellen Hannibal
The Evidence for Evolution (University of Chicago Press) by Alan R. Rogers
Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America’s Classrooms (Cambridge University Press) by Berkman and Plutzer
Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be (Kids Can Press) by Daniel Loxton
Evolution: The Story of Life (UC Press) by Douglas Palmer
Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth (Hill and Wang) by Jay Hosler. Illustrated by Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon
The Fossil Hunter (Palgrave Macmillan) by Shelley Emling
In the Light of Evolution: Essays from the Laboratory and Field (Roberts & Company Publishers) edited by Jonathan B. Losos
Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution (W.W. Norton) by Nick Lane
Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (Bloomsbury Press) by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway
The Missing Link: An Inquiry Approach for Teaching All Students About Evolution (Heinemann) by Lee Meadows
Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk (University Of Chicago Press) by Massimo Pigliucci
The Origin Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the Origin of Species (Princeton University Press) by David N. Reznick
Principles of Life (Sinauer Associates) by Hillis, Sadava, Heller, and Price
Stones & Bones (Polebridge Press Norton) by Char Matejovsky and Robaire Ream
Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion (Basic Books) by Edward J. Larson
The Tangled Bank (Roberts and Company) by Carl Zimmer
Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place In Nature (Bellevue Literary Press) by Brian Switek
A children’s book aimed at young children (4-8) about evolution was published this last June.
Is that a bird? Where are its big, feathery wings? Why does it have whiskers like a cat? A kiwi can’t be a bird, can it?
The answer, Charlie learns is simply evolutionary.
Presented by Peter Reynolds and FableVision and supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, this is an easy to understand scientific adventure. Charlie and Kiwi (with help from great, great, great, great, great Grandpa Charles Darwin) take you on a journey through time and through a huge scientific principle. The story of evolution—and that strange little Kiwi bird—reminds us that sometimes what seems like a raw deal (a bird that can’t fly) turns out to be just perfect!