Here is a very simple explanation for why creationism and intelligent design should never be taught in the science classroom:
“We’re not going to have an evolution versus creation debate in this classroom, but it’s going to take me a few minutes to help you guys understand why.
Can anyone tell me what science is?”
(Long wait. Sometimes you have to make them look it up in the dictionary. Most definitions come round to, ‘A way of learning about nature.’)
“Right, it’s a way of learning about nature. By definition, any concept of a god involves the supernatural – that which is outside of nature. So by definition, it’s outside the scope of the topic. We can’t measure divinity. We can’t test divinity. We can’t falsify a hypothesis about divinely inspired creation. We don’t spend a lot of time on world history or diagramming sentences in a biology classroom, and we’re not going to spend a lot of time on creationism either -because it’s not science.
Science is not concerned with what you believe.
It is concerned with what you know – the best model we can construct from the evidence available in the natural world.
Science doesn’t deal with the metaphysical. Some of you will view that as a limitation, and that’s fine. You have to understand the appropriate uses and limitations of any tool you work with.”
You can potentially leave it here.
Or you can delve into ontological versus methodological naturalism, and talk about Karl Popper and the necessity of falsifiable hypotheses….
By teaching the topic this way (in a bit more depth) and having students understand what science is, I’ve had some amazing results.
I once had an extremely religious fundamentalist student who wanted to have a ‘debate’ the first time I said the word ‘evolution’. He was always very insistent on trying to get me to divulge my faith (or lack thereof). I always responded, “If you are ever able to determine what I personally believe, I’ve failed to be sufficiently objective. This is about knowing the material and understanding the models – not about personal beliefs.”
First, they have to understand that what you are teaching is not a threat to their faith – or they’ll shut down and refuse to ever accept it.
Second, they have to know – academically – what evolution is and what the available evidence for it is. A proper understanding of the definition of evolution and the support for it leads almost inexorably to step three…
Third, once they know, then they tend to believe. They can’t help themselves. (They usually also continue to believe in their creation myths – but at least they can define evolution properly.)
In another comment, the same author explains:
‘Today we’re going to talk about evolution. Before we do, I’m going to ask you a question that you’re not obligated to answer. Just think about it.
Is there anything I could say up here that would ever change your personal beliefs?’
(Rigorous head shaking identifies the most resistant in the crowd.)
‘Good. And I would never want to. I’m not concerned with what you believe. I’m concerned with what you know. Remember when we talked about the definition of science – we’re dealing only with falsifiable hypotheses about the natural world, so it’s within that context that we’re having this discussion. Your beliefs are totally separate.
Now, what have you been told I would tell you in today’s lesson on evolution? Don’t be shy. It could have come from church leaders, it could have come from friends or relatives, it could have come from your parents. Or maybe you don’t know where it came from. But what have you heard about evolution?’
Students: ‘You’re going to try to turn us away from god. / Evolution says there is no god.’
Me: “You will never hear me say a single negative thing about your faith or your religious leaders. Let me repeat that. You will never hear me say a single negative thing about your faith or your religious leaders. Hold me to that.”
Students: ‘Evolution says we came from chimpanzees!!’
Me: “Not true.”
I would calmly answer each of the misconceptions, until students got exasperated. Eventually…
Student: “What is evolution, then?”
Me: “Glad you asked. That’s the topic of today’s discussion.
I just want to ask you one favor.
Like I said, I’m not going to tell you about your faith. Because that’s the business of your religious leaders, and I’m not an expert in their field.
In return, I’m going to ask that you take some time today to listen to an expert on science with an open mind as he talks about science.”
Then I introduce the notion of change over time, and changes in allele frequencies over time, pointing out that that – change in allele frequencies over time – is evolution.
I taught in a rural community, so it was easy to use examples from breeding cattle. The correlation wasn’t 100%, but it was common that the most religious kids also had some experience on the farm.
“If I want to make a lot of money at the cattle auction when I go to sell cattle, which cow do I breed to which bull out of my breeding stock?”
‘The biggest ones!’
“The next generation, is it likely that my animals will be bigger, on average, than they were in the previous generation, if I don’t allow the scrawnier stock to breed?”
“Based on what we’ve covered in genetics, why do you think that is?”
They end up stating (usually in a roundabout way) that the allele frequencies have changed.
“Do you believe that can happen?”
“Congratulations. Go home and tell your parents that you believe in evolution. If they’re confused, explain it to them.”