Scientific explanations EXERCISE:

Have students pair up and write down a hypothesis for something in science, e.g., why biodiversity is declining. Save until you get to features of science.

Did anyone write down "Because we have sinned." or bring up God? Are people who didn't atheists? 

Purpose: Demonstrates that most students have a sense of the difference between a religious explanation and a scientific one and using the latter does not reflect atheism. Science is Godless in the same way plumbing is. Just because someone doesn't suggest God as an explanation for something in nature does NOT mean they do not believe in God. Someone may use evolution to explain the diversity of life and still believe in God. 


Timeline EXERCISE: 

A toilet paper timeline of evolution

O Brien, Thomas. American Biology Teacher 578-582 62, no. 8 (Oct 2000): p. 578-582 


Modeling natural selection EXERCISE (or try candy evolution): 

Have students pick a trait they think is adaptive and model it by drawing a circle to represent a population and different letters to represent different genotypes (e.g., R = resistance to pesticides, S = susceptible).  They should draw the population before the trait becomes adaptive (e.g., before pesticide is applied or before predators are abundant or before food becomes scarce) and call this time 1. Then they should also draw the same population at time 2, after the trait becomes adaptive.

Purpose:  To understand that evolution is changes in proportion of different genotypes not changes in individuals. This is a very simple version of more complex mathematical formulas scientists have created to describe evolution by natural selection.


Indirect evidence EXERCISE: 

Ask for a volunteer student to stand up.  (I assure them they don't have to do anything more.)  Ask the class, "Does this person have a heart?"  Most students think s/he does. Ask, "Have you seen it?"  Point out that most people are very very sure that s/he has a heart based on indirect evidence.  You can also ask, "What is a trillion plus one?"  The answer is a trillion and one.  But no student has ever tested that by lining up a trillion of something, adding one and then recounting.  Our answer is based on indirect evidence. 

Purpose  To understand that we accept lots of things that we don't have direct evidence for. Creationists sometimes say that evolution should not be accepted because there is no direct evidence, i.e., there was no one around when species came to be.  They are implying that indirect evidence (when we can't see things directly) is better than direct evidence (seeing with our own eyes).  We use indirect evidence in science all the time. Atoms, electrons, viruses, bacteria, and DNA have not been observed directly. No one has seen the earth orbiting the sun.

Interview EXERCISE (Answering these questions can also help a student explore her/his own views.):  Note:  I always give full credit if this assignment is done, regardless of content.    In presenting information on creationism and how different religious groups view science, I try to present it as "Here are some ways people view things." I also try to make clear that scientists' objections to creationism are NOT objections to it as a religious belief but rather when it tries to present itself as science and because it contains much misinformation about science in general and evolution in particular. 

Develop 5-10 questions (10 if they are ?s that will result in short answers; 5 if they are more open ended questions) to use in exploring other people's views on evolution and creation science.  (Below are some possibilities but you are not restricted to them; some background follows each question.) Then individually interview 4 people using these questions.  Record their answers and the questions they had for you.  (If they are willing, you might tape record your interview.)  You do NOT need to give me your interviewee's names. 

What you will turn in:  Your questions; their answers, reactions, and questions for you.  What you turn in may be in the form of "exploratory writing" (emphasis on flow of ideas vs. polished for perfect grammar and spelling), but it must be clearly organized and easy to read and understand. 

1)  Does evolution occur? 

[Positively � see #2. Even creationists accept that small amounts of evolution occur, they just don't allow large changes. The founders of the term "intelligent design theory" accept all types of evolution including that new species evolved from old species, but they maintain really complicated things didn't form by evolution, that God must have used some other unspecified mechanism.]

2) Does the relative frequency of different genetic types change over time?

[Positively, and "relative frequency of different genetic types change over time" is a standard biological definition of evolution, one that includes the things you'd find discussed in a college textbook on evolution � natural selection, speciation, extinction, etc.]

3) If the frequency changes, would it prove to you that God does not exist?  Would accepting that such changes occur threaten marriage and lead to pornography? If so, how?

[The creationist organization "Answers in Genesis" links acceptance of evolution with things they consider bad, like divorce, pornography, and homosexuality. However, many Christians view evolution and God as compatible and do not associate evolution with these issues.]

