Thursday, September 18, 2008

The solution to Creationism

OK, a relatively serious post for once.

I frequently hear sob stories of creationist students refusing to accept evolution and disrupting the flow of biology lessons with the usual copy and paste lists of inanity that substitutes for evidence in the creationist mindset.

I'm not impressed.
This doesn't seem to be an insurmountable problem.
Any decent science teacher should be able to use these challenges to his or her advantage to explain the value of the scientific method and all without getting into the specifics of any particular religion.
Even if that seems a little close to the legal edge for some teachers they have a simple solution - biology lessons in high school essentially consist of the consensus knowledge in that particular field. Controversy is a topic for higher levels of learning AFTER the basics of the subject have been taught (in the same way that its silly to teach high school students string theory before they have even grasped Newtonian physics).

No, my point here is that the major danger comes not from creationist students, creationist parents or even creationist school board members.
Even a worst case scenario whereby you, as a biology teacher, are compelled to include creationism (protestant King James version creationism, naturally) in your biology lesson plan it should be little problem to a competent biologist so long as you stick to the truth. All you are going to do is point out how inane and unscientific this belief is compared to actual biology.
In fact the very last thing a creationist parent should want is a competent biologist discussing creationism with their children ("OK class, attention please. We have a Professor Dawkins here today to teach you about Creationism").

The real danger is creationist teachers.

In a recent New Scientist article covering this topic the reporter Bob Holmes discussed the figures from a paper by Michael Berkman of Pennsylvania State University:

"The researchers polled a random sample of nearly 2000 high-school science teachers across the US in 2007. Of the 939 who responded, 2% said they did not cover evolution at all, with the majority spending between 3 and 10 classroom hours on the subject.

However, a quarter of the teachers also reported spending at least some time teaching about creationism or intelligent design. Of these, 48% – about 12.5% of the total survey – said they taught it as a "valid, scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species".

As for the religious convictions of the teachers themselves,

"When Berkman's team asked about the teachers' personal beliefs, about the same number, 16% of the total, said they believed human beings had been created by God within the last 10,000 years."

Is it possible to believe the Earth is 10,000 years old and still teach biology correctly?

Possible? Yes. Probable? Certainly not.

Which brings us back to the tape recorder.

I happen to be a person of faith.
I have faith that there are indeed students who actually want to learn scientific knowledge.
Students who are fascinated by the natural world, the way the cosmos developed and the possibilities for our and its future.
I know they exist because I used to be one!
Maybe you did too or perhaps you are even one now.

And its these pro-science students that we should use.
We are not afraid of creationism.
We are not afraid of intelligent design.
We are simply against bad science teaching which is the actual consequence of the sort of teaching advocated by the creationism/ID movement.
There is only one commandment for Scientists:
Don't lie.

If a student finds their teacher telling lies in class about biology they should expose it.
Record the lies and expose it to the world
Creationist teachers should be made to understand that telling lies will have consequences.
We cannot do this by ourselves as educators, we need the active cooperation of pro-science students but I think its a tactic that should be tried.

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