UC Offers Evolution Resources for Educators
UC researchers are volunteering to go to local area schools and groups to further evolution education.
SPEEC (Scientists Promoting Evolution Education in Cincinnati)
Several of us have already been doing this informally in the schools our children attend, says SPEEC coordinator Bruce Jayne, a professor in UCs Department of Biological Sciences. The rationale for our group is simple. When you need help or information in a specialized area, then you should be able contact someone who is an expert in that area. For example, people can go to a dentist for a toothache or to a mechanic when something is wrong with their car. Thus, why not communicate with scientists specializing in evolution when questions arise on this topic?
The three-fold purpose of SPEEC is to
- visit local K12 classes to provide engaging experiences and instruction in natural sciences, including biological evolution.
- provide assistance and workshops for local K12 teachers who would like to strengthen their background in evolution.
- serve as spokespeople for the local media in order to promote and explain a scientific way of thinking, especially when it involves evolution.
Jayne says that instruction on evolution and teaching evolution can range from informal one-on-one sessions to workshops held for groups of teachers, either at their schools or at UC.
We are willing to structure workshops so they can count toward teachers requirements for professional advancement/continuing education.
What Some of UC's Experts Are Saying
Arnie Miller, Department of Geology:
In contrast to the data-rich fields of paleontology, geology and evolutionary biology, creation scientists have never offered a shred of scientific evidence in support of their view that the interpretation of the Bible offered by Answers in Genesis can be accepted as an accurate depiction of the history of the Earth and of life. Instead, the agenda of creation science revolves around the out-of-context cherry picking of information from the mainstream scientific literature and the twisted rationalization of basic geological patterns that would otherwise appear to easily undermine AIGs view of Earth history.
Instead of relying on the second- and third-hand descriptions of others, it would be wonderful if anyone interested in these questions would go and have a look at the ancient bedrock at any of the numerous road cuts and stream cuts that dot the Cincinnati region. Nearly all of these localities are rich with the fossil remains of creatures from a bygone era. Anyone who takes a close look will find ample evidence in these layers and in the sediments that encase them that the history of life and of the Earth has been a lot more complex, but arguably a lot more wondrous, than AIG would have you believe.
Arnie Miller is professor and chair of the Department of Geology at the University of Cincinnati. His research focuses on the history of global biodiversity through geological time, and he is co-author of Principles of Paleontology, 3rd Edition (2007, W.H. Freeman and Company).
John Brolley, Department of Judaic Studies:
Arguments regarding creationism or intelligent design theory and various areas of hard science are becoming familiar to all parties by now. My concern is more from the standpoint of religion. Supporters of creationist theory to whom Ive spoken appear to advocate a very literal reading of the Bible, and it is my impression that they also suggest a literal Bible reading is somehow more properly Christian than other approaches. However, Christianity has endorsed other ways of reading the Bible for millennia. For instance, none other than the Apostle Paul insists (in his letter to the Galatian church) that Abrahams sons one by a slave woman and one by a free woman and their respective mothers be viewed in something other than a literal manner: Now this is an allegory, writes Paul before explaining that Abrahams wife Sarah and his maidservant Hagar represent two covenants, one representing spiritual freedom and the other representing spiritual slavery.
Early Church authorities beyond the first century C.E. [Common Era] debated these approaches from a wide variety of perspectives. Some favored a literal or historical reading whenever possible. But others, such as Origen of Alexandria, suggested that the Bible as a whole consists of divine ideas that humans cannot truly grasp; so the human language of the Bible, for those Christian scholars, is inaccurate by nature and often relies on concrete images to communicate ideas that are not just abstract but humanly incomprehensible. Origen went so far as to suggest five levels of interpretation available to the Bible reader and this was approximately 1750 years ago.
I teach several Bible courses at UC, including a survey of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament that involves a fair amount of discussion regarding the creation story or stories in Genesis. I also used to teach a course on creation stories in general. With those items in mind, I have a keen interest in the Answers in Genesis project and have followed it pretty closely from its inception.
John Brolley is the director of undergraduate studies in UCs Department of Judaic Studies and the director of the former Religious Studies program.
Aaron Stutz, Department of Anthropology:
It's tempting to ignore the Answers in Genesis folks, because they had retreated on the lobbying front, after a major US Supreme Court decision in 1987 (Edwards v Aguillard, striking down a Louisiana law requiring creationism to be taught alongside evolution in high-school science classes). Ken Ham's particular message is an open and welcoming one, but it is not a message of ecumenical dialogue. It is one of proselytizing. Proselytizing in and of itself is fine with me. Although it isn't for me, I can certainly appreciate the honest, sincere zeal most people engaged in missionary or proselytizing activity have for their message of salvation.
