Teaching evolution in school

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Discussion by: FrankH

To start off this discussion, or perhaps the question, I am a biology teacher in the Netherlands. So my apologies for my English grammar when it ain't correct. By the way, I put this discussion under "science" but it could also be a religous discussion.

For a couple of years I've struggle with the subject of "evolution" and last year I even had a student that didn't pass the year because of that subject. The students I teach are 13-15 years of age, so they could even be called kids. I had a religious youth, being raised a protestant, so I know the Bible and the stories that are in it. At the age of 12 I started to think for my myself. However, many students I teach didn't do that. They still hang on to their belief, which I think is allright. I'm not getting paid to turn them into an atheist and it is most certainly not my goal to do so. However it IS my goal to make sure they pass the year and even more; learn them how brilliant biology and life is. But it seems that some of these students have a huge problem with "crawling out of their shell" as I like to call it. The same was with this one particular student. Besides the fact he was more often absent than present, he didn't want to believe or even think about a word I said about evolution. He thought it was rubbish. No matter how much evidence and examples I provided.

I am an atheist, but I don't want to turn the religious students into atheists. That decision is completely up to them. So does anybody have an idea on how to pull them out of their shell without turning them into an atheist? So I can make sure they open their eyes and become more open to other sources of information? I would like to hear your views, perhaps I can help myself and the students crawl out of their shells so they will accept the fact that there are other theories about life in this world. Maybe it is something that I should simply accept, but I thougt it was worth a try to ask you. :)

54 COMMENTS

  1. This sounds tricky, and I hope I’m understanding the situation correctly. It’s important to establish to the student they are not required to accept what you teach as the truth – only to be knowledgeable about it. As an atheist I sat through several “religion” lessons at schools which I thought were garbage – I still studied hard because those religious teachings have relevance to my position as an atheist. Maybe speak one on one with this student and tell them explicitly that gaining knowledge within a subject does mean you have accepted it – some people who learn about evolution cite it as having REINFORCED their religious beliefs. Explain to him also that evolution is also widely accepted by many prominent religious people. Lastly don’t feel concerned about whether you will change the beliefs of your students – As a teacher, you can only present the information you have, and hope those who hear it are open minded. If it makes them think, you’ve only done your job. Atheism has no dogma.

  2. You could start by telling them that evolution is nothing to do with religion, it is just how animals and plants change over time.
    Then a good idea would be a live demo, for example you could get the class to grow bacteria on an agar plate at the start of the year, then expose it to a difficult environment, e.g. a bit too acidic.. then cultivate the bacteria and compare its tolerance to acid at the end of the year… each group could make a different change to the conditions in the petri dish. Seeing it actually happen is nice.
    Also, don’t forget evolution by artificial selection which you could demonstrate by showing examples of modern fruits/vegetables to what they looked like 2000 years ago.

  3. Wow! Those creationists are really starting to make their presence felt, even in The Netherlands! You can only continue to teach the content of the curriculum and let them pass or fail on their grasp of the subject matter. I’d put in lots of everyday examples ( such as insects becoming resistant to pesticides etc) and really hope that they eventually see for themselves that the process is working whether they like it or not. It’s not your job to argue religion with them.

    I’m really concerned about the spread of this nonsensical thinking because knowledge can be lost….it has in the past, and it could happen again.

    • In reply to #3 by Nitya:

      Wow! Those creationists are really starting to make their presence felt, even in The Netherlands! …
      I’m really concerned about the spread of this nonsensical thinking because knowledge can be lost….it has in the past, and it could happen again.

      Yes, I worry that we may be moving back into superstitious times, not least as magical thinking gives a mirage of comfort in these bewildering and frightening times. However, perhaps it is could be argued that the reduction of superstition can be seen over a long period of time, but there have been local or temporary reversals. It’s very difficult to gauge the general trend and harder to predict, but I’d say that reason has generally prevailed in the long run.

