Teaching evolution in Kentucky—with accommodationism

March 26, 2015 • 9:57 am

When I first gave a talk at the University of Kentucky in 2010 (could it really have been five years ago?), I had the pleasure of meeting Jim Krupa, a biologist and natural historian with wide interests, and with a reputation as an excellent teacher (see here for my visit to his lab).

Krupa has now written an article in Orion called “Defending Darwin“, which has also been abridged in Slate. It sums up his experiences of teaching introductory biology for 20 years in a state where resistance to evolution runs high. (I learned that when a group of religious students removed all the posters advertising my talk about the evidence for evolution, and the biology students had to put the posters back up—twice!)

Krupa decided early on to heavily infuse his introductory bio course with evolution—just as E. O. Wilson did when he taught a similar class at Harvard (I was a t.a. for that course for two years). And it works, for it’s exactly what Jack Brooks did in Introductory Zoology at William and Mary—the course that set my feet on the path of evolutionary biology. After beginning with a lesson on what a “theory” really means in science, Krupa bravely waded into the waters of evolution. And he faced strong resistance from some students, especially when he talked about human evolution. (As most of us know, lots of religious people don’t mind evolution so much—until it tells us that our own species evolved, too!):

Soon, every topic and lecture in my class was built on an evolutionary foundation and explained from an evolutionary perspective. My basic biology for non-majors became evolution for non-majors. It didn’t take long before I started to hear from a vocal minority of students who strongly objected: “I am very offended by your lectures on evolution! Those who believe in creation are not ignorant of science! You had no right to try and force evolution on us. Your job was to teach it as a theory and not as a fact that all smart people believe in!!” And: “Evolution is not a proven fact. It should not be taught as if it is. It cannot be observed in any quantitative form and, therefore, isn’t really science.”

. . . The story of [human] evolutionary history captivates many of my students, while infuriating some. During one lecture, a student stood up in the back row and shouted the length of the auditorium that Darwin denounced evolution on his deathbed—a myth intentionally spread by creationists. The student then made it known that everything I was teaching was a lie, and stomped out of the auditorium, slamming the door behind him. A few years later during the same lecture, another student also shouted out from the back row that I was lying. She said that no transitional fossil forms had ever been found—despite my having shared images of many transitional forms during the semester. Many of her fellow students were shocked by her combativeness, particularly when she stormed out, also slamming the door behind her. Most semesters, a significant number of students abruptly leave as soon as they realize the topic is human evolution.

Ceiling Cat bless those who teach evolutionary biology in the South! Well, I never faced that kind of resistance, but I’ve taught most of my life in Chicago, not the South. But what this clearly shows is that many people’s opposition to evolution rests largely on the claim that humans evolved by the same processes as ferns, squirrels, and squid. I think it was Michael Ruse who said that what keeps people awake at night is not worrying about the fossil record of other species, but the idea that if humans evolved, where can we find morality?

Krupa’s lesson plan, as outlined in his piece, is very good, and I’m sure his course is terrific. I have just one beef, and it’s based on this:

AFTER A SEMESTER filled with evidence of evolution, capped off with a dose of evolutionary medicine, one might expect that every last student would understand it and accept it as fact. Sadly, this is not the case. There are those who remain convinced that evolution is a threat to their religious beliefs. Knowing this, I feel an obligation to give my “social resistance to evolution” lecture as the final topic.

This lecture lays down the history of the antiscience and anti-evolution movements, the arguments made by those opposing evolution, and why these arguments are wrong. I make it clear that one can accept evolution and maintain their religious beliefs. They are not mutually exclusive. Among the religious groups and organizations that support the teaching of evolution are the Episcopal Church, Lutheran World Federation, United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church, United Unitarian Universalists [JAC: those are largely atheists!], Roman Catholic Church, and the American Jewish Congress. In fact, 77 percent of all American Christians belong to a denomination that supports the teaching of evolution, and several high-profile evangelical Christians are ardent defenders of it, including former President Jimmy Carter and Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institute of Health. Even Pope John Paul II acknowledged the existence of evolution in an article he published in The Quarterly Review of Biology, in which he argued that the body evolved, but the soul was created. Pope Francis has made it clear that he accepts evolution as well.

