Presented by Brian Alters, McGill University
NABT Convention, Montreal
7 November 2001
Defending Evolution in the Classroom
Synopsis: Why students reject evolution: Expect approximately 50% of your students to not accept, or "believe in" evolution. Alters lists many reasons and questions raised from different perspectives, many of them NOT from conservative or fundamentalist religious sources. He maintains that, in order for teachers to be more effective in successfully teaching evolution, they should understand these questions, and their sources. For detailed discussion of those questions, in several categories, see his latest publication, under the same title as for this presentation. ED
Most educators would probably agree that it is important to know why students think something they are teaching is inaccurate. Yet when it comes to their students rejecting their teaching of evolution, many educators just chalk it up to students being creationists and do not explore their reasons any further. However, the label creationist, while often useful for categorizing the wide variety of people who reject evolution, is much too broad to give educators an appropriate understanding of the numerous rationales students have for rejecting the underlying theory of biology.
In Charles Darwin's time, the "creationist" label
generally was used to refer to someone who believed that the
human soul was not inherited from the parents but was a special
creation for each individual. However, the day after the Origin
of Species became public, Darwin began writing letters using
the term creationist to refer to anti-evolutionists. The term
as it is used today has come to mean specific types of evolution
rejection, which vary greatly depending on who you read or with
whom you talk.
Many students who reject evolution do have rationales for their objections. Some of these rationales are well thought out, while others border on the affective domain -- responses that stem from emotion. The cognitive rationales range from what most people would consider to be purely religious rationales to rationales that may strike many as nonreligious. The vast majority of students, however, hold some combination of religious and nonreligious rationales for their rejections.
Instructors should be aware of students' conceptions in order to help them learn the science of evolution better and to understand why the scientific community agrees that evolution is the only scientific theory to explain the diversity of life. Otherwise, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to productively address students' misconceptions about evolution. Additionally, to better understand why many students (and nonstudents) contend that the evolutionary science we teach is inaccurate, it is illustrative to examine some of the religious and non-religious rationales underpinning their thinking. In this presentation we will look at some of these specific yet greatly varied religious and non-religious rationales that students typically give for their rejection of evolution.
[The above is a slightly modified excerpt from Defending Evolution in the Classroom. Jones & Barlett Publishers, Boston, 2001.]