      But it is important for those with influence to do what they can – and teachers have great influence, so a good teacher might in the end be remembered. Even if some students misguidedly reject learning at school, positive school experiences about evolution might in the end lead to a more reasonable approach – though in some case maybe not before the potentially salutary experience of doing badly in their exams.

  4. If evolution is on your curriculum then you are duty bound to teach it whether or not some of your students want to hear it. You’ll be on a losing wicket if they get the merest hint that you are trying to “convert” them. Present it as you would the structure of the cell.
    I cannot believe these are Dutch pupils – they sound like Muslims to me.

  5. Keeping in mind that the other students will be watching to see how you deal with this young creationist, it is important that you make clear that are not taking sides in a science-religion quarrel, but merely teaching evidence based knowledge. I would hope you would not compromise their learning by in any way waffling in order to placate or ‘show respect’ for this ignorant boy. You do not ‘convert to atheism’ when you teach your students rationality and evidence-based learning.
    If the creationist is hindering the instruction, i.e. by arguing with you in class, you might simply point out that religion is a different kind of experience, like music, and learning about evolution will not harm his faith the same way that leaning about how guitars and trumpets are built does not harm one’s enjoyment of music.

  6. First of all: thank you for the replies! It really helps to know how different people think about this. Good idea to bring in creationists who believe in evolution aswell. The problem is that the Dutch biology books says “evolution is a theory which can’t be proven”, even though it has been pretty much proven already. The books are out of date to say the least. Evolution gives a student al lot of time to self-reflect. Perhaps I can shift the focus to that skill. If I can improve their self-reflecting abilities, then perhaps I can put them into the position where they are willing to learn something even though they disagree with it. It might give them the ability to crawl out of their shell. Wether they are still ignorant then or not, that I can’t change. But atleast they have learned something they can use in future classes. :)

    To come back to replies #3 and #4: I’m not so worried that creationism will get bigger here. It is certainly not growing, but we do have a few VERY religious people in the Netherlands too. They are certainly not Muslim. A lot of kids have problems with self-reflection. Those kids have even more trouble with that. During their childhood they could see everything from their own perspective. And now suddenly they have to view it from somebody else’s perspective. That is tough for them. Nobody has ever taught them those skills.

    The bacteria example from #2 is something I am going to try with E. coli. Should do the trick.

  7. Surely there must be other books!
    If you can’t get another book for all students, you’ll just have to show them excerpts from the relevant books, and show the students that the book the school provided is plain wrong regarding the statement that evolution can’t be proven.
    This has the added advantage of teaching them to be critical towards their sources.

  8. You can always fall back on the Stephen J. Gould idea of “non-overlapping magisteria” which is a fancy way of saying that science looks into the natural world and religion is for the world of the soul. I think that idea is total rubbish btw but I used to work in the corporate world, I’m used to using some BS when I have to. You can also tell your religious students that a lot of scientists have been Christians and many still are and that most of the religions that take an official stand on evolution (even the Catholic church and the pope) admit that its true.

    BTW, the whole theory thing is just a mis-use of English. Its people looking for any sophist trick to discredit evolution playing on the fact that “theory” (as with almost all words) has different meanings in different contexts. A theory can be a speculation that is far from proven or it can be a well defined scientific model. In the case of evolution its the latter kind of theory. One thing I would tell your students is that its also “just a theory” that the Earth is round, that the Earth goes around the Sun and not vice versa. Just as with evolution people used to believe alternatives but the Earth not being the centre of the universe was a lot easier for some humans to accept than that our ancestors were primates.

  9. I tell my students (who are a bit older than your kids) to check their beliefs at the door. Inside the four walls of a science class, the answers that matter in a science classroom are provable science answers.

    I go further than this and let them know that I do not care one bit about what they believe. Belief is something to ponder on Sunday morning. The rest of the week belongs to investigating the world using logic and reason. My kids full well know that I do not believe in much at all. We discuss magic TRICKS and I show them a few. We discuss levitation, bigfoot, ghosts, James Randi, Dawkins, UFO’s, miracles…etc….

