Archive for religion–seeking harmony between science and faith

Posted in Evolution, religion, science with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2009 by airtightnoodle

Those that have read “The Language of God” by Francis Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project, will be familiar with the term “biologos”.  This is a word Collins coined to describe his perspective on evolution/science and religion as he is uncomfortable with the term “theistic evolution”. 

While I do own the aforementioned book and believe it is valuable (though more so for those of a religious persuasion that have difficulty accepting modern scientific truth), I don’t necessarily believe it was well-written.  I do applaud Collins for creating this new BioLogos Foundation, however, and hope the writing on this site will be an improvement.  The mission of the foundation, as stated on their website, is:

We believe that faith and science both lead to truth about God and creation.

The BioLogos Foundation promotes the search for truth in both the natural and spiritual realms seeking harmony between these different perspectives.

This is certainly a mission I can agree with and support, thus far.

One part of the website addresses commonly asked questions regarding faith, science, and their compatability.  For example, one of the questions addressed on the site is, “How was the Genesis creation story interpreted before Darwin?” 

I have not browsed the site in its entirety, but it is one I have bookmarked with the intent of investigating further in the near future.  I encourage others to go check it out as well.



Don McLeroy attempts to spin the issue

Posted in Education, Evolution with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2009 by airtightnoodle

Today in the Austin American Statesman we have an editorial from none other than the state’s chair of the board of education–Don McLeroy!  Recall that McLeroy is himself anti-evolution, though he has continued to claim for years that he has no intention of promoting the teaching of creationism and/or intelligent design in science classes (though his actions have always said otherwise).

According to McLeroy’s editorial today, the blame for this controversy lies at the feet of the proponents of evolution:

The controversy exists because evolutionists, led by academia’s far-left, along with the secular elite opinion-makers, have decreed that questioning of evolution is not allowed, that it is only an attempt to inject religion or creationism into the classroom. Even Texas’ 20-year-old requirement to teach the scientific strengths and weaknesses of hypotheses and theories has come under attack. Words that were uncontroversial and perfectly acceptable for nearly two decades are now considered “code words” for intelligent design and are deemed unscientific. The elite fear that “unscientific” weaknesses of evolution will be inserted into the textbooks, leaving students without a good science education and unprepared for the future, compelling businesses to shun “illiterate” Texas.

McLeroy makes several misleading statements here.  First, acceptance of the validity of evolution is not restricted to academia’s “far-left”.  Even if that were true, proponents of evolution are not against questioning of the theory, or any theory.  Questioning the world around us is part of the scientific method.  Furthermore, there are plenty of real controversies about the theory of evolution that are currently being questioned and examined by scientists around the globe. 

What educators and scientists ARE concerned about is the attempt to confuse students about the theory.  Anti-evolutionists are trying, as they have been for years, to make it appear as if evolution is a theory in crisis, when it certainly is not.  By making it appear thus, this opens the door for creationists and intelligent design proponents to say, “Look, students.  Here is the alternative.”  Such teachings may be acceptable at home, at church, or in a religion or philosophy class, but these ideas of origins are unscientific.  Being unscientific, they do not belong in a science class. 

Now, others might point out that having the phrase “strengths and weaknesses” in the standards does not mean that teachers will be tossing ideas about creationism around willy-nilly.  True.  However, having the phrase “strengths and weaknesses” in the science TEKS is dangerous regardless.  This phrase itself is unscientific and gives students false ideas about the very nature of science.  McLeroy points out that this phrase has been part of the standards for several years and was uncontroversial until recently.  That’s not really the case.  There have been many people who have wanted that phrase removed for YEARS.  (Recall that several months ago state board of education member Barbara Cargill wrote an editorial in which she stated that the phrase had served Texas students well for years.  When I emailed and asked her to explain this statement, she never replied.)

McLeroy points out that the new standards focus on contructing “testable explanations”–a phrase he says should be satisfactory to both sides of the issue.  He states that, “The debate can now shift from “Is it science?” to “Is it testable?””  Fair enough.  The issue of something being testable is, of course, very important to the scientific method.  McLeroy claims that one of the new controversial science standards is simply following through with this idea of “testability”:

A new curriculum standard asks Texas students to look into this question. It states: “The student is expected to analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record.” It should not raise any objections from those who say evolution has no weaknesses; they claim it is unquestionably true.

The question I have for McLeroy and others on the board who support these changes is…why are you singling out evolution?  If you truly feel that the “strengths and weaknesses” of theories need to be addressed, why are you particularly singling out this one theory?  Why aren’t there any standards being drafted to address the strengths and weaknesses of the germ theory of disease, for example?