4)  If some or all new species arise/evolve from older species, does this prove God does not exist? 

[New species evolving from old is part of evolution (see #2). Many Christians, who believe in God, accept such descent.  Some creationists do; some don't.]

5) Is Darwinism the same as evolution?

[No, Darwinism is what Darwin said, including that evolution was a gradual process, a steady accumulation of small changes. Scientists now know that not all evolutionary change (change in the proportion of different genetic types over time) is gradual. Because many people confuse Darwinism with evolution, they misunderstand when Creationists say that mainstream scientists reject Darwinism or that Darwinism has been shown false � these statements by Creationists are right only if the right definition of Darwinism is used.]

6) If data-evidence contradicted what Darwin said about evolution, would scientists go with the data or Darwin?

[Science goes with data. Authority is important in religion but not in science. For example, creationists go with their interpretation of the Bible over data and so can accept only data consistent with that interpretation. Christians that accept evolution interpret the Bible in a way that allows for evolution.]

7)  Would 1) university professors, 2) ministers, or 3) a word for word reading of the Bible be most likely to provide knowledgeable accurate scientific information?   religious information? 

[Creationists view the Bible as a reliable source of not only religious but also scientific information. Christians that accept evolution view the Bible as a source of religious information and science/scientists as the source of scientific information.]

8) If a Bible verse contradicts data, which is right?  E.g., the bible says that grasshoppers have 4 legs (Leviticus 11:21-23but you collect them outside and they have 6.  Do you say the verse is wrong or the counting is?    If the verse is wrong, does/should it threaten belief in God?

How should a person decide which verses are meant to be taken literally? 

[Creationists claim a literal interpretation or that the Bible is inerrant. However, they cut their sideburns and don't have slaves, contrary to the Bible (see talkorigins.com for a list of other verses that creationists seem to ignore). The criteria by which creationists decide whether or not to take a verse literally are not clear. Christians that accept evolution view the Bible more as parables than as needing to be literally true.]

9)  If God can do anything, does that include evolution? In your view, can someone who says evolution is God's plan still be a Christian? 

[Creationists don't allow that God used evolution because they view that would contradict their interpretation of Genesis. But many Christians that accept evolution often view evolution as God's plan.]

10)  Are you in favor of the separation of church and state? 

[Separation of church and state is part of our constitution, but some creationists reject it. This part of our constitution is what has caused courts to rule that evolution can be taught and that creation "science" and intelligent design "theory" can't be.]

11) Is there anything wrong with a scientist being required, in order to keep her/his job, to sign an oath that "The Bible is the written Word of God, and because it is inspired throughout, all its assertions are historically and scientifically true in the original autographs"?

Should scientists be allowed to accept evidence that contradicts the Bible?    Should scientists be required to sign an oath that evolution as originally described by Darwin is true?   Are scientists required to sign any such oath to keep their job?  to belong to any science society?

[Scientists at public universities in the U.S. are NOT required to sign any oath to get their job or to join scientific societies, including the Society for the Study of Evolution. By definition, science and thus scientists should accept or not accept an idea based strictly on whether or not the data supports it. At least some creationist organizations do require their members to sign an oath � the first quote is part of that oath.]

12) Would you rather have scientific information, including medical information, from an organization that requires such an oath or one that doesn't?  or does it matter?

[History indicates that it matters:  For example, Lysenko in Russia is famous for pushing scientists to follow political ideology in their science which slowed the progress of science in Russia. Galileo was put under house arrest for heresy by the church for suggesting that his astronomy observations supported Copernican theory (earth around sun versus vice versa).]

13) Geologists say there is no evidence for there ever having been a world wide flood.  But if there had been one, what would you predict about the depth order of different fossils?  or how would you go about making a prediction?

Would marine animals have gone extinct as often as non marine ones?  Would big, heavy species be deeper due to sinking than small, light ones?

[By the rules of science, the ideal way for you to do this is to make up your prediction first and then look and see if your data fit.]

14) Why do you think the oldest rocks have fossils of 1 celled organisms but not of multicelled organisms?

[Scientists suggest that multicelled organisms evolved from 1 celled ones.]

