Friday, October 03, 2008
I've been pondering the session I lead on teaching evolution this week at ASTA. In writing this book, I find that I have to think a lot about my message, both what it is and how I can communicate it effectively. Live presentations are good opportunities to test out that message.
One thing that I blatantly tried to do this time was to push forward my central message about students understanding, but not believing, evolution. I think I've mentioned earlier here how in writing that message has become my focus. The ASTA session seemed to work well with consistently bringing everything back to this message and making it the chief take-away for my participants. Science teachers must teach evolution, and they should teach it in a way that all students, even religious students, understand evolution. They should not teach evolution, however, with a goal of getting religious students to believe that evolution really happened.
Am I on thin ice here? Can students really understand evolution without believing it? I'm thinking they can. For some religious students, I would think that it's major progress if they simply had a basic knowledge of what evolution is and a sense that clear scientific evidence exists for it working around them and in the history of the earth. I'd be OK even if they didn't believe in evolution itself or even believe in the evidence that they saw. I also know that students from some religions, such as Christian fundamentalism, would encounter significant difficulties learning about evolution at even that basic level.
Believing that evolution occurred at any level beyond natural selection is going to be a major stretch for many religious students. They've been taught to believe in creation, and they just will not believe that life evolved. They won't believe that it evolved by itself, because of their belief in supernatural creation, but I'm beginning to see that they won't even believe that evolution was the mechanism of special creation (i.e., that God created by evolution). Their faith tells differently, and believing the scientific worldview in this instance is going to be pretty much impossible for them.
So, we're back to understanding evolution, but not believing it occurred, as the goal of evolution education. And, I'm OK with that goal. I don't think it's undercutting science education because it at least lets students enter into the study of evolution at some level without creating a science classroom where they feel like they can't learn about evolution at all. As the teacher blatantly says, "I don't expect you to believe this," the students know that their faith isn't threatened. I'm hoping that having that security gives them the freedom to look more at the evidence for evolution and the way the theory explains the evidence.
Please let me know any thoughts you have on that message, especially holes that you see in it. More and more I'm focusing on "Understanding Not Believing." So, I guess I'm pitching the idea that we need to U.N.Believe (un-believe) the evolution curriculum.