This lecture should put students at ease knowing that religion and science need not be at odds. Of all the lectures I give, this one provokes the most discussion after class. And yet it often results in students expressing concern that I might not be saved. I never say anything about my personal religious beliefs, yet it is assumed I am an atheist. One student told me she hoped I could find God soon. When I again pointed out that John Paul accepted evolution—and he certainly wasn’t an atheist—the student countered that Catholics aren’t Christians. Several simply let me know they will be praying for me and praying hard. One student explained that as a devout Catholic he had no choice but to reject evolution. He accused me of fabricating the pope’s statements. When I explained that he could go to the Vatican website for verification or call the Vatican to talk to a scientist, he insisted that there was no such information available from the Vatican. He then pointed his finger at me and said the only way he would believe me is if Pope John Paul II came to my class to confirm these quotes face-to-face. The student then stomped out, again slamming the auditorium door behind him.

I can well understand Jim’s motivation here. After all, if most of the resistance to evolution comes from religion (and that’s something the students should be told), why not try to defuse it by telling them that it doesn’t have to be that way? In other words, at the end of his course Krupa becomes an accommodationist, telling students all the ways that religion isn’t in opposition to science. And that’s where he goes off the rails.

Yes, lots of religions publicly accept evolution, but many don’t. Does Krupa mention the Southern Baptists? And even those faiths whose doctrinal statements do accept evolution harbor many parishioners who don’t. Take Catholics, for example. As I say in Faith versus Fact, “Nevertheless, 27 percent of American Catholics cling to biblical creationism, believing that humans were created instantaneously by God and have remained unchanged ever since.” Does Krupa mention that? If 77% of American religions embrace evolution, how come 42% of all Americans are young-earth creationists when it comes to human evolution? (That figure rises to 73% if you take all Americans who think that God had a role in evolution.) Do they reject the dictates of their faith? Apparently so.

So what Krupa is telling his students is only a partial truth. Francis Collins, for example, has argued publicly that innate morality could not have evolved, but must have been vouchsafed us by God. Does Krupa mention that? No, because he’s on a mission to harmonize evolution and faith.

And as for Catholicism, well, I mentioned that many Catholics are young-Earth creationists. But even the Vatican itself isn’t totally down with evolution. It maintains, for instance, that humans, unlike every other creature, were endowed by God with a soul somewhere in the course of evolution. Krupa admits that, but does he explore the scientific problems with such an assertion? And does he tell them that the official stance of the Vatican is that Adam and Eve were historic figures, the progenitors of all humans—and that this flatly contravenes the findings of modern science? I could refer the Catholic student who confronted Krupa to Catholic websites affirming this. The fact is that many religions, including Catholicism, can be comported with human evolution only by either watering down our naturalistic view of evolution (and saying, “Yes, yes, God could have made some mutations”), or turning those religions into pure exercises in metaphor.

Finally, telling students that religion is compatible with evolution is a theological view, not a scientific one. Yes, Krupa’s motivations are good here, but he’s still skirting the First Amendment by telling the students what religion says, and—in my view—doing so in a distorted way. My opinion is that while it would be okay for Krupa to tell the students that almost all resistance to evolution in the U.S. comes from religion—for that’s simply a fact—it’s not okay for him to twist the data on religion to suggest that there’s no inherent conflict between faith and fact. Remember that 64% of Americans have said that if science comes up with a fact that contradicts one of the tenets of their faith, they’ll reject the science in favor of their faith.

Lest you think that I’m being too hard on Krupa here, let me add that I have exactly the same objection to professors who tell their students that evolution is incompatible with religion. That, too, is a theological (or philosophical, depending on your take) add-on that shouldn’t be taught to students in a science class. When David Barash taught that incompatibilism to his evolution students at the University of Washington, I objected as well. Regardless of your desire to make students accept evolution by comporting it with religion, that is an exercise not in science, but something else. It may work (Barash does recount one student who was “converted” this way—the first case I know of), but it’s straying far away from science. I wrote a book asserting that science and religion are incompatible, but I don’t mention those views that in my evolution course.

