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Ross Koning koning at ECSUC.CTSTATEU.EDU
Mon Feb 16 10:40:58 EST 1998

At 11:03 AM -0500 2/13/98, Dr. David Starrett wrote:

>Our biggest conflict is with the teaching of evolution to our majors.  Some
>are resistant enough to leave class when discussions lead to man being
>related to ape, etc.  I often get disclaimers on exams stating something
>like "I don't believe this crap, but I'll answer the questions as I think
>YOU want them to be answered".

There is a nice article in the current issue of Discover
magazine on this topic...it is well written I think and
undergrads can get an idea about the evolution/religion

I think I would have stressed a few points differently
in the article, and the ending is not exactly where I
would like to leave the reader, but it does give a good
example about how one can initiate a discussion of
the theory (meaning essentially fact) of evolution and
the faith-realm of religion.

I think it is critical for us to attack student thinking
on this issue head-on.  We have to talk religion AND
science in our science classrooms so that students can
learn the difference between these two fields of inquiry.
If we fail to draw some lines between them in our classes,
then the mud is never cleared up in their minds and we will
have students who don't learn to distinguish them.  We
can't be preaching any one kind of religion, but I think
we must teach enough ABOUT religion for students to be
able to distinguish belief based on faith vs belief based on
evidence.  It is important for us to lead students into
deciding when it is important to choose science instead of
religion for a particular question, and when we must choose
religion instead of science for another.  There are no other
avenues for our students to learn this kind of discernment,
so I think we as science faculty must do this!  Until we
do teach this broadly and clearly, we will face a populace
that has no trust in what scientists do. They will continue to
"not believe that crap" because they don't realize that
the question is one to be approached by science rather than
by faith.

It is important for us as scientists to admit to having a
place for religion in human thought.  To deny its usefulness
in certain types of questions (frequently the WHY question
upon which science must be silent) slams the door in the
face of a person "of faith."  We can then expect reciprocal
treatment toward science when we start talking about any
issue upon which religion has made a comment.  Allowing
for belief upon faith in certain questions on our part, shows
the kind of coexistence of these two ways of knowing is in
open discussion in our classroom.  The doors to student's
minds then are partially open to our teaching of the place
for science.  If we want a student's mind to be open to
cultivate science, we cannot slam their minds shut at the
start.  Note: I'm not saying any of us have made this mistake,
but it is an easy trap to fall into.

Getting to the roots of science...decision making based on
evidence rather than on faith...is some of the most important
teaching we do, IMHO.  Sometimes we miss this important
lesson because we are so bogged down in the findings of
science (hypotonic, hypertonic, isotonic; hypogynous, epigynous,
perigynous, etc.).  I'm coming around to the conclusion that
in our introductory course, we need to have a unit on what
IS science? How do we DO science? When should we USE science?
and so on.  This needs to be part of the curriculum on the test
as well as in the lecture.  I think it is the toe-in-the-door
to student's minds.


Ross Koning                 | koning at ecsu.ctstateu.edu
Biology Department          | http://koning.ecsu.ctstateu.edu/
Eastern CT State University | phone: 860-465-5327
Willimantic, CT 06226 USA   | fax: 860-465-4479

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