Evolution and beliefIn 2009, for the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, a poll was conducted in which it was found that less than 40% of Americans believe in evolution. Sometimes the best...

Evolution and belief

In 2009, for the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, a poll was conducted in which it was found that less than 40% of Americans believe in evolution. Sometimes the best learning occurs when there is controversy over the subject matter, but this seems to me to be a more touchy subject than most. How should teachers approach the teaching of evolution without alienating students who have strong religious beliefs to the contrary?

Asked on by pacorz

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boblawrence's profile pic

boblawrence | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

I think it is important for a teacher to be diplomatic and courteous at all times.  This benefits the students by setting an example, and avoids embarrassment for everybody.

The science teacher has the responsibility to teach science accurately.  She should not cloud things by suggesting that evolution may not have been scientifically proved.  I have no problem, however, if the teacher who is questioned by a student about creationism says something similar to the last paragraph of post #7 by "brettd". This paragraph is a diplomatic and thoughtful comment that addresses these issues.

bigdreams1's profile pic

bigdreams1 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

In reply to #12's quote:

 It is a pity that there are those who close their minds to anything other than their settled beliefs.

 

To that, I say, "Amen!" :)

 

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larrygates | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Frizzyperm makes a valid point. I often tell my students at the beginning of our discussion on early man that their religious teaching may disagree with that which I am about to tell them. I also tell them that evolution is settled science at this juncture, and they should strive to reconcile their beliefs with science, to the extent that they can. I remind them of Einstein's comment that science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind. In an earlier discussion here, it was mentioned that the entire story of the Garden of Eden is metaphorical. If students view the Biblical story of creation as metaphorical, they should be able to easily reconcile it with evolutionary theory. It is a pity that there are those who close their minds to anything other than their settled beliefs.

bigdreams1's profile pic

bigdreams1 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

I think teachers should teach what they, in good conscience, believe to be the truth...with the caveat that the students (as free Americans) after they do their own research can believe whatever they wish.

My daughter, who is a Cum Laude Pharmacy school graduate, loves science but has trouble with the hardcore evolution she was taught in most of her biology classes in high school, undergrad, and graduate school. We had a discussion about how to handle tests on the subject when she had a deep-seated philosophical objection to it, and we came up with this:

Whenever she had to answer an essay question on evolution, she would  start it with: "What you told us in class, and what the text says is...." In that way she could "know" the facts from her professor's point of view, and preserve the integrity of her beliefs.

 

herappleness's profile pic

M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Since church and state are two completely different things and are not supposed to combine, what I don't get is how in the world they even mention Creationism in schools that are funded by the government. How did it get there in the first place? A school board may be a part of choosing the curriculum, so where is the control to avoid this conflict? What needs to be done is present facts, period. Just get the facts. And, keep it simple....

booboosmoosh's profile pic

booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

In teaching literature, and presenting a "Christ-like" character without offending anyone, I always recognized that different people had different beliefs. However, I noted that I was not sharing my opinions, but presenting information with facts from a story (like Kafka's The Metamorphosis) to support my assertion. Students are always allowed to believe what they wish.

In teaching Darwin and evolution, I would (in this case) present the topic as Darwin's theories and facts; we present what we know, along with what we think.

I would also inform the students that it is an educational exercise, not a lesson to teach these philosophies or theories as things they must accept. We give students the opportunity to study what we do know, coupled with what we think we know—the rest is really up to the student. Giving them choice is important.

In that Darwin's studies removed "God" from the equation in nature, I can understand that people would be uncomfortable with accepting what he had to say. (Personally, I'd be one of them.) But again, we choose what we want to believe: in God or in the absence of God; or that Gregor in Kafka's tale was a large bug or just the symbolic representation of a man who felt alienated from society.

It is important that a student have the ability to recognize the presence of others' beliefs in the world around them, even if those beliefs are not their own. In this way, we promote tolerance for the views of others that may be different. And we educate students about the world in which they live. Knowledge is power.

brettd's profile pic

brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

It's fairly simple, to me, as evolution is a scientific fact.  The sun is 93 million miles away.  People can believe it is around the corner next to the 7-11, but that doesn't make it so.

So as teachers we have an imperative to teach what we know to be scientifically true.  Doing so does not have to lead to a classroom debate about religious beliefs, which students are, of course, entitled to, and we are not allowed to promote or detract anyway.

