Teaching Evolution Without Offending Creationists

Saturday, November 28, 2009
Is it possible to teach evolution to middle and high school students without offending their religion? University of Alabama professor Lee Meadows thinks so and has written a book, "Missing Link", to help teachers. Bob Sims writes about the professor and his book in The Birmingham News.

Faith and science: UAB professor's book helps teachers present evolution without offense

By Bob Sims -- The Birmingham News

November 28, 2009, 6:00AM
UAB education professor Lee Meadows grew up in love with science, but his conservative Southern Baptist upbringing left him somewhat conflicted.

  Meadows has written "Missing Link," a textbook on how to teach evolution without offending religious beliefs. "It's a book for teachers to help them deal with the issue of evolution with middle and high school students," he said.

  Meadows said he knows the student's perspective from experience.

  "Biology is my favorite subject," he said. "But evolution scared me off as a student. I was afraid of evolution from the first I heard of it. I don't know that I've reconciled it, but I've realized science has its own set of rules."

  Meadows, now a member of a conservative Presbyterian Church in America congregation, remains an evangelical. But he's forged a way to study evolution on the terms of science without compromising faith.

  "My faith is still important to me," he said.

  Now he looks at the issue through the eyes of a teacher.

  The key for Meadows, a former high school science teacher, has been "teaching by inquiry," a method he said encourages students to study the fossil record, tracing animals back through time and understanding scientific explanations of changes and apparent adaptations.

  "Teaching by inquiry is hands-on science on speed," Meadows said. "It's giving them the evidence, then seeing how scientists interpret the evidence. Inquiry always says start with the evidence."

  Meadows offers one cardinal rule for teachers: "Never challenge a kid's religious beliefs," he said. "I want teachers to say, 'What you believe the Bible says is really important.'"

  Students should learn science on its own terms, not as a competing explanation to religion, Meadows said. "Science limits itself to natural evidence."

  It's not necessary to mock anyone's beliefs to teach evolution, Meadows said.

  "Science teachers in public schools have two legal duties: they have to teach science, but they also have to care for the kids, as if they were parents for that hour," Meadows said.

  Public school science teachers are bound to teach the theory of evolution and the evidence that leads scientists to embrace it, he said.

  "Their duty is to teach evolution," Meadows said. "In a public school, they are barred from teaching creationism, which courts have ruled is inherently religious."

  Charles Darwin's theory of evolution was explained in his book "On the Origin of Species," published in 1859. Because of the 150th anniversary of the book's publication and the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth in 1809, there have been many commemorations of Darwin and his life and theories this year.

  There has also been backlash by those opposed to Darwin's theories. Filmmakers Jon and Andy Erwin of Bessemer-based Erwin Brothers Motion Pictures premiered their anti-evolution documentary, "The Mysterious Islands," on Tuesday at the Alabama Theater. They did their filming in the Galapagos Islands, reviewing Darwin's conclusions and siding with another member of Darwin's ship, Captain Robert Fitzroy of the HMS Beagle, who disputed many of Darwin's conclusions.

  Meadows said that while many may object to Darwinian theories on theological grounds, it's important that students be given a solid science education.

  In his book for teachers, he recommends lesson plans that go to source material on fossils.

  Meadows recommends studying the work of J.G.M. "Hans" Thewissen, professor of anatomy at the Northeastern Ohio Universities, who has documented the evolution of whales. He directs teachers to the Web site www.neoucom.edu/DEPTS/ANAT/whaleorigins.htm.

  "There is piles and piles of evidence for evolution, and scientists can explain that," Meadows said. "What the kids believe at the end of the day -- that's their choice."

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