    I start talking about evolution during the opening of class and do not stop until the school year is over. One year a student put a check mark in her book every time I said “evolution” (I had no idea she was up to this) and, at the end of the year we tallied all the checks and divided by the number of minutes we met. It came out to “evolution every 5 minutes” which the kids had made into a t-shirt. It is my motto.

    In short, they have ZERO choice or say in the matter. I am evolution!!!!

    • In reply to #10 by crookedshoes:

      I tell my students (who are a bit older than your kids) to check their beliefs at the door. Inside the four walls of a science class, the answers that matter in a science classroom are provable science answers.

      I go further than this and let them know that I do not care one bit about what they bel…

      I agree with everything crookedshoes said and I think his comment brings up another important point. The students who have a religious problem with the science of evolution are I assume (I hope) a small minority. Its also important to think of the class as a whole. Its important to not let a few religious fanatics ruin the experience for the entire class by requiring endless preambles and justifications about religion vs. science. Its great that you want to accommodate the religious students and up to a point you should but at the same time I think its also rational to recognie — as terrible as it is — that you can’t fix every problem and you can’t and shouldn’t spend too much time babying a few students at the expense of the majority. Some people just need to flunk science classes. Its why we still have F’s.

  10. Frank:

    I don’t think that you should try to contrast science with religion. That’s something for each student to do on their own, or in some class like philosophy. I get the sense that you agree on this. I think that you could say something like, “The theory (perhaps explaining the scientific use of the term) of evolution by natural selection is the prevalent explanation for our current understanding of observations involving biology. We will review some of those observations and discuss how they led to, supported or failed to support the theory in question. This class is not about whether or not you believe that the theory is true, but you will be expected to learn and display understanding of it as the basis of modern biology”.

    When I discuss evolution with religious friends I find hindrances in their grasp of the immense scale of time involved, and a tendency toward absolutism, as in, ‘How can this turn into that without divine intervention’? This can be a tough nut to crack in a short time. Showing examples of time scale can be instructive, as can discussion of gradual change. I find that the example of ‘ring speciation’ is easily grasped and demonstrable. There are some books aimed at younger audiences that make very good cases for evolution; Richard Dawkins’ “The Magic of Reality” is one, but I know that at least here in the US a teacher would have about zero chance of including that text in the curriculum. That, however, does not prevent you from absorbing its arguments and crafting them to your class.

    }}}}

  11. When I was in high school (and granted I was 16 or 17 at this point) my biology teacher told us straight up about evolution and creationism. he put up a graphic of why evolution is true and contrasted it with why creationism is false. Point by point chart sort of thing. I don’t suggest you do this, I only mention it to show how someone else handled the situation.

  12. I would say two things to the students:

    1) If you have a religious objection, you do not have to believe the things I teach.

    2) But you do have to learn what biologists believe to be true, and the reasons that biologist believe these things to be true.

    On your exams, you might give them a checkbox like this:

    If you have any religious objections, please feel free to check the box below:
    [ ] My answers below reflect what I have been taught, but not necessarily my personal beliefs.
    

    That way they can answer the questions correctly without feeling like they are lying or betraying their religion.

    • In reply to #13 by s.k.graham:

      I would say two things to the students:

      1) If you have a religious objection, you do not have to believe the things I teach.

      2) But you do have to learn what biologists believe to be true, and the reasons that biologist believe these things to be true.

      On your exams, you might give them a checkbox like this:

      If you have any religious objections, please feel free to check the box below:
      [ ] My answers below reflect what I have been taught, but not necessarily my personal beliefs.

      That way they can answer the questions correctly without feeling like they are lying or betraying their religion.

      This is a very bad idea. The world has no constructive use for people who have ticked boxes to pass exams and get science qualifications, but do not really believe the scientific laws, or that its methodology leads to conclusions about real physics.