In his concluding paragraph, McLeroy states:

If we are to train our students, engage their minds and, frankly, be honest with them, why oppose these standards?

McLeroy himself is clearly being dishonest.  By singling out evolutionary theory for “strengths and weaknesses” and attempting to use a Stephen Jay Gould quote to discredit the theory (yes, you’ll have to read the editorial for that tid-bit) he shows that his actions are, in fact, religiously motivated. 

So, to answer McLeroy’s question…why should we oppose such standards?  Here are just a few reasons.

1. These standards give students a false idea that there is a scientific controversy over evolution.  There is not.
2. The phrase “strengths and weaknesses” gives a false idea about the very nature of science. 
3. This approach could potentially lead to costly lawsuits when teachers use the standards to promote alternative theories in class like creationism (or, vice versa, teachers could potentially be accused of not adequately covering the “weaknesses” part of the clause).
4. Potential damage to the educational system, reputation, and economic growth of our great state. 
5. Potential damage to the educational system, reputation, and economic growth of our COUNTRY (recall that Texas is one of the largest purchasers of textbooks, so what Texas decides largely impacts the rest of the nation).

Texas science standards…making the state look bad

Posted in Education, Evolution with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2009 by airtightnoodle

In the Dallas Morning news from Tuesday, we have an interesting editorial from Daniel Foster, physician and professor.  Daniel points out that

Six thousand years and 13.7 billion years can not be brought together. What is the child to believe?…The first rule of all ethics is, “Do no harm.” I believe it is harmful, and therefore unethical, to confront our children with two disparate truths considered by anti-evolutionists to be equally true.

I think Daniel hit the nail on the head with this comment.  There is no scientific reason to teach, in a science class, that there is evidence for a 6000-10,000 year old earth.  If a student brings it up in class, should the teacher address it?  Sure.  But to promote such discussion about unscientific ideas about origins as part of the state’s standards is ludicrous. 

These ridiculous standards have the potential to make Texas a laughing-stock in several respects.  Foster states, for example:

If Texas appears to the nation and the world uncommitted to science, we confuse outsiders about whether we mean what we say about improving the quality of the education we offer our youth and about our research aspirations.

Texas’ overall high school graduation rate is among the lowest in the nation. Of Texas high school graduates, only 41 percent are ready for college-level math and only 24 percent are ready for college-level science. Many of our most qualified students now leave the state to go to college, creating a “brain drain.” We claim as a state that we mean to improve, but what message does the proposed action regarding our textbooks convey?

Despite our poor high school graduation rates, Texas actually has several great research universities and top-notch medical centers.  It would be a shame for the reputation of these institutions to be damaged as a result of unscientific standards being included in the TEKS.

You can read the rest of the editorial here.

Nature’s Witness by Daniel Harrell

Posted in Evolution with tags , , , , , , on November 2, 2008 by airtightnoodle

A new book on Christianity and evolution is available entitled “Nature’s Witness: How Evolution Can Inspire Faith“.  You can read an intriguing excerpt from the book at Quintessence of Dust.

Texas scientists want religion, politics out of science curriculum

Posted in Education, Texas with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2008 by airtightnoodle

Thanks to Jimpithecus at Science and Religion, I found the following article from the Houston Chronicle regarding the science TEKS. 

A group of Texas scientists are worried that the state board of education will insist on keeping the “strengths and weaknesses” clause in the Texas standards for biology education.  Currently this phrase is not found in the proposal for the new TEKS. 

David Hillis from the University of Texas summed up the feelings of scientists and science educators across the state well by saying:

“We are here to support and promote strong, clear, modern science education in Texas schools,” said David Hillis, professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin. “Texas public schools should be preparing our kids to succeed in the 21st century, not promoting political and ideological agendas that are hostile to a sound science education.”

However, the article also states that:

A panel of experts recently recommended the “strengths and weaknesses” provision remain in astronomy and chemistry but be removed from the updated science curriculum.

Who is this “panel of experts”, and why did they recommend for the provision to remain in certain areas? 

As mentioned previously on this blog, the TEKS will not be voted on until next spring.

Rabbis say that evolution strengthens belief

Posted in Education, Evolution with tags , , , , , , , , on September 20, 2008 by airtightnoodle

star of davidIn the news today, out of Chicago, comes an article about Jewish rabbis who say that evolution is not detrimental to faith.  On the contrary, they say, it strengthens faith.

