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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Uncommon Descent Contest 20: Why should human evolution be taught in school?

I just came across this fact in the journal Nature: Little is known about human evolution other than basic outline.

So, contrary to widely heard huffing, there are huge gaps in our understanding of early humans. In Nature's 2020 Visions (7 January 2010) Scroll down to Leslie C. Aiello, and we learn
Most of the recent effort in hominin palaeontology has been focused on Africa and Europe. But the announcement in 2004 of the small hominin Homo floresiensis in Indonesia was a warning that we are naive to assume we know more than the basic outline of human evolutionary history. If H. floresiensis is indeed a surviving remnant of early Homo that left Africa around 2 million years ago, we have to reject the long-standing idea that Homo erectus was the first African emigrant. We also must reject many hypotheses concerning the prerequisites for this emigration, such as a relatively large brain size, large body size and human-like limb proportions. Importantly, we must confront our relative ignorance about human evolution outside Europe and Africa.- "Hominin paleontology"
Now, I don't believe for a moment that 2020 is going to yield a whole lot more information, as Mr. Aiello* hopes - more likely a whole lot more grant applications, as more people graduate and need a focus for their work.

That doesn't mean the work isn't worth doing. It does, however, raise a key question: Why are people expected to learn in school whatever evolution story is currently taken seriously - by whomever and for whatever reason?

When I was in school fifty years ago, we struggled through polynomials, the life cycle of the common toad, and how to behave on stage when putting on a fragment of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar - facts that were not under dispute and unlikely to change in the lifetime of anyone present.

Anyway, courtesy of the Discovery Institute, I have a copy of David Berlinski's The Deniable Darwin, for the best answer to the question: Why is human evolution, in its actual present state, compulsorily taught in schools? Why are people going to court in order to force the teaching?

Here are the contest rules. Winners get a certificate as well as the prize. You do not need to give me your actual address, just an address I can send the prize to, and we never save addresses for a mailing list.

*Aiello is President, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research

Go here to enter.

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