Let me finish by saying that I have a lot of respect for Krupa’s drive to teach evolution to students who largely resist it, and for the enormous work he puts into his classes. I’m dead certain he’s a far better teacher than I am. But I think that Krupa should keep theology out of the science classroom. If students can’t be convinced that evolution is true from a simple presentation of the facts, let them go to their ministers and priests to find out whether and how it fits with their faith.

h/t: Joyce


73 thoughts on “Teaching evolution in Kentucky—with accommodationism

  1. 3rd para. from the end, 3rd sentence, typo: ‘…almost all resistance to evolution in the U.S. comes from evolution….


  2. I am an alum of UK, but I never took any biology classes. However, I did take Anthropology 101 as an elective. On the first day, the professor stated that the class would involve many open discussions but we didn’t have time to debate evolution, which would be the main topic for the first couple weeks. He said that if we had a problem with this policy we could drop the class or keep quite about it the rest of the year.

    I don’t know if this is the best policy, but we never had anyone storm out or yell about Christianity. I’m not sure if anyone dropped the class after the first day though.

    1. That’s a very interesting approach. Good teachers learn what works so I’ll bet that policy came from hard-earned experience.

      There are other topics in anthropology that should in theory be just as controversial to true believers as evolution is – I’m thinking right now of the spread of humans to Asia and the Americas tens of thousands of years before the supposed creation of the universe – but I guess it’s obvious why human evolution is the one but they can’t suss or abide.

    2. the professor stated that the class would involve many open discussions but we didn’t have time to debate evolution

      Might have been a bit better if he had said “this is not a theology class, and we don’t have the time, so we won’t be debating evolution” The way you put it he seems to imply there’s an actual debate to be had, and probably leaves the creationists thinking he’s afraid of engaging in it.

      1. Sounds like he wasn’t afraid to teach evolution, he just wasn’t going to let the class be derailed by tract-waving theotards. Doesn’t sound fearful at all.

  3. So what Krupa is telling his students is only a partial truth.

    I don’t see much a problem here, given that his audience is students who are already extremely familiar with the ‘religious communities who don’t accept that religion is compatible with evolution.’

    Here’s an analogy: let’s say I have to explain the game of Cricket to some bible belt teens. I may start off explaining that not every community throughout the world plays baseball. This may come as a surprise to some of them. I obviously do not have to spend much class time explaining that some communities throughout the world do play baseball, because my audience is living in such a community. In fact a few of them may never have considered the possibility that any other such community even existed! Likewise with bible belt evangelical teens and incompatibilism: they don’t need to be told about it, they probably already assume everybody thinks that way.

    Sure, the teacher should absolutely avoid giving the impression that everyone or every knowledgable adult agrees with compatibilism. That would be like saying “baseball is just a kids game; everyone who grows up plays cricket” – it would be both wrong and insulting. A fair treatment would be if they walk out of the class understanding that both compatibilism and incompatibilism has it adherents, with some understanding as to the arguments used by both. An understanding that some people like/play baseball and some people like/play cricket. But to get to that point, you probably don’t have to spend much time convincing a middle American teen that some people like/play baseball, as that is their default presumption.

    1. I should add that I think your second objection is much stronger and more convincing: compatibilism vs. incompatibilism is not really a ‘biology’ topic in the first place. There is no subject matter reason to even include such a discussion. I suppose the argument is pedagogical (they are more likely to retain the biology content if you spend some time discussing this non-content point), but even as a pedagogical argument I think its pretty weak. I won’t armchair quarterback Prof. Krupa; if he thinks it adds value, I would never presume to tell him to stop. But personally I don’t see how it adds much value.

      1. I suppose the argument is pedagogical (they are more likely to retain the biology content if you spend some time discussing this non-content point)

        This is the reason that any discussion like this should be nearer the beginning of class, if anywhere at all. Many students may tune out without this sort of accomodationist information first (Eric, I really like your Cricket analogy).

        But I really prefer addressing this non-science issue like that anthropology prof mentioned above did.

