Vicious, winner-take-all competition in nature is an essential pillar of evolutionary theory, but it frequently describes the mindset people have about how, or whether, to teach the subject. Religious students sometimes come to class thinking that science and religion are in deliberate opposition, like two lionesses fighting over a kill. When Brown University biologist and practicing Catholic Kenneth Miller teaches evolution, he also teaches that such a zero-sum mindset just isn't warranted.
"I think it's really unnecessary," Miller said. "What's extremely unfortunate right now is that, not just evolution, but whole areas of science have been sucked into the culture wars argument and it's been taken for granted, therefore, that science takes a particular position in the left-right spectrum."
Because Miller is a leading textbook author and a frequent contributor to the public discourse, he takes flak from partisans on both sides who disagree about evolution but share the view that religion and science are intellectually incompatible. In the classroom, however, Miller and thousands of other educators are still left with a more pragmatic challenge. Evolution will be taught to millions of students who are religious 75 percent, according to a recent Pew survey of college students. At the AAAS conference on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012, at 1 p.m., Miller will speak about how he teaches science to religious students.
Miller's basic approach is to help students trace the development of a scientific theory, rather than to present it as some kind of finished doctrine that must be believed because it has evidentiary support.
"I don't ask students to believe in education because I don't ask them to believe in DNA either," Miller said. "To me the word 'believe' means to accept something beyond question. In science there are no facts or theories that are beyond question. What I do urge students to do is to learn about the evidence and understa
|Contact: David Orenstein|