mabfan (Michael A. Burstein) (mabfan) wrote,
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)
mabfan

The Evolution Debate Continues

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a fascinating article, "A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash" by Amy Harmon, about David Campbell, a Florida science teacher. Campbell, who teaches Biology 1 in a Florida high school, is dealing with the difficulties of teaching evolution in a district where many of the students come from creationist families.

As many of you know, I'm both a scientific rationalist and a person of faith, and I've been fascinated (and, I should add, horrified) by the attempts to block evolution from public schools that we've seen in the United States over the past few years. I blogged about the final ruling in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case a few years ago, and I've recently been reading every book I can find about the case and the debate.

I used to be a science teacher, and now I edit science textbooks. What makes Campbell's problem interesting to me is that I, thankfully, never had to deal with the issues he deals with. It's true that my teaching career was limited to private schools and religious schools, but no matter where I taught, I had complete freedom to teach science the way I wanted to teach science.

Campbell is not as lucky. Oh, he does get to teach evolution exactly as he wants, and he even helped author the Florida science standards on evolution. But one of his colleagues explicitly states that she thinks God steps in to create life forms that appear wholly different from each other – and she essentially teaches that to her students, although she doesn't mention God. Campbell also deals with students who want to reject evolution in favor of creationism, which leads to a fascinating discussion in which Campbell points out why and how the question "Is there a God?" is not a scientific one.

As I read the article, I thought more about what I had learned reading about the Dover case. In particular, I found myself annoyed again at the way the creationists in Dover – the ones who wear their religion on their sleeve – broke the commandment against bearing false witness against their neighbors when giving testimony in their deposition and the courts. Campbell is a churchgoer, and yet he, like many other religious folk, has no problem reconciling evolution and faith in God, and it annoys me when creationists refuse to accept the idea that someone could both accept the fact of evolution and be a religious person.

In the end, though, I am heartened by one thing. One of the books I read on the Dover case noted that in the wake of the Kitzmiller case, the high school's science department had revised their biology curriculum. The way they saw it, Dover, PA, became the safest community in the entire country in which to teach evolution, and so they made evolution the cornerstone and major thread of their biology class. Now students start with evolution, and throughout the school year, everything they study in biology hearkens back to evolution. I'm glad to see that Florida basically decided to do the same thing, and I'm hoping that as the school year begins, more and more school science departments will be courageous when it comes to teaching evolution.
Tags: personal, science, teaching
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