        1. And the Cricket World Cup 2015 final is this weekend – New Zealand vs Australia. Both countries where accepting evolution is the norm! So the growing up analogy extends …

          1. I am familiar with both. Everyone is entitled to a different aesthetic opinion, but in mine you are not helping the atheist cause by associating it with cricket. 🙂

    2. Rather like finding out that different countries have different Santa Clauses with different names and methods of gift delivery. And then finding out from your Jewish friends that they don’t have a Santa Claus at all (not even Hanukkah Harry)!

      The thing that unites baseball and cricket fans is the mutual feeling each has toward the others’ game: “How do you sit and watch that?! Boooooo-ring!”

  4. The one good thing that seems to come from the offended students who erupt and stalk out of the lectures, is that the other students witness it – religion at work on the mind = crazy.

    1. You said it! The kookoos are the ones who miss out, but at least they leave the “space” a little “safer” for people who go to school to, you know, learn.

    2. Krupa needs to incorporate zero zolerance statements like:

      “Note that all of the knowledge we have about nature strongly suggest that science and religion are not compatible.”

      He needs to state that, but he should also state:

      “If you believe they are, then that is a personal belief that I respect and I encourage you to stay in the class to learn more about [subject being taught].”

      Any storming-away students will appear confidently stubborn, possibly insecure and close-minded.

      1. I was struck by all the slamming doors. It’s more than 30 years since I attended university, and all the doors of any room used for teaching (and most others), no matter how old the building, had those doors that can’t be slammed. Maybe we just have different building codes – we have to deal with a lot more earthquakes too.

      2. The attitude of storming out is also reminiscent of the Safe Spaces movement where students don’t like to be challenged. Maybe we can blame religion and its insistence that it has all the answers for the prevalence of that too.

  5. Among the religious groups and organizations that support the teaching of evolution are…

    This list will not convince anyone who already possesses the ultimate and eternal truth. It will only be a list of those who aren’t truly Christian. As for the inclusion of the Roman Catholic Church, well, they weren’t Christian to begin with (I was thinking this as I was reading and laughed when one of the students actually said it in the very next paragraph).

    Respect to Dr. Krupa nevertheless for his work!

    1. It may actually backfire sometimes – “look at all those liberal heathen congregations” – the “small difference” effect. This is especially true when bringing up Catholicism or its members to certain fundamentalists.

  6. I would have to agree – keep the religious stuff out of the class room. It is about science and when the religion comes in for whatever his attempted reasoning is, it’s wrong.

    Is this not college level courses? If a student at this level lets his or her religion get in the way of the education then they should leave the class and go directly to church for their education.

    If an Amish student in college taking a course in computer science, jumped up and said, I really can’t do this particular part because it’s against my religion. I think the only answer is – the door is over there….

    Ceiling cat should bless those who had to live in the south for even a short time.

    1. I’d be willing to bet that many such students are taking the course as a reqrement for their intended degrees, not because they actually care to learn biology. College for many is viewed not as broadening their education or world-view, but as job training.

  7. I never took an anthropology class (which earned me a good deal of ribbing from my cousin, who is one of the biggest names in the field), and the only biology I took was in high school. My biology teacher was the football coach and an old army guy, and he read the subject out in strict outline form, literally putting his notes on the overhead for us to copy down starting with “I.” All one had to do to get 100% (as I did) was memorize the notes; I still remember 30-odd years on facts and details from that class.

    Whether it was by some policy or not I don’t know, but looking back on the rural area we lived in there’s a good chance it was, we did not learn about evolution. At all. And that’s a pity, because evolution is the only way to understand, as opposed to merely knowing, how all the bits and pieces come together and came to be. Accommodationist integration of evolution into the lectures is unfortunate, but it’s way better than none at all.

    1. As long as you are speaking of high school, then do whatever you have to. But in a public school religion does not belong. If the kid is having religious problems with what the teacher is covering in evolution, then he needs to visit his priest or whatever.

      In college, the “students” are suppose to be beyond this type of baby sitting.

    2. “putting his notes on the overhead for us to copy down ”

      A sure way to kill all interest in the subject completely. If that’s the best the school could do it would be better to not teach the subject at all, rather than force-feed the students meaningless drivel (because that’s all it is without understanding) and put them off the topic for life.