15) Why do you think that the first fish fossils are in rocks that are millions of years older than the rocks that the first amphibian fossils are in?

[Creationists usually believe in a world wide flood and use it to explain extinctions. Scientists say that deeper rocks are generally older and when an old rock gets shoved to the surface, e.g., via an earthquake, it leaves detectable stress marks on the rock.]

16) Can you think of any scientific evidence that already exists or that could ever exist that would prove to you that God does not exist?

[To many people, the existence of some sort of God is not a testable hypothesis; there is not evidence that would lead them to totally reject such existence. If you cannot scientifically test for something, you cannot scientifically say it doesn't exist or that it does, though you may still accept it based on nonscientific "ways of knowing." Dictionaries define faith as accepting something without demanding evidence.]

17)  Some Christians argue that because the Bible was written by people whereas the universe was made by God, the latter is a more reliable source of truth?  Have you heard that before?  Do you have an opinion about it

18)  There is a society that argues that the sun revolves around the earth. They cite Bible verses to support their view. What do you think of such a society and why?

Would you support legislation requiring their view to be presented in public school science classes?

If American Indians think their creation tales are literally true, would you support legislation requiring that their view be taught in public school science classes?

19) Do you think university biology departments view the controversy over evolution as a religious dispute? or a scientific dispute?

[They view it as a religious dispute.]

20) Do you know which religious groups object to evolution?  Do you know why?

Which of the following object:  fundamentalist Protestants, fundamentalist Muslims, and ultraconservative orthodox Jews, American Jewish Congress, United Methodist, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian?

[The first 3 object; the last 5 don't according to statements their organizations made; however, not all members of an organization necessarily agree with their organization's statement. Creationists reject evolution, or parts of evolution, because they feel it is not compatible with the Bible being inerrant; other Christian denominations accept evolution because to them the Bible is meant to reveal moral truths, not meant to be taken as word for word true.]

21) When a physicist talks about the theory of gravity, does it mean s/he isn't sure if gravity exists?

[No, a theory, to a scientist, is just all the ideas (often in the form of mathematical equations) explaining how something occurs.]

22) If a scientist could find data-evidence that refuted all of the evidence for evolution (showed there is no extinction, no mutations, no natural selection, no drift, no speciation, all species were created independently and from nothing or from mud) and 10 other scientists could replicate her/his results, do you think those scientists would be at risk of jeopardizing their jobs by publishing or do you think they would receive lots of prestige?

[An incredible amount of prestige!]

23) In court, do creation scientists say that their view is or is not science?

[In court, creationists' own witnesses said that creation science is not science.]

23) If you thought you could save people's souls by calling your religion science even though you knew it wasn't science, would you be justified in doing so?

[see #23]

25) If God didn't use evolution to create the huge diversity of living organisms, how did God create it? Be as specific as possible. 

[Besides documenting patterns, science also comes up with mechanisms to explain how those patterns arose.  For many Christians, knowing about the scientific mechanisms, i.e., evolutionary mechanisms, by which the current diversity of life came to be does not eliminate the existence or importance of God. Similarly, understanding the science behind how a child forms and develops does not stop people from viewing their child as a gift from God.]

26) Why do you think some animals that don't have teeth as adults (baleen whales, anteaters), form teeth as embryos then absorb them before birth?

[The evolutionary explanation is that those animals evolved from species with teeth. One creationist explanation is that God is whimsical; another is that God made it look like evolution has occurred but it hasn't. Many Christians, however, oppose the idea that God is deceitful.]

27) Can you explain step by step how antibiotic resistance has come to be such a big problem?  Do you know what scientists call this process?

[Natural selection, which is 1 way evolution occurs. Even before the use of antibiotics, some bacteria had genes that made them resistant; others had genes that made them susceptible. Use of antibiotics kills off the susceptible ones, leaving behind mostly or only ones with resistance.]

28. If microevolution occurs but not macroevolution, what stops any of the microevolutionary changes from accumulating over large periods of time until you have macroevolution? 

[Creationists often accept microevolution (small changes) but reject macroevolution (big changes). Extinction of the dinosaurs is macroevolution, but creationists generally accept their extinction..Young earth creationists stop  macroevolution by denying that there have been large periods of time.  Old earth creationists? ]