Creationists: Randy Moore Wants Your Children!

There is no doubting Randy Moore’s evolution-education credentials.

A professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, Professor Moore has received the National Center for Science Education’s Friend of Darwin award, and the National Association of Biology Teachers Evolution Education award.

Randy Moore, in short, has long been one of the most engaging and engaged voices in the campaign to get more evolution education into America’s schools.

And what is Moore’s most recent argument to make America’s schools more evolution-friendly?

In a remarkable article in the “evolutionary-creationist” BioLogos Forum, Moore and colleague Sehoya Cotner offered two recommendations for improving evolution education:

1.) Let Jesus teach it!

2.) Catch creationist kids young!

Here are their actual words:

“We know of no evidence that the availability of such solely science-focused workshops, seminars, and other forms of evolution-related education will significantly affect what creationism-based biology teachers teach. Since the impediments to better teaching of evolution are primarily the philosophical and religious views of biology teachers, programs that do not address the more personal, ‘non-science’ issues of science educators directly and effectively are likely to have little impact on what students learn in high-school biology classrooms. Instead, if further fact-based instruction in evolution is part of the answer, it is likely to be most effective with young children, who are developmentally primed to seek explanations for natural phenomena. However, evolution instruction is essentially absent prior to high-school biology; by high school, a student’s teleological demands have likely been met by supernatural explanations, creating a cycle of adults who know little about evolution and teach creationism-flavored biology.”

In other words, as Moore and Cotner convincingly demonstrate, simply assuming that the scientific evidence for evolution will convince creationist teachers has not worked, and will not work.  They rely heavily on the research of Penn State political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer.  Instead, evolution education needs to get away from the delusion that the scientific evidence alone will do the job.  With adults, effective evolution education, as Moore and Cotner contend, must address “philosophical and religious” issues involved.  This conclusion makes eminent sense.  However, it brings us to an awkward realization: science education must range far beyond science education to be effective science education.  Are creationist teachers to be taught that Jesus wants them to accept evolution?  That seems to be Moore’s and Cotner’s implication, and it raises a host of thorny issues.

The second prong of their policy argument is equally radical.  If “fact-based” evolution education is to work, Moore and Cotner argue, it must reach young students before their families’ influence has become decisive.  In other words, effective evolution education must evangelize aggressively to counter the “supernatural explanations” offered young people by their parents and church leaders.  Effective evolution education must seek to replace those family influences with the influence of scientific evidence.

Randy Moore has long been one of the smartest voices in the field of evolution education.  And his logic in this article seems uncontrovertible.  Yet it raises disturbing questions.  Can evolution educators discuss “philosophical and religious” implications of evolutionary theory?  Doesn’t that amount to sectarian religious education?  In other words, if science educators try to teach that Jesus is not against evolution, isn’t that making a strictly religious argument?

And we need to ask tough questions about targeting young minds:  Can a campaign to reach young creationist kids work?  Is it the place of public education to target family culture and religion?

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12 Comments

  1. ChazIng

     /  January 24, 2013

    Has there been any study which found a correlation between teaching creationism (of any sort) and subsequent poor biological science skills?

    Reply
    • None that I know of. I think it is sort of assumed…

      Reply
      • ChazIng

         /  January 24, 2013

        Well, that doesn’t bode well for the supposed scientific nature of evolution

      • ChazIng

         /  January 24, 2013

        So evolution = science = assumed?

      • @ ChazIng, it seems to me that among mainstream scientists and science educators, Professor Dobzhansky’s 1973 dictum still holds the field: “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution.”

    • ChazIng

       /  January 25, 2013

      Appeal to authority + appeal to popularity = evidence for evolution?

      Reply
  2. My observation is that many students who favor young-earth creationism over evolution take two major pathways – anything but basic sciences and if the choose biology, it is because they want to become a physician. It is really quite astounding how many physicians do not accept evolution, except for the canard of microevolution.

    A couple of my colleagues and I thought we had a decent strategy for addressing the problem that Moore and Cotner bring up. We have known for some time that ‘throwing more science’ at these folks does not work, and likewise know that most science teachers in public schools do not have the training and background to effectively direct creationist students to resources that would help them cope with the realization that the cosmos, the earth and everything therein did not appear in six days, nor was there a worldwide flood, etc. Thus we wanted to assemble an array of resources ranging from essays to videos that teachers could use as an adjunct to the topic at hand from evolution to embryology. Our proposal made it through the tortuous funding system at the Templeton Foundation, all the while with positive feedback and comments. Final decision – no can do. Apparently our proposed theological direction was not conservative enough. It was suggested that we add another bibilical scholar to our proposal to provide some ‘balance’ – translation – conservative evangelicals would be upset. Time for another beer…….

    Reply
    • @ Douglas E., I heart beer. But I am also very interested in hearing more about your proposed program. I acknowledge that I’m no scientist, no science educator, but it doesn’t seem to me that the field as a whole has acknowledged, as you say, that “‘throwing more science'” at creationists will not work. I seem to hear many calls to throw more science around. Even in Berkman & Plutzer’s recent book, they seem to feel compelled to build an argument that simply making stricter state science standards won’t do the job. Maybe that is because they also come from outside the science ed field?
      In any case, do you have materials from your proposal that you could share? Directly by email if you prefer? (alaats@binghamton.edu)

      Reply
  3. Adam – one of my colleagues is Joe McInerney who for many years was the Director of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, a publisher of textbooks based on the Dobzhansky quote you gave. Joe was in the thick of the textbook adoption stuggles, particularly in states like Texas, and has much experience dealing with creationists. My background is university level biology instruction at a public institution [University of Colorado, Colorado Springs] and a private Christian university [Pepperdine], and [over several beers ;-] Joe and I came to the conclusion that more science is not what is needed. I believe that folks such as Eugenie Scott have also said this and thus earned the dreaded label of ‘accommodationist’ – a pejorative as used by the likes of both Ham and Dawkins. Our third colleague is Pete Enns, a biblical scholar who has written extensively on the problems of understanding scripture, particularly Genesis, in the light of scientific findings. His most recent book is The Evolution of Adam, and I believe that it just came out.

    Our proposal was for the development of materials, so I really do not have anything to share. We were going to both gather existing materials and produce new materials, running the gamut from essays, videos, interviews, and something I thought would be most useful, a concordance that would parallel Ken Miller’s biology text. Since most teachers have neither the time nor the expertise to engage creationist students on matters of religious doctrines, the resource would give teachers quick access to material that would address questions like the historicity of Adam and Eve, the six day creation, Noah, etc. Putting together the details of the proposal simply reinforced our notion that this is primarily a theological issue and not a scientific issue. We also know that there are some strict scripturalists who would never change their perspective [David Rives – “All science that does not concur with the Bible is bad science.”] and thus the materials would be targeted to those who are actually open to new ideas and new perspectives.

    Reply
    • @ Douglas, That’s a shame–it sounds like a program that would do a lot of good. As a science-education outsider, it seems to me a good first step would be to include more education about American creationism. Sociologically, theologically, epistemologically, etc. It wouldn’t necessarily need to promote one theological viewpoint or another. Simply educating science educators about other “worldviews” would go a long way.

      Reply
  4. Adam – you are right on with your idea regarding teaching about American creationism, and there may be some good news about this – a colleague in Heidelberg has developed a proposal for addressing this issue. The perhaps not so good news is that the most likely source of funding is once again the Templeton Foundation.

    Reply

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