      I got the same effect from (mathematical) set theory – and I used to *like* maths. It was taught to us with no explanation of how it worked or what it related to. Just reams of definitions.

      1. Most of what I ever learned about set theory (including a major in pure maths), I got from a poster on the wall of a classroom in primary school that happened to be opposite my desk, but was never used in class. That’s what my memory says, though it makes no sense for such a thing to have been in that room at all, and I must also have asked my maths teacher mum about it… but anyway, you can put all the basic notation and sample Venn diagrams in a small space that a child’s brain can encompass, then build the rest of maths on that.

        1. Set theory is basically the most important math there is in the daily world.

          Pretty much everything having to do with money…is set theory. All finance and accounting and payroll and banking and all the rest…is set theory.

          A quick-n-dirty test: if the data is stored in a relational database (which, in practice, means you query it with SQL), then it’s set theory. Even if it’s not stored in a database…chances are excellent that it should be, because the data is structured in a relational manner such that you’re performing set theory operations on it even if you’re not using the language of set theory.

          There’s lots of stuff that’s not set theory, of course. Engineering, for example, likely doesn’t have much use of set theory until you get into certain types of analysis (or parts inventory or the like).

          But set theory is everywhere.

          Hell, it’s even set theory that provides the answer as to why “omnipotence” and “omniscience” are incoherent self contradictions. The real reason why, even if Jesus were real, there’d still be evil in the world? Set theory.



        2. “you can put all the basic notation and sample Venn diagrams in a small space that a child’s brain can encompass, then build the rest of maths on that”

          That was the problem.
          I encountered it at my first year of university, it was 25% of the mathematics course. Bear in mind that at school we’d done calculus and matrix algebra and all that sort of reasonably advanced maths. I found some of it hard but I liked it.

          Then I encountered this stuff, without any explanation, context or justification. Its apparent childishness and arbitrariness offended me so much that, although others assured me it was money for jam, I simply boycotted that 25% of the course and managed to scrape past on the other 3/4 of the exam. Of course first-year university courses get taught, on the whole, by the least talented, least interested lecturers.

          With a bit of explanation it could have been interesting.

          1. “Of course first-year university courses get taught, on the whole, by the least talented, least interested lecturers.”

            Oh, that’s just so wrong. In my first year most of the courses were taught at least partly by senior professors and heads of department; teaching was considered a serious part of their profession. I guess I’m showing my age.

            1. I’ll see your age and raise you 😉

              I’ll admit I was generalising from a sample of one. It may have been different in the uni you attended.

              The one I went to, most (and by that I mean well over 50%) of the first-year lecturers we had were hopeless. Bear in mind I’d come from the upper sixth form of a good school so we’d had some very good teachers. The contrast was appalling.

              Things improved markedly in the second year when we started to specialise a little.

  8. Okay, here’s where I disagree with you:

    This lecture lays down the history of the antiscience and anti-evolution movements, the arguments made by those opposing evolution, and why these arguments are wrong. I make it clear that one can accept evolution and maintain their religious beliefs. They are not mutually exclusive. Among the religious groups and organizations that support the teaching of evolution are…

    …Finally, telling students that religion is compatible with evolution is a theological view, not a scientific one

    No, it’s not a “theological view” if all Krupa is doing is just citing the facts. It IS true that many religions have reconciled their beliefs with evolution. Not completely, of course — but getting into that sort of nitty gritty wouldn’t be appropriate for an introductory course on evolution and the more advanced biology courses probably won’t deal with the social issue at all (unless it’s a history or philosophy of science course.) All Krupa is doing is reciting a litany of facts.

    He would only be getting into theology if he started trying to tell the students HOW the apologists do it, thereby making it seem like he’s giving advice. “Maybe Adam and Eve are metaphorical.” “Maybe God works through evolution.” And so forth.

    As it is, he’s not saying there’s no core conflict between science and religion and claiming or even implying that atheists are “just as wrong” as creationists. That’s where the theological line is crossed. He’s only pointing out the bleedin’ obvious.

    The students can then decide to do their own work on shoving scientific truth into religious faith, if they’re so inclined.

