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Column: When will the conflict end?

Feb. 20, 2011

The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.

We like to see the sciences as pure pursuits; undertakings not affronted by the pangs of bias and slander that curse the rest of the world's endeavors. The sciences are looked upon as noble, rich frontiers, explored most intimately by those bright enough, and humble enough, to truly understand whatever substance there is to be found, and thus define its implications for all humanity.

This is the face of what the world sees (or would like to see) as science, and generally what I wholeheartedly believe. But, as with all things, there are certain points where the scientific community has succeeded in making a fantastic mess of things.

An article recently ran in the Science section of The New York Times, citing a national survey that was published in Science Magazine regarding how a certain aspect of biology is taught in high school classrooms.

As you can probably guess, the issue is, again (as if it ever once stopped), the teaching of evolutionary biology. Many students refuse to accept it, and it even seems that many teachers are fueling the attitude. In spite of rulings by the Supreme Court, teachers all over the US are retrofitting creationism into their curricula. The greater scientific community sees this as a ghastly abomination, but many teachers and students seem to see it as a way to avoid heresy.

The ignorance and divisiveness from both sides is one of the most frustrating things I have ever encountered in my education. We can't seem to find a solution to this because the debate is so staunchly polarized - even though it doesn't have to be.

It's difficult to say which side struck first in the Creation v. Evolution debate, but it's quite clear that neither side is trying very hard to reconcile their perceived differences. Many creationists see "evil-lution" as a direct affront to their view of the world - "Life evolved on its own. Where is your god now?" To the same end, biologists make only feeble attempts to show hysterical creationists how evolution really has no bearing on their spiritual perception of life.

This one small, albeit crucial, aspect of learning has created a needlessly foul air between ardent creationists and non-creationists (I won't deliberate over nomenclature on this one). The reality is, differences arise only when you allow them to, and I might even go so far as to lay more blame on the scientific community for all of the disparity.

The most fundamental issue at play is the conflict with which these controversial subjects are fraught. Polarizing debates, internal and external, are the biggest inhibitors of learning, and so the real solution is for the scientific community to remove the element of conflict entirely. Scientists like to call themselves the neutral voices of reason, but it's true that they can be as belligerent and aggressive as religious folk can be irrational and hysterical (here's looking at you, Richard Dawkins).

You can teach evolution in classrooms without hinting at what it may imply about the universe at large, and the hard concepts will not suffer. It can ultimately be left up to the student to decide what the deeper implications of evolution are.

The authors of the article themselves said that, of the students who take only one science course in high school, they are most likely to take biology. The students in that category are not prone to becoming biology majors or shed any consequence onto scientific understanding. In light of this, the task for teachers in this situation is to teach only the pure mechanics of evolution, and not what can be interpreted as the philosophies or deeper implications behind it. If done delicately, it might not even be such a bad idea to illustrate how evolution, specifically, does not conflict with any possible creationist perspectives. The ultimate goal is impartiality.

This strategy of non-competitiveness could address the problems in debates moreover; for instance, the divisive climate talks. It's maddening to watch an issue such as climate change become so overly politicized that the science itself suffers. The debate has become more focused on which side is right, rather than, "What does the data truly tell us?" In some cases, politically slanted hands go as far as tampering with the data itself.

This ideological flaw is the fundamental component of what inhibits learning. The best approach to a divided issue is to remove this element of conflict that so effectively clouds judgment. Everyone becomes wiser in the end, and nobody has to feel like they lost something.

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Article comments

Feb. 21, 2011 at 11:26 a.m.

ARL: Calder wrote: " might not even be such a bad idea to illustrate how evolution, specifically, does not conflict with any possible creationist perspectives. The ultimate goal is impartiality." On the contrary, it would not only be a bad idea, but an unconstitutional and impossible one. The only way that you reconcile scientific reasoning with faith is for faith to give ground when it meets an insurmountable facts. In short, evolution does specifically contradict biblical literalism. As I wrote in response to your last article, you seem to agree with theistic evolution. Theistic evolution a _religious_ position, not a scientific one. It is a religious perspective in which biblical literalism has conceded ground to insurmountable facts. If you teach theistic evolution in schools, you are teaching a _religious_ point of view that is agreed to by some religious denominations but not by others. This is a dogma agreed with by Methodists, Episcopalians, and Roman Catholics, among others, but disputed by fundamentalist religious people like evangelical Christians and Moslems. The teaching _of_ religious dogma, as opposed to teaching _about_ religious dogma, is patently unconstitutional. If you wanted to teach in a comparative religion class the various responses to science, go ahead. But you cannot teach anything but science in science class. That is why you cannot teach "intelligent design" or creationism, both of which are religious dogma, not science.

Feb. 21, 2011 at 1:35 p.m.

Herman Cummings: The conflict will end when academia and the Clergy allow the people to view the truth of Genesis, namely the "Observations of Moses" PowerPoint presentation. It removes the confusion between what is written in Genesis, and what science has discovered. However, both sides are afraid of the seminar, and are trying to protect their own interests. Meanwhile, the conflict lingers because ignorance of the truth remains. Fire your school officials, and remove your clergymen if they refuse to host the presentation. They are keeping you in the dark. Herman Cummings

Feb. 22, 2011 at 3:37 p.m.

Calder Cleavelin: ARL: I never said we should teach theology in science classrooms. You are misquoting me and reading too far into the "reconcile differences with religion" side of the argument, which is exactly the kind of alarmist nonsense that makes it difficult for a child raised in a religious household to function in a science classroom. I said it would be a good idea to illustrate how evolution bears no consequence on creationist perspectives, and that it is only proper to devote some energy into making students receptive to that mode of thinking. I did not say it was a good idea to teach theistic evolution, I merely suggested that time taken to make the two "conflicting" ideologies coexist in the minds of students is time not wasted. You are directly contributing to the fuss by interpreting "illustrate how it does not conflict" as "teach Genesis".

Feb. 22, 2011 at 8:16 p.m.

RickK: I object to the constant pressure to reconcile modern astronomy with the Vedic teachings of geocentrism. I understand we should be culturally sensitive and take a balanced approach to teaching science. But I find it very difficult to continually consider the the religious beliefs of students that directly contradict the evidence that the Earth orbits the Sun. How do you teach the structure of the Solar System and the galaxy when your students insist upon a balanced treatment? Oh, yeah - it's also hard to teach biology while reconciling with some students' belief in divine creation.

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