Several rabbis (235 since July) have even signed an open letter supporting the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Teaching creationism alongside evolution in public schools is apparently an awful idea according to many of these Jewish leaders.

Rabbi Debra Newman Kamin of the conservative Am Yisrael synagogue in Northfield, Ill., who signed the letter last month, called the movement to teach creationism in public schools alongside evolution “horrifying.”

Though there are, of course, many in the Jewish community who still hold to a literal interpretation of the Genesis creation story, those of the Jewish faith have been moving away from such a reading for the past several hundred years, seeing evolution not as atheistic or anti-God but instead as a natural process put in place by the Creator Himself. 

Click here to read the rest of the story.


Evolutionist Open Invite

Posted in Evolution with tags , , , , , , , , on September 12, 2008 by airtightnoodle

Over at Woad Warrior, Bazooka Knight has posted an open invite to evolutionists to share why they “believe” in evolution.  This guy seems truly interested, so I’ve posted my own thoughts there, and would encourage any others to do the same.  It should make for some interesting conversation, hopefully.

Happy reading/posting!

Take down that evolution poster!

Posted in Education, Evolution with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 7, 2008 by airtightnoodle

I have an evolution poster in my classroom.  I teach both biology and AP Environmental Science, and it is part of the curriculum for both classes.  Recently on a science teacher message board, I inquired about activities for teaching evolution, after noticing a few students in class commenting on the poster. 

To my surprise and dismay, I had one teacher reply along the lines of the following:

I do not teach evolution in class as there are too many pit-falls.  I talk about DNA/RNA/proteins and mutations, and that’s where we stop.  The students are sometimes disappointed because they wanted to discuss or even argue about evolution.  If I were you, I’d take that poster down.

There are so many things I believe are wrong with this.  Where to begin…

First of all, I don’t know where this person teaches, or exactly which courses this person teaches, but teaching evolution is indeed a standard that must be taught in many classes, and as far as I know, in every state.  Chances are good that this person is completely ignoring something they are required to teach.

Secondly, I find it sad that science teachers are scared to deal with the issue.  Whether one is scared of the students, the parents, other teachers, or whatever, evolution is a huge part of biology and science in general, and should be taught.  We’re doing a disservice in preparing our students for the future by skipping such a central, unifying concept in science. 

Third, even if this teacher happens to be one that does not agree with evolutionary theory, I still contend what I stated in point 2 above–by not teaching the theory, you’re doing an educational disservice to your students.  After I teach evolutionary theory, if a student still disagrees with it, then at least I’ve taught them what the theory REALLY teaches, and perhaps they’ll be better equipped to argue with it, if they so choose.

Arg.  I’ll end this post feeling frustrated, but at least a little less so now that I’ve vented about it.

*Update: AAAAAANNNNDDDD the frustration comes roaring back.  I actually just got a message from another member explaining to me the nature of the controversy.  All I can do is stare with my jaw open at the screen.  Seriously, are there so many people out there that do not understand why some students don’t “believe” in evolution that this person feels the need to explain the issue???  Well, at least they followed it up with some actual suggestions, rather than just saying, “Don’t teach it”.

What to do when students bring up ID/creationism in class

Posted in Education, Evolution with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 1, 2008 by airtightnoodle

Most science teachers have been here before.  Some students are more aggressive than others.  Most, fortunately, will let the conversation drop (though moodily) once they are told that we cannot have those sorts of conversations in class.

But sometimes it’s tempting to get involved in such conversations.

What exactly SHOULD you do when students bring up creationism or intelligent design in science class?

Greg Laden gives us some very good common sense and guidelines to follow when confronting such situations in class.  This is a very good read, especially this time of the year when we teachers are all returning to work.

Obama and McCain at Saddleback Church

Posted in politics with tags , , , , , , , on August 17, 2008 by airtightnoodle

Recently I just do not have much to say about evolution, religion, etc. 

But here is something interesting to share that definitely has an impact on those issues: the upcoming presidential election.

As you may have heard, Rick Warren at Saddleback Church hosted a forum for the presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain.

Rick Warren with Barack Obama and John McCain
Rick Warren with Barack Obama and John McCain

You can watch the forum on the CNN website located here.  I highly recommend doing so.

I have to say that I personally am not overly enthused about any of the candidates that have been involved in this current race.  I do not think this forum clearly outlined any ideas, goals, plans, etc, from either candidate, but it is certainly very interesting to watch as it is a much more personal side to the candidates than we usually get to see.