    1. It seems there is a fine line between teaching the !*history*! of the encounter between science and religion and espousing a !*philosophical view*! of the encounter between science and religion. The line is very thin.

      1. Yes, but I don’t think Krupa has crossed it.

        Litmus test: is there any sign that the individual, teacher, or organization is making the Golden Middle fallacy, by placing both atheists and creationists on the extreme ends because they both share the silly idea that there’s a necessary conflict between evolution and religion?

        It’s not accomodationism to admit that many religious people accept evolution — or to point to works where they explain themselves. The serious sort of accomodationism I think is the version which takes the position that atheists need to straighten up their understanding of theology and agree that there’s no real conflict if you understand God the right way.

    2. I’m going to quibble a bit on this point:

      I make it clear that one can accept evolution and maintain their religious beliefs. They are not mutually exclusive.

      Notice that he’s not just saying “Some people have accepted evolution and maintained their religious beliefs.” He’s saying anyone can do it, by joining one of these evolution-endorsing denominations.

      That’s a theological position, a prescription for proper religious belief, and as such it puts Krupa’s argument on shaky ground. There are certainly going to be some students who cannot successfully reconcile evolution with their beliefs, and Krupa’s basically telling those students they’ve chosen the wrong church to belong to.

      1. Perhaps we’re placing a different emphasis on the word “one.” It can be a vague reference to “a person” in general or it can mean “you,” specifically. I interpreted it the former way, though it might be a fine distinction.

      2. “If your religion conflicts with evolution then your religion is wrong.”

        I think that’s the subtext. The “get another religion or be wrong” isn’t really ‘accomodationism’ per se, I think. Maybe it’s a matter of tone.

    3. Even ‘just reciting facts,’ however, isn’t necessarily good biology teaching because it’s not biology. You’re not learning the subject matter, you’re learning sociology or history of the subject matter.

      Talking about the sociocultural factors that may cause some people to reject algebra is not the same as teaching them how to solve an algebraic equation: the latter is “teaching math,” the former is not. Analogize to biology as needed.

  9. I also teach quite a bit of evolution to our Intro Biology class for science majors, but there are plenty of non-majors who also take it. The pre-nursing students can even rival the bio majors in number. Also, the course is a General Education elective so I get business majors, engineers, etc.
    I do get some push-back from creationists in the class, and some can be pretty pushy. But I carefully stay on the ‘let the science speak for itself’ side of the line by never getting into the Creationist/ID opinions. I am sure that if I did cross that line that I would get a lot more resistance. But this way I also avoid any chance of entanglement with the Constitution since I should not openly oppose religious views in the classroom.
    I do not know if I change any minds. But I like to think that I plant a few slow growing seeds out there.

  10. I read about 100 of his reviews on Rate My Prof and not one mentioned religion or evolution unfavorably. Most students raved about what a good lecturer he is.
    I really think he gets it right. I’ll bet he puts his lectures together from diverse sources and may not even have a textbook. Most profs don’t do this – its too much work- so they passively follow the powerpoints from text.
    In 30 minutes I’ll be doing the Invert lectures from Campbell for a prof whose away for the week and that’s exactly what I’ll be doing

  11. “…or turning those religions into pure exercises in metaphor.”

    Therein lies the substance of sophisticated theology, the metaphorical juggling of metaphors renders the language so free of identifiable content that it becomes easy to embrace contradictions. Theology is all map, no territory.

  12. Re “United Unitarian Universalists [JAC: those are largely atheists!]”

    In 2005 it was estimated that about 46% of Unitarians identify as atheists, and that 34% identify as agnostic (which can be construed as a subset of atheism if you go for the broader definition of being one for practical purposes).

    This leaves about 20% with a strong identification as Christian, Buddhist, or pagan. The Christians are largely in the North East United States. Buddhism is non-theistic and for about the past 20 years, some Buddhists have been willing to employ the term “atheist” rather than the softer term “non-theist” which was the preferred term in Buddhist circles until Stephen Batchelor published his memoir “Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist”.

    1. I’m assuming that this 46% figure applies to the U.S., but beware, as I’ve mentioned in previous comments: many Unitarians who identify as atheists believe in great big truckloads of woo. According to my lights this disqualifies them as the genuine article.

