Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

More on teaching evolution and evolving humanity

Paul Grobstein's picture

Encouraging article in the NY Times yesterday: "A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash." Yes, there are ways to avoid drawing lines in the sand, to work productively across (even because of) divides.

"I don't expect you to 'believe' the scientific explanation of evolution ... I do expect you to understand it" ... David Campbell, high school teacher, Florida.

" ... there's a difference beween thinking something is interesting and believing it" ... Doug Dougherty, student in Campbell's course.

I'd call that a noteworthy success. " ... people are being provided with the products of skepticism, with alternative stories that haven't occured to them before and that are potentially relevant to future challenges", with things that are "interesting." That's what good science education (and good science) is all about (see also What is Science? and Science as Story Telling and Story Revising).

Teaching science as "interesting" rather than something to believe in is important in the context of evolution (see Evolution and Intelligent Design: Perspectives and Resources) but has as well a wider significance for education, and perhaps for human life in general:

"it offers a new sort of direction for humanity, one in which individuals themselves become for themselves (and each other) the active agents responsible for not being "carried here and there by the winds of doctrine", and one where everyone benefits from their own distinctive explorations and the ongoing and different explorations of others."

""I believe ..." is a good starting point, but should never be taken as an ending point, either for oneself or in one's sharing with others. As an ending point, "I believe ... " is at best a conversation stopper and at worst the origins of much of the suffering that humans wreak on one another."

"I don't "believe" in stories, wherever they come from. I listen to them, learn from them, and make use of them when I find them useful. To "believe" in a story is, for me, to end the ongoing process of discovery, of "getting it less wrong", and that's not something I'm inclined to do."

Maybe the time is getting closer when education in general will be about "that's interesting" (cf Education: Between Two Cultures), and we'll all come to see "I believe" as invitation to learn from one another instead of a challenge that breaks off conversation at best and, at worst, creates barriers and antipathy between people?