      This will only produce rationalising pseudo-scientists. (There is no use for aero-engineers who do not believe in gravity. They are simply dangerous.)

  13. Another thought — if they disrupt the class by always debating/arguing/complaining when you talk about evolution, you may need to make a hard rule:

    This classroom is not a place for debating evolution.  There are many places outside the class where you can debate these things, just not here.  Here we must cover the curriculum.
    
    • In reply to #14 by s.k.graham:

      the class room is not a place for debating evolution

      I have a problem with that statement. No good teacher just presents the information and says “I’m right now shut up and learn” The essence of good teaching includes open and spirited debate. On the contrary I think the classroom absolutely is a great place to debate evolution as long as its done in the proper context.

      Its one thing that bothers me about the church/state requirement for the US. Because there is such a (very well founded) fear that Christian teachers will try to indoctrinate students any discussion of religion is banned. I think that unfortunately is the right policy but I think its a terrible restriction to have to place on teachers. Debate and letting students disagree is essential for learning. What’s not appropriate is to use religious issues as an excuse for not knowing the answers on tests or being disruptive and using religious debates to side track teaching science. That’s a very different thing then saying “the class room is not a place for debating evolution”

      • In reply to #16 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #14 by s.k.graham:

        the class room is not a place for debating evolution

        I have a problem with that statement. No good teacher just presents the information and says “I’m right now shut up and learn”

        I see your point, and actually agree. But I certainly was not meaning “I’m right, just shut up and learn”. I was addressing the possibility of student who disrupt and derail the conversation.

        I actually believe that address some of the I.D. or creationist “criticisms” of evolution in a science class would be a great teaching tool — illustrating critical thinking, and some of the nuts and bolts of how science works.

        But teachers only have so much time to get through their material, and may not be able to allow much, if any time for in depth discussion, particularly because giving good answers to evolution-deniers “criticisms” often takes a lot longer than it takes them to ask their “questions”.

        So if the creationist students are delaying/disrupting the rest of the class, a hard rule of “this is not the place for creation/evolution debate” may be necessary. What works best is going to depend on the teacher and the individual students involved in the class.

      • In reply to #16 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #14 by s.k.graham:

        the class room is not a place for debating evolution

        I have a problem with that statement. No good teacher just presents the information and says “I’m right now shut up and learn” The essence of good teaching includes open and spirited debate. On the contrary I think…

        I think debating religion with kids in a science class is not a good policy. It depends on your relationship with the class of course, and kids in their final years can be privy to more information about your personal views than those in the earlier years, however once that door is opened, it gives permission to a teacher with religious conviction an excuse to air their views.

        • In reply to #19 by Nitya:

          I think debating religion with kids in a science class is not a good policy.

          I mostly agree with you. For American schools it would be inconceivable. Probably other countries as well. But there is a difference between what is practical public policy and what might be the ideal teaching environment.

          My ideal school wouldn’t prohibit any question as a matter of policy. I’m not saying that science class should have a lot of religion but that its possible to discuss religious things and science and have it be intellectually worthwhile and something that might really help kids learn. The key is to always leave the ultimate matters to the good judgement of the teacher and to have teachers who are qualified and not eager to impose their religion. Neither of those things can be guaranteed in the US.

          • In reply to #20 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #19 by Nitya:

            I think debating religion with kids in a science class is not a good policy.

            I mostly agree with you. For American schools it would be inconceivable. Probably other countries as well. But there is a difference between what is practical public policy and what might be the…

            What worries me in this case, is the fact that being a science teacher and being a believer are not mutually exclusive positions ( though fairly rare). I could imagine a scenario where the teacher states that they don’t personally believe in evolution, they’re compelled to teach it anyway. If the teacher is well liked by the class, the seed of doubt could be sown. I think the content should be taught without any value judgement at all.