  13. I teach an introductory general education science class that I inherited called “Intelligent Life in the Universe”. This class examines the likelihood of intelligent life existing on other planets. Naturally I get to lecture on evolution.

    In my first couple of years with this class I got some pushback from creationists. Since then I spend one lecture simply describing the roughly eight basic varieties of creationism going from the most to least literal reading of the Bible. I don’t bother refuting any of their claims because the competing claims are mutually contradictory and highlight the arbitrary theological choices creationists make.

    Since I’ve put in this lecture, I’ve gotten no explicit pushback from creationists. When/if I get a creationist objection, I will ask them for their theological justification for their particular form of creationism, and then I will present the evidence upon which I base my conclusions.

    1. When/if I get a creationist objection, I will ask them for their theological justification for their particular form of creationism…

      I don’t know why you would want to spend class time discussing theology.

      1. Hey, if it only takes one lecture to make the creationists shut up for the rest of the course, it’s got to be worthwhile.

  14. I like that Krupa teaches his ending lecture on “social resistance to evolution.” But to me he seems naive to me to think that “This lecture should put students at ease knowing that religion and science need not be at odds.” It sounds like from the results that some fraction of the creationist-minded are not at all put at ease (though that in itself is not a bad thing). I also agree with the Professor that trying to be accommodationist goes over the line, and is intellectually suspect, or plain wrong.

    So, why not just state the facts that the Pope accepts evolution, that many Christian denominations accept evolution (and the teaching of it), etc., and leave it at that? Encourage the students to be thoughtful about how evolution might (or might not) sit with their religion, while avoiding the blanket statements like “evolution can be compatible with religion” – which is not only wrong but will lead to more door-slamming.

    1. I agree. To any creationist pushback against evolution, it is sufficient to point out that many Christian denominations can accommodate their faith with the science of evolution. I think it’s wrong to appear to endorse such a position in science class.

  15. “Ceiling Cat bless those who teach evolutionary biology in the South!”

    Not just the South! Some of us would hope that Ceiling Cat spreads those blessings to other parts of the U.S. – parts that are largely just as scientifically illiterate and religiously motivated.

  16. Don’t forget that, evolution aside, the Pope also still has a teensy tiny little biological confusion about how the whole conception thing works to reconcile with science.

  17. That Dr. Krupa gets so much pushback from religious students would, to me at least, suggest that the accommodationist approach does not work. While some religious persons such as Ken Miller might be able to practice that sort of cognitive dissonance, clearly not everyone can do so or are even willing to attempt it. Fine. I have other things to worry about. I’m not going to spend my time fighting people who want to pretend that religion and science are compatible; I am more worried about those like Ken Ham and several state legislators who constantly attempt to invade the science classes with their gibberish. I admire any educator that has the intestinal fortitude to fight this sort or ignorance, on whatever level they feel comfortable or capable, be it a la Dr. Krupa or Dr. Coyne. I just wish to choose my battles more carefully, which is a sort of accommodationist-lite I suppose, but I am, in all honesty, not a very good debater and have always shied away from conflict and confrontation. Thanks to all who do the heavy lifting for us.

  18. I have exactly the same objection to professors who tell their students that evolution is incompatible with religion. That, too, is a theological (or philosophical, depending on your take) add-on

    Is it? Not by any means of testing it that I am aware of. Isn’t astronomy & medicine incompatible with astrology, social medicine with smoking, and physics & biology with religious magic agency?

    That accommodationism is relying on theology on the other hand comes out of it making (factually erroneous) claims to comport with religion.

    This must be striving for some nuance between “opposition” and “incompatibility” I don’t get. Or is it yet again a case of personal opposition vs factual incompatibility, US First Amendment demands vs science and education demands?

    1. I think it’s a combination of the US First Amendment and the particular religious environment there. In that country, I think Jerry is doing the right thing, and it would be a good approach in any country where religion dominates.

      In countries like yours and mine, it’s just not such a big deal.

  19. Bit late to the party and haven’t caught up.

    I think it may well be reasonable to include a “modern religious perspectives on Evolution” segment in a biology class…but it should most emphatically not be one designed to persuade the students either towards accommodationism or disaccommodationism.