What I have a problem with is how the Answers in Genesis movement twists science repeatedly taking facts out of context in order to misrepresent what we scientists do and say. I doubt they do it with deliberate intent to mislead, but leading creation scientists do it unambiguously and quite assiduously in newsletters, blogs and even books. And given the importance of education in general critical thinking and handling of complex information in a changing world creation scientists cannot have a directly positive effect on folks' understanding of science or their skill in handling and critiquing information and messages coming from various sources of authority, whether its the science lab or the pulpit.
Aaron Jonas Stutz is a visiting assistant professor in UCs Department of Anthropology.
Bruce Jayne, Department of Biological Sciences:
As a comparative biologist, nearly every aspect of my work involves dealing with how patterns of evolutionary relationships are correlated with the fascinating diversity that exists in the structural and behavioral diversity of different species of animals. I have also studied selection in natural populations. Like it or not, biological evolution is simply the change in gene frequencies in populations over time. This and many other aspects of evolution are facts, and hence they have been observed directly by biologists and are not in the realm of idle speculation. Indeed there are many theories that delve into some of the details of how evolution has occurred, but that does not diminish a core of information regarding biological evolution that is factual.
I find it a tragedy that so much time, energy and financial resources are being wasted on an endeavor such as the Creation Museum whose mission statement proudly proclaims that the Bible is the supreme authority in all matters of faith and practice, and in every area it touches upon. Not everything in life is a matter of faith since much of our existence is driven by facts and natural processes rather than faith.
Furthermore, science is not designed to address matters of faith. Hence, many scientists as well as many religions recognize that these two areas can coexist as long as they deal with these separate realms. Similarly, politics are a different realm than science. Science does not give equal standing to ideas of a vocal minority simply to provide equal time for differing views. Instead, ideas lacking scientific rigor (such as statements that the earth is flat, gravity does not exist or evolution does not exist) are not endlessly debated once they have been convincingly falsified. These unending debates regarding evolution vs. creationism are thus a political controversy rather than a genuine scientific controversy. Unfortunately, these more reasoned and nuanced ways of thinking appear to be alien to those involved with the Creation Museum.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if instead of investing all of this time, effort and money in an institution that misinforms the public, this group would apply all same devotion of human and material resources to help with such human problems as poverty, hunger, addictions, etc.?
Bruce Jayne is a professor in UCs Department of Biological Sciences and coordinator of SPEEC, Scientists Promoting Evolution Education in Cincinnati.
Rhys Williams, Department of Sociology:
I find the so-called controversy over evolutionary vs. creationist origin accounts to be very interesting sociologically. On one hand, there is no real controversy in scientific terms working scientists reach almost unanimous consensus on evolution as a fact. And even many conservative religious people hold not to what is known as 'young earth creationism' but to a more abstract and flexible idea known as intelligent design (which does not, necessarily, deny evolution as a method of species change and development, but posits a sentient creator and designer).
"This last point is more interesting sociologically, and probably more common as well. Many people who accept the idea of evolution and natural selection in certain cases say as a selection principle for drug-resistant bacteria will then reject the idea as an account of human origins and will endorse a 'biblical account of creation' in public opinion surveys. This leads me to think that it is not a straightforward 'science vs. religion' debate that is currently going on in our public politics. Rather, issues of social and group identity, of the desire to stay connected to tradition, and of a wish for certainty in a rapidly changing world, may be more to the point. For many conservative religious people, admitting to a naturalistic, evolutionary account of origins undermines the moral bases of society, and that not the argument over the actual age of the earth is at the center of their concern with evolution. People forget that in 1926 William Jennings Bryan was as concerned with how capitalist economic markets were destroying communities with an amoral rationale of winner-take-all selfishness as he was with the literal interpretation of the Bible.
"Unfortunately, the public debate has been captured by extreme religious fundamentalists on one hand and scientific fundamentalists on the other. Religious fundamentalists who want to put creationism into science classes play up what may be misleading public opinion numbers to claim that significant numbers of American are literalists. And those advocating for public support for science play up those same numbers in order to create a sense of threat and urgency that could result in more money and support directed to science and science education. Both sides have interests in making the debate seem black-and-white.
"I am not one of those people who laments that 'the public doesnt understand science.' That may be true, although if so, it may be largely due to scientists inability or unwillingness to be frank about what it is they do. I think it is also true that many scientists dont understand religion any better than many religious fundamentalists understand how science is actually done. In either case, many in the general public have more nuanced and complex understanding than advocates on either side care to acknowledge."
Rhys Williams is a professor in UC's Department of Sociology.