          • In reply to #21 by Nitya:

            What worries me in this case, is the fact that being a science teacher and being a believer are not mutually exclusive positions ( though fairly rare). I could imagine a scenario where the teacher states that they don’t personally believe in evolution, they’re compelled to teach it anyway. If the teacher is well liked by the class, the seed of doubt could be sown. I think the content should be taught without any value judgement at all.

            Keep in mind I’m talking about an ideal teaching environment and I realize that what I’m saying could only work say at some very expensive school with the best teachers. But say someone gave me a lot of money and said I could spend it any way I wanted to build a great elementary school. The kind of environment I would encourage would be one where it was perfectly legitimate to talk about any topic in any class, within the constraints that the teacher decides when its time for free flowing discussion and when (much more often) its not.

            Also, in such an environment I would welcome theists as well as atheists. Since my ideal school is private I could hire anyone and pretty much discriminate on anything except race and gender but I would absolutely not want a requirement that every teacher had to be an atheist. In fact I would want there to be a balance of theists and atheists just like I would want liberal and conservative people and science as well as liberal arts teachers.

          • In reply to #24 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #21 by Nitya:

            What worries me in this case, is the fact that being a science teacher and being a believer are not mutually exclusive positions ( though fairly rare). I could imagine a scenario where the teacher states that they don’t personally believe in evolution, they’re compelled to…

            Ha ha!

  14. This may be a little sideways but my view of school has always been that it should focus on thinking and learning skills. Not memorization. Learning about the principals of evolution is very important but it is more important to learn how we came to these understandings. At any given point, if a good argument can be presented, we should always embrace it. This the most valuable asset of scientific method I believe and it makes it stand apart from religious dogma. If your student is ‘stuck’ in his mindset then embrace his perspective and encourage him to debate the details (aka facts). If you can encourage this, he/she will learn the important information one way or the other.
    I would suggest (in so far as you can within the curriculum) to focus on the process and less so on the details. As was suggested by others, demonstrate evolution and even a stubborn student will have to acknowledge what they see with their own eyes. The evolution of domestic dogs is a story that most can rationalize (though it is artificial selection it still shows the concept).
    I might also note that I was raised Christian as well but didn’t change my opinion until I was a young adult. While converting someone to atheism is not your goal, I wouldn’t expect a person to change so substantially in a single school year regardless. Just lay a solid foundation for enlightened thinking.

  15. First, I encourage you not to be concerned with finding teaching strategies on the topic of evolution that won’t turn them into atheists. Nor with lessons that will do the opposite. This concern is not a part of your job. Just teach the science. Do not shy away from the science. I strongly urge you not to undermine the teaching of evolution by telling them they don’t have to believe what is being taught. I would not make this an issue at all. Again, just teach the science without any such caveats.

    There are a number of websites you might find helpful. Here are few which I have found useful.

    Understanding Evolution
    http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/home.php
    Includes a section for Teachers. I have provided a direct link to this below. It can also be accessed from the main page by clicking on the Teaching Materials link at the top center of the page to which the above link takes you.

    Understanding Evolution for Teachers
    http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/evohome.html

    Understanding Evolution Teaching Materials
    http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/teach/index.php

    PBS Evolution
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/
    Includes a video library on evolution. This website is a companion to the PBS program on evolution. There is also a companion book you can purchase.

    NSTA Resources for Teaching Evolution
    http://www.nsta.org/publications/interactive/galapagos/resources/page1.html
    NSTA is the National Science Teacher Association

    Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science
    http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=5787
    At this site you can download for free a copy of the National Academy of Science publication Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science. Just click on the download button in the upper left. When you get the screen that requires you to sign in click on the button to create an account. After doing so you can then download the publication. This publication, which I have used, contains a variety of labs and exercises you can use to help teach students about evolution and the nature of scientific inquiry.

    Hope these resources help. Good luck.

  16. What’s wrong with making them into atheists?

    See:
    “On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not” By Robert Burton

    “The Beginning of Infinity” by David Deutsch Deutsch talks about The Enlightenment and Enlightenments plural. Will we fall into a new Dark Age? Dark Ages seem to be the standard. Staying enlightened is the goal.

