So Your Students Have Asked You About Creationism ...

By Ross Brenneman — February 09, 2014 3 min read
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Science curriculum featured prominently in the debate between Bill Nye and Creation Museum founder Ken Ham held Tuesday. As I wrote earlier this week, Nye defended science’s grounding in facts, while Ham said science ignored religious beliefs and values and preached secularism.

Good stuff.

So after the debate, BuzzFeed staff writer Matt Stopera asked 22 creationist attendees to write down questions they would ask of people who support evolution. Some took a philosophical approach, while others took aim at scientific theory. For instance:

  • “Are you scared of a Divine Creator?”
  • “Does not the second law of thermodynamics disprove evolution?”
  • “Where do you derive objective meaning in life?”
  • “If evolution is a theory (like creationism or the Bible), why then is evolution taught as fact?”
  • “If we come from monkeys then why are there still monkeys?”

The Internet did not decline to engage. One of the efforts to address the questions posed in the BuzzFeed article included Phil Plait’s, who writes the Bad Astronomy blog for Slate. (Note that you could also perform a rudimentary Google search for some answers to these questions.)

Let’s say you know all these answers, though. How do you actually respond to the student who asks the questions?

We asked our readers on Twitter (@EdWeekTeacher):

Responses ran the gamut, but at least a few readers decided that, if the student genuinely wants to hear the teacher’s opinion, they deserve to hear it:

Many teachers believe, however, that their job is to build a student’s critical thinking skills, rather than lay out an answer for them.

At one point, I engaged in a great hypothetical conversation with teacher Jenn Borgioli, who started with this:

I turned the conversation to set it up as a clash of wills between what media the hypothetical child had consumed (in this case, the Nye-Ham debate), and what the child had been told by their parents, and then to whether it mattered if the child had an opinion, because, after all, isn’t science a fact? She eventually pointed me to a blog post by science writer Ethan Siegel, also responding to the BuzzFeed article.

No one responding (that I could see) ever mentioned that they’d say how most scientists disavow creationism, which I found interesting. Concerns about parental backlash? Maybe. Or indicative of a truly preferred style of instruction that incites students to answer their own questions. I wonder how frequently this approach is taken—whether it’s merely for sensitive topics like religion, or if it’s an often-employed idea.

Growing up, I thought teachers were supposed to know everything, but if teachers instead are turning students elsewhere for answers—primarily, I’d guess, to the Internet—then that seems to reinforce the notion that schools shouldn’t ignore media literacy. A 2010 study by the MacArthur Foundation found students to be decent at navigating media, but still have some major problems. (EdWeek blogger Peter DeWitt wrote a good column a couple of years ago about the importance of media literacy, too. And here’s a Commentary that discusses media literacy in the Common Core State Standards, if you want some further reading.)

You could, however, find other ways to address students’ concerns about creationism.

Have any of you been asked about the debate by students? What did they think, and how did you discuss it with them?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.