Creation vs. Evolution
How Do Teachers Respond?
posted by Kevin on the
Science Teachers' Chatboard
I will be student teaching this fall in biology. I would like people's recommendations on how to deal with any issues that come up when discussing Darwin and the Theory of Evolution.
I teach 6th, so I do not know if the same will apply. I have had students ask me about the conflict with Darwin's theory and their religion. I talk to them about theories. I tell them that Darwin's theory is his interpretation of how life began. Many scientists believe it, while others are not so sure. It can be looked at as a theory of explanation, just as many religions have a theory of explanation. We, as teachers, are not advocating this theory, but instead, presenting it, just as we present all other information. In other words, we are not asking the student to throw out their religious beliefs and now believe in the theory of evolution. I hope this helps.
It's a difficult issue. I tell the kids (7th graders) that religion is a belief system. If you believe in creation, then by all means they must stick by their convictions.
However, evolution is a theory, something that has been supported by many hypothesis. It has not been DISPROVEN! We, as teachers, must teach truth found through the scientific method. Truth must be provable. All indications are is that evolution did occur and, as yet, the theory has passed every test.
Are we 100% certain that evolution did occur? No. However, every bit of evidence that supports it makes the probability that much higher. I'd say we are 97% sure.
I agree that the best way to launch the subject is to not be timid about bringing it up. I often start a lesson by asking what they already know (or think they know) about it. This is a great way to figure out who is especially sensitive or uncomfortable. It also helps to nab any (and there will be) misconceptions/misunderstandings. I always follow that up by explaining that my job is not to change their beliefs or even to challenge them but to provide information in the context of a science classroom. In science we can only work with things that are testable, measurable, etc. Spirituality is not testable or measurable and so it really does not belong in a scientific classroom.
You will find that they will ask you what you personally believe...I am often asked this. I simply state that how I feel or believe is also irrelevant--this is science and I do not have an opinion either way about scientific topics. (I ask them why nobody asked me what I believed about the circulatory system, genetics, or properties of diffusion.)
I have never had a parent question me although I did have another faculty member question the teaching of evolution. I simply deferred to the curriculum. I am mandated to teach an entire range of topics, one of which happens to be evolution. If they have an issue with that, they can address the board or the principal/dean, etc. I sort of look at it like "My hands are tied--nothing I can (or would) do!" If a parent were adamant about not wanting their child to be involved, I would absolutely cater to that. No battles! Make life easy! Best of luck to you!
I take the students through the discovery. I let them discover evolution. Start with variation...Darwin was a collector of Beetles, Moths, some were bigger, different markings, etc. He looked for a "good" specimen. Next I introduce the concept of genetic drift. Darwin bred pigeons, he had all sorts of unusual ones, he also knew that dogs had been bred into many breeds.
Finally, I take them onto the Beagle, Darwin saw this variety and this selection in nature, he saw that Turtles on the Galapagos Island were different between the islands. He saw the differences in the finches and the penny dropped, it was like his pigeons back home. What man did deliberately, was happening by accident in nature. That's all he said, he didn't talk about god or religion or anything else, he made an observation.
If I get a student who is particularly brainwashed, I've had students say that the devil put the fossils in the ground to trick us. I simple say its like a painting, you could say god created the painting, a scientist might say the painting is created by the laying down and mixing of pigments. One is talking about who, the other is talking about how. Maybe there is a God and this God created the means of evolution.
Some of these suggestions are great! I especially like Frank's ideas. I teach evolution to 7th graders in a school with a "Christ-centered atmosphere." One of the things I do is explain that in order to make a decision about what one believes, one would be wise to understand not only what they believe, but also the other beliefs out there. How can a Creationist argue against Evolution if they don't understand it? How can an Evolutionist argue against Creationism if they don't understand it? I tell my students that before they get into a debate about anything, they need to understand all sides in order to not sound ignorant. Understanding a particular point of view does not necessarily mean acceptance of it.
Me in NC
I tell my 8th grade and HS students that I am not trying to CONVINCE anyone of anything. If they believe in the Creation story, that is fine with me. If they believe in natural selection and evolution, that is fine with me too.
"I am not here to try to change anyone's mind... You do not have to personally believe in these ideas but you are responsible for understanding what they are and what evidence is used to support them."
First, evolution is not a theory, it just means change. Natural selection is the theory. As for scientific theories, so is the "quantum theory of the atom." However, try telling the inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that it is "just a theory."
I'm glad you brought that up. You can use quantum theory to calculate what it takes to knock electrons out of specific orbitals. After all, this is the definition of ordinary chemistry by some standards. This "electronic dislocation" can induce a chemical change that may be difficult to predict by the conventional methods of physical chemistry. But in principle, it's still just ordinary chemistry, since the nucleus is not involved. On the other hand, involving the nucleus via slow neutron capture or other mechanism leads to other possibilities.
My point is that "evolution" and "natural selection" both take place within a framework that includes "background radiation". In the detonation of a Hiroshima- or Nagasaki- type device, the effects occur on a rather contracted time scale, compared to geologic time or however you measure biological change.
I'm fairly certain that most of the effects of the first atomic bombs were not explored in a lot of detail beforehand. But it should prove an interesting attempt to integrate such notions with Darwin.
My general sense of the whole debate is that the "public" has a superficial understanding of natural selection. I think you have to make a relationship of change in form with fossils AND modern creatures. There is ample evidence of microevolution in bird migratory paths and in the continuing genetic and physical divergence of the Galapagos finches. I bring out different kinds of peppers to show artificial selection. I usually introduce the topic following the discussions of DNA. Discuss various gene effects like codominance and incomplete dominance to show how even in genetically identical organisms- there is variation that may affect survival and reproduction.
My students were fascinated by the role of environment on genes. I point out how they are much taller and healthier with longer lifespans than their great-grandparents. That effect occurred too rapidly for genetic change to be the cause but it demonstrates that a gene may not reach its full expression in an environment. I showed them a film on the extraordinary variety of Cichlids in Africa and introduced the idea of adaptive radiation.
I believe the largest obstacle to understanding is vocabulary. Most people don't understand the terms properly. If you can reach a consensus on the meaning of the words "evolution" and "selection" you're on your way. Good luck.
Doc- I believe the Alamogordo detonation was thoroughly explored. The top physics people in America were deeply involved at a variety of sites. Richard Feynman described his role in the biographies. Oppenheimer and others have written extensively on it. Richard Rhodes also had an excellent book on the project in the 90's.
Laborer in the halls of learning
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