Is there a way to talk about creation and evolution without anger? Without getting defensive? Can evangelical Christians teach evolution without alienating their staunchly creationist fellow Christians?
To cut this Gordian knot, Christian biologist Kerry Fulcher offers what he calls his “Pedagogy of Hospitality.”
Fulcher laments the anger and hostility that are so often generated by these questions. How does he approach teaching evolution in a Christian, creationist environment?
By remembering that love comes first.
Fulcher offers a six-point guide for teaching evolution in a Christian way:
Begin by disarming/diffusing, which creates an openness to listen and discuss vs. feeding the flame that threatens others and causes them to be closed to real dialogue.
Create a reason for the audience to be engaged or care about the topic by helping them understand why open discussion or dialogue about the issue might be helpful to them.
Recognize the complexity of the issue and how an individual’s faith can rightly or wrongly interact with it in foundational ways.
Set the tone of discussion as one of mutual respect for individuals that honors right relationships above right answers.
Set goals of education that promote greater understanding vs. advocacy that promotes winning the argument. This puts us in the uncomfortable position of being OK with others understanding our position without necessarily accepting or believing it.
Honor the individual and their journey by remembering our own – It has taken years and a lot of study and thought to get where I am on this issue, so don’t expect others to make huge leaps in their own positions…be gradual.
Of course, for some pundits on various sides of the creation/evolution debates, Fulcher’s person-first approach raises hackles. Some creationists might worry that the Bible must always come first, even if some people find it off-putting. Some evolution advocates might lament this sort of truckling to religious superstition. The legitimacy of science, they might say, must not be abandoned, even if it hurts the feelings of some religious listeners.
How can someone really understand evolutionary theory, critics might say, without somehow believing it? Can belief really be separated from understanding?
Though I don’t share Fulcher’s religious faith, I do share his opinion that effective education of any sort must begin by understanding and even loving one’s students. In the narrow question of evolution education, that means not attacking students’ faiths. It means beginning and ending with the positive relationships between teacher and student that are at the heart of any good teaching.