    “crawling out of their shell” Having a breakthrough to a higher level of consciousness. I didn’t “get” what my professors were teaching me in college until later. Get them to go through the motions and put down the correct answers on the test. Do that by having them do experiments with their own hands.

    If you find a way to break their shells, Tell us. We need to know. How indeed do you break through the stubborn streak or the training and immunization against science? The priest has very powerful tools that work against you. He tells them that if they even think an evolutionary thought, they will go to hell. You will have to tell them in a subliminal way that the priest is a charlatan. Maybe it will dawn on them in 10 years.

    Post this: “Nature isn’t just the final authority on truth, Nature is the Only authority. There are zero human authorities. Scientists do not vote on what is the truth. There is only one vote and Nature owns it. We find out what Nature’s vote is by doing Scientific [public and replicable] experiments. Scientific [public and replicable] experiments are the only source of truth. [To be public, it has to be visible to other people in the room. What goes on inside one person's head isn't public unless it can be seen on an X-ray or with another instrument.]
    We build confidence by repeating experiments.”

    Expel the disturber if necessary. Evolution is a fact. Religion is obsolete. Gravity is just a theory. Try and violate gravity.

    • In reply to #26 by Asteroid1Miner:

      What’s wrong with making them into atheists?

      Whats wrong with making them atheists is that its not a teachers job to indoctrinate their students into anything. If someone says “teaching evolution will be more likely to turn students into atheists” I agree and think thats a good thing. If on the other hand someone starts making his science class a class on why students should be atheists I think that is highly inappropriate and as wrong as a Christian trying to use science class to indoctrinate students to Christianity.

  17. He doesn’t need to believe anything. He just need to understand what evolution actually is, he needs to articulate its precepts, and if he doesn’t want any of it after class, then that’s fine. It doesn’t matter what he thinks, it’s not a popularity contest, it’s an established scientific theory, therefore is part of the science curriculum. And if he can’t detach his beliefs from the content, then he’ll fail. End of!

    If they want to discuss it, then fine, all the better. If they don’t then fine. It’s about understanding, not accepting or rejecting. As long as they understand the principles involved, that’s all that matters. They can make their own decisions later.

    If he pushes it, you can go into epistemology, or “how do we know what we know”, why Natural Selection is so highly regarded in the scientific community. You could argue that Science Education should start with that, the scientific precepts, why science works, ect… It’s a much better stepping stone.

  18. I probably know far more about the bible than 99% of Christians. I can learn it even if I treat it as fiction.

    Ditto your student can learn the workings of evolutionary theory, even if they don’t buy it. They have to fully understand it.

  19. In reply to #30 by Smill:

    In reply to Red Dog, post 24. Are you familiar with the “Modern Schools” established in 19th C Catholic Spain and France…by educators such as Ferrer and others who established accessible, secular education with the aim of developing questioning, critical, free thinking minds, outside of the Catho…

    Thanks for that reference. I’m not familiar with those schools and I don’t know anything about education theory in general. My experience is just as what my parents used to call a “perpetual student” and more recently watching the abysmal education system in the US my daughter had to navigate.

    I absolutely agree with you, its possible to have a great school without spending tons of cash and its certainly possible to spend lots of cash and still have a terrible school. However, if I was to describe my ideal school lots of money never hurts :)

  20. I also have asked a student whether I could show up at his church and worship a different god?? Or interrupt the priest to lecture on Darwinian Evolution?? Is there choice within religion??? NO??? Then why are you asking to have choice within a science class…

    Also, on the topic of disagreements and discussion, all comments are welcome in my classroom. All comments. That does not mean I’ll let you get away with being wrong. I will prove you are wrong. I will actively converse with anyone about evolution, but I cannot promise that you will like our conversation or walk away looking smart.