In order not to alienate them, we can announce that "the scientific community has come to this conclusion about evolution, overwhelmingly and over time, and that it is always good to be skeptical of conclusions.  Ask questions, keep an open mind, and in the end, you can believe whatever you choose."

litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I'm glad I'm not a science teacher because of things like this. However, that number really surprised me. I wonder if it's gone down? It does seem that recently there has been more of an attack on evolution. The stickers being placed on schoolbooks that provide the alternate theory of Creationism, for example.

kplhardison's profile pic

Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

This is a tricky topic since, as you all say, belief is not something that in Western society is meant to be imposed or ridiculed or attacked (never mind what may actually occur ...). And as has been pointed out, knowing about something because it is important to the development of thought (like Freud) or to present pursuits and applications of knowledge (like Newtonian physics) is critical, though belief in it (like Freudianism) is not a requirement, in fact, in some cases, may be outright discouraged (like Aristotle's crystal sphere). So a caveat of this sort before starting a unit, and repeated where needed in the unit, seems the soundest approach--regardless of the teacher's own personal beliefs. And since much of Darwinianism is theory still, belief does apply--at least in part--to adherents and proponents of Darwinianism.

lorrainecaplan's profile pic

Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

While I do not teach any science course, either, thorny issues arise in all content areas, included English. Once, as I was having a class on the history of word origins, someone asked me why a dog was called a dog, and another student stated that Adam had named all the animals.  I think all we can really do is try to make a distinction between belief, which requires no evidence, and science, which does require evidence, and to maintain the position that the classroom is a place we can discuss beliefs and develop a mutual respect for their sincerity, but that the classroom is not a place in which beliefs will be taught.  Creationism and intelligent design are beliefs, not science, and I would have to resign from any teaching position in which I would have to present them any other way to my students because it is my belief that this would be unethical teaching.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I don't teach biology, but I do teach history, government, etc, which is full of thorny issues that can upset people.  When I do have to tell students things that many of them might not want to hear about, I simply tell them that this is what most experts believe.  They don't have to believe it themselves, but they do have to know it.

By doing this, I remove the tension that would be created by me saying "listen, this is the truth whether you like it or not.  I've never had much of a problem even when I'm teaching about things that go against students' beliefs.

literaturenerd's profile pic

literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I believe the best way to approach this topic is to look at the alternative perspective: discussing the fact that, perhaps, God created mankind and the elements of nature to evolve. Through the advancement of science, we are able to treat illness better, cure diseases, and animals are able to adapt to ever-changing environments.

Another way to look at this touchy subject is to show students that life is fully of differing perspectives. Like in literature, and life in general, everyone will not agree. We, or students, do not have to change our mind about our beliefs, but it is important to look at the rights of others to hold different ideas. This way, we can learn to accept others views without alienating our own.

frizzyperm's profile pic

frizzyperm | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

What "evidence" do you rely on to conclude that "intelligent design" is mere "belief"? -pcrees

Well... Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al. was a federal trial of intelligent design's claims in 2005. In that trial, scientists ripped Intelligent Design to such tiny shreds that many of the 'star witnesses' for the defence of ID chickened out and didn't dare turn up to give their evidence. It was a white-wash. ID was shown to be The Bible in disguise, nothing more. There is not one scrap of genuine evidence, nor are there any testable thories which support ID.

If kids in school want to discuss ID, fine. Teachers can discuss it with them. They can discuss that it is

a) not science.

b) not true.

You suggest a 747 had a team of designers. Yes it did. But how does an inanimate passanger aircraft relate to anything in biology? I would like to discuss it with you.

pcrees's profile pic

pcrees | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

While I do not teach any science course, either, thorny issues arise in all content areas, included English. Once, as I was having a class on the history of word origins, someone asked me why a dog was called a dog, and another student stated that Adam had named all the animals.  I think all we can really do is try to make a distinction between belief, which requires no evidence, and science, which does require evidence, and to maintain the position that the classroom is a place we can discuss beliefs and develop a mutual respect for their sincerity, but that the classroom is not a place in which beliefs will be taught.  Creationism and intelligent design are beliefs, not science, and I would have to resign from any teaching position in which I would have to present them any other way to my students because it is my belief that this would be unethical teaching.

Professor: What "evidence" do you rely on to conclude that "intelligent design" is mere "belief"?

And if, as you say, "the classroom is a place...[where one] can discuss beliefs...," how can you simultaneously conclude that it is "unethical" for a teacher to discuss "intelligent design" with his, or her, students? Surely if a student asked you whether intelligent design was involved in the origin of the Boeing 747 airplane, you would answer: Right?

Regards----

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