    Rather, it should just report the lay of the land — just as you did, Jerry. Ken Miller is a well-respected evolutionary biologist and a devout Catholic, and he has expressed that he reconciles the two because of this-and-such. Official Catholic dogma holds to sui generis, but polling by so-and-so says that x% of Catholics agree and y% disagree with that position. Ken Ham vigorously denies the reality of Evolution and instead holds to a strict young-Earth Biblical Creation, and he contends that Evolution and Christianity cannot be resolved because of such-and-that. And prominent biologists such as Richard Dawkins and David Attenborough flat-out reject alternatives, especially religious alternatives, to biology and insist that Darwin’s and subsequent discoveries put the lie to basically all significant theological claims.

    Students should be aware of the full spectrum of views on the matter, including weightings of poll percentages and official statements and the like. If they would rather base their opinion on how the winds are blowing than the actual evidence, that’s their problem…but everybody should know how the winds actually are blowing.


  20. As I suppose you know, Jack Brooks was raised under a fundamentalist cloud, which was why he particularly emphasized evolution in Bio 101 (altho I don’t particularly remember that – back in the enlightened ’60s of my memory, any oppostion seemed to be ancient history from the Scopes trial) and in his Evolution course (which I know you took from Bruce Grant) took particular glee in skewering creationists like Garner Ted Armstrong.

    In any event, if Jack Brooks started you on the path, you are his best revenge, along the lines of “don’t get mad – get even”.

  21. he’s still skirting the First Amendment

    Agreed. I wonder if anyone who doesn’t find this problematic would change there mind if Krupa were a devout Christian who’s motivation was to keep students from abandoning religion, or even embrace it by explaining that they can be religious and still accept evolution.

  22. As a matter of legal analysis, the distinction I would draw is between Krupa’s informing his students what various religions themselves assert as their position on evolution — which I think Krupa could legally do — and his interpreting or evaluating those religious claims, which would come perilously close to proselytizing (one way or the other) in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. I think this distinction holds in theory. As praxis, however, it might well breakdown — especially during question time following Krupa’s final lecture — as information and its interpretation become unavoidably entangled.

    1. Maybe Krupa could avoid the entanglement problem by telling his students up front that the information he is presenting is what the various religions have themselves made available publicly — and that he is neither a spokesman for any religion nor a theologian and, thus, not in a position to explain and interpret these religious assertions.

      A close case. For a price, I could argue this one either way.

  23. It seems that Krupa’s students were lucky to have such an inspirational teacher at all. A study just published in Science* tries to identify the reasons for the poor teaching of evolution. It finds:

    ” … future science teachers often lack the knowledge, conviction, and role models needed to teach evolution with confidence. One problem, the researchers say: breaking the “cycle of ignorance,” in which teaching students lack good role models for teaching evolution because they weren’t taught the subject well in high school or college.”

    However, even if poor teaching is partly to blame, it surely can’t explain comments like these, from student biology teachers:

    “I’m, you know, pretty ignorant on this topic … is there enough of scientific evidence to say for sure?”

    “Evolution is one of those subjects that I’m still a little shaky about.”

    The students saw themselves as educators, not scientists, and took the view that it was better to use their teaching skills to defuse conflicts rather than subject knowledge: “I think that education in general is probably about 90% classroom management”, said one. Even allowing for the skill set needed to be a teacher, surely a teacher who wants to be any good must have some passion for their subject?

    The study took place in Pennsylvania – I don’t know if that means anything to the American commentators.

    *Mervis, J. 2015. Why many U.S. biology teachers are ‘wishy-washy’. Science 347(6226), 1054. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/347/6226/1054.summary)

  24. I get the impression that the “young earth” aspect of creationism is being over-represented — both in Jerry’s use of the term above and in the selections offered in the linked Gallup poll. Plenty of creationists will happily concede that the Earth is billions of years old, but they’ll strongly object to any suggestion that humans evolved.

    I can only conclude that the “old earth” creationists chose to be counted among those who believe that “God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago” on Gallup’s poll because it was the only non-evolutionary option among the three they offered.

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