  21. Just going to throw this out here too.

    So when I was in college taking moral philosophy there were a couple of christian students who’d always talk about jesus and the bible. So much so that the class would always get stuck going over the same shit. The teacher never put his foot down and the whole class was one big waste. You definitely don’t want your biology class to turn into a mess like this.

  22. That one disruptive student could be a schizophrenic.

    “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bi-Cameral Mind” Julian Jaynes, Professor, Harvard University 1976 “Religious people are just like schizophrenic patients”

    “The Psychiatric Interview in Clinical Practice” Roger A. MacKinnon, M.D., Robert Michels, M.D. W. B. Saunders Co. 1971 “Religiosity is a common symptom [of] schizophrenic patients”

    What do schools do with mentally ill students? His parents may have the same mental illness.

    There are about 6 mental illnesses listed in the many books on the subject of what causes religion. Do you want a list? On the milder side, not on the list, there are books that talk about the basic organization of the human brain as being likely to cause religion.

    The best book I have read about religion is “Religion Explained” by Pascal Boyer. Boyer doesn’t go for the insanity model. Instead, Boyer says that religion is caused by the fact that the human brain has sub-processors that act below the level of consciousness. In particular, the human brain has a very powerful sub-computer for dealing with social interactions. It is the “If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” problem.

    The human brain evolved to have categories for people, animals, vegetables and minerals. Gods, spirits, witches, ghosts and the like are in a broken category, partly people and partly minerals. Dead people fall into the “people” category but also fall into the “rocks” category.

    Science is a new method of thinking; and Science actually WORKS! Science is only 400 or 500 years old. Very few people are able to learn to do science, and it takes about 10 years after high school. Science is not easy.

    Most people find religion much easier than science, even if they can do science. So, most people do the easy thing. The problem is that the problems we face right now can only be solved by doing science, yet scientists are a small minority. “The Beginning of Infinity” by David Deutsch says that religion is or causes mental disability. Deutsch is correct.

    Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make scientists out of your students. The change from what the average person is now to scientist is a change of equal or greater magnitude than the change that Julian Jaynes talks about in his book, “The Origin of Consciousness…” According to Jaynes, 10,000 years ago, everybody was schizophrenic. We have made a great leap forward by becoming conscious. Your disruptive student must make this step before he can take the next step.

    If you succeed in making your students into scientists, they will become atheists eventually. Science is ultimately incompatible with religion, but don’t tell anybody. Science is the next step up in the evolution of mind.

    50,000 years ago we invented spoken language.
    10,000 years ago, we began to invent consciousness.
    5,000 years ago we invented counting and written language.
    500 or 400 years ago we invented science.
    In the 1940s we invented computers.
    The science teachers’ job is to catch people up to Newton.

    • In reply to #36 by Asteroid1Miner:

      That one disruptive student could be a schizophrenic.

      Are you referring to the disruptive student mentioned in this comment:

      there were a couple of christian students who’d always talk about jesus and the bible. So much so that the class would always get stuck

      Because if you are that is a totally unwarranted conclusion. I’ve known a few actual schizophrenics and most of them were shy and not the kind of people to disrupt a class Of course they could be disruptive in any social situation when overwhelmed by their delusions or hallucinations but that didn’t sound like the kind of behavior described in the comment.

  23. In reply to Peter Grant, post 38. Are you flippant about everything? it seems to be your ‘thing’.

    In reply to Red Dog, post 37. You mean… you … met … an … ‘actual’ … schizophrenic…? To whom is the comment actually unwarranted…the student or the schizophrenic?

    In reply to Asteroid1Miner, post 36. I notice those two citations are from 1976 and 1971. Have you anything more current to support your ridiculous assertion?

    • In reply to #39 by Smill:

      In reply to Peter Grant, post 38. Are you flippant about everything? it seems to be your ‘thing’.

      In reply to Red Dog, post 37. You mean… you … met … an … ‘actual’ … schizophrenic…? To whom is the comment actually unwarranted…the student or the schizophrenic?

      I used to work in a psych hospital a very long time ago and got to know several schizophrenics. Some of them even to the point where I considered them friends and they felt the same toward me I think. I thought the comment I was replying to was saying that someone who was disruptive in an ethics class always talking about Jesus was probably a schizophrenic. My only point was that just because someone talks about Jesus and disrupts a class is not evidence that they are a schizophrenic.

    • In reply to #39 by Smill:

      In reply to Peter Grant, post 38. Are you flippant about everything? it seems to be your ‘thing’.

      No, only nonsense. There just seems to be copious amounts of the stuff to be flippant about!

  24. In reply to #44 by Smill:

    In reply to post 43. Yes. The lowest point.

    That is precisely where I am aiming, if you hadn’t noticed already. I want to be understood by those even less intelligent than those I am arguing with.

    • In reply to #46 by Smill:

      In reply to PG, post 45. That’s called playing to the gallery.

      Only when emotional appeal is used purely for its own sake. I “play to the gallery” mainly to get an underlying point across. Your approval would be emotionally gratifying, but I don’t actually need it.

    • In reply to #48 by Smill:

      In reply to PG, post 47. I see. So, in effect, you are like a great zen master who devises his koan in order to impart special, insightful knowledge.

      No, I see it more like trying to explain really obvious shit to incredibly stupid people. But that’s just my subjective perception of things.

  25. In reply to 49. Well the ‘really obvious shit’ isn’t always really obvious for a number of factors, IQ not always being one of them. Calling people ‘incredibly stupid’ reveals more about your own insecurities and lack of awareness…. teacher!

  26. In reply to Peter Grant, post 38. I still take issue with this post. How ironic that the moderator had not thought to question it as well as the others that have been removed. You wrote, “Schizophrenics are very special, religious loonies are just the ordinary sort of idiot.”. Now tell me, what are you teaching?

  27. Mods’ message

    We have already reminded users of the requirement to stay on the topic of the OP. If users continue to ignore mod messages, their commenting rights will be withdrawn without further notice.

    The mods

  28. Sorry mods.

    The solution is simple. Science as a methodology is necessarily atheistic, but that does not mean you need to teach atheism as some sort of ideology. Questions relating to gods simply fall outside of the method. Laplace’s “I had no need of that hypothesis!” is a sufficient answer.

  29. Personally I cannot believe in this day and age we are still debate this subject. If you have a religious upbringing then that’s fine. But Science must never be taught with religion in mind. The two do not make good bedfellows. Many religious people accept that Evolution is now fact. Only those foolish enough to believe every word of the bible are deluding themselves. It is these people who will never accept any evidence of Evolution and they belong in the Middle ages along with the flat earth society.

  30. I’m a part time Astronomy teacher at a Catholic school in Northern California. My students are ages 10 to 12. I explain to them that they need not believe, or disbelieve, anything for my approval. My only goals are that they enjoy class and that they become scientifically literate. I have no idea what astronomers may discover twenty or forty years from now but my students must be able to understand the essential elements of true science and recognize pseudoscience.

    I’d estimate that between 10% to 15% of my students are atheists. It’s not that they have been converted by anyone it’s just that a percentage of Catholic school kids simply can’t except the story of the resurrection. And the students talk with each other about matters of faith. They know that some members of the class dream of joining the priesthood while others see Christianity as a fairy tale.

    I’m an atheist and my grandparents were Jewish. Most, or perhaps all, of the children assume that I’m a Christian and I don’t correct them. I’m not trying to pass myself off as something I’m not, that would be dishonest. But I’m on campus for their benefit not mine. For me to state that I’m a atheist would serve no purpose.

    As for creationism, I explained that some people believe that the universe is only 6000 years old and there is even a museum in Kentucky based on that idea. Then I show them a really cute photograph I found on the Answers in Genesis Museum website. The photo shows a 10 year old boy riding on the back of an obviously fake dinosaur. The students always laugh when they see that picture of the boy on the dinosaur and their laughter makes the point of how absurd creationism is.

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