Creationist Mom Reaches Out to Evolution

Sometimes stereotypes have some truth to them.  Then there’s “D.”

D first got in touch with me a couple of months ago.  As she described herself, she is a Christian young-earth creationist homeschooling mom.  She had read about my blog on Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis page.  I’ll include our brief correspondence to let D speak for herself:

From: D
Sent: Monday, January 21, 2013 8:36 PM
To: alaats@binghamton.edu
Subject: thank you

Hi Dr. Laats,
I have to say that it is very refreshing that you don’t think creationists like myself are complete idiots.  Really, I appreciate that. 
As a young earth creationist that homeschools, I wouldn’t give any Richard Dawkins books the time of day.  If someone is THAT hostile towards me, then I have no interest in what they have to say.  But I look forward to reading your blog when I have a chance because you try to understand where I am coming from, and you don’t think we are completely unable to do any science. 
Thank you,
“D”

I suggested that D might give Dawkins a shot.

From: D
Sent: Monday, January 22, 2013 9:48 PM
To: alaats@binghamton.edu
Subject: Re: thank you

Dear Dr. Laats,
I also agree that we should be looking at the other side, and I do plan to do that.  As a Christian homeschool Mom I am not trying to protect my sons from learning evolution.  The public school is not a place we feel comfortable putting our children because their thoughts and beliefs are not welcome in the classroom.  They would have to follow the advice my father in law got from his father before he joined the Navy, “keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut”.  Learning can not take place, in my opinion, in that kind of environment.
I am going to teach my kids about evolution, somehow.  There is a lot of material out there.  I would read Dawkins if I had to, but the amount of information out there that he has published alone is way too much to look at, sort through, and figure out what to teach.  For the sake of time, I’m looking for something comprehensive and succinct, and what a child in high school should know about the subject.  I am familiar with the NCSE website and that is what I plan to use as of now, though it will be guess work to know what all to cover.  
Thanks for your time,
D

I was surprised and happy to hear that D was using materials from the National Center for Science Education to teach her kids.  I think the folks at NCSE would be happy to hear it, too.  The NCSE is a leading voice for evolution education and a staunch opponent of creationism in public schools.  And too often, people like me tend to suggest a stark division between two sides: either Answers in Genesis OR the National Center for Science Education.  D has reminded me that smart people make all kinds of decisions about what to read and what to do with that material.  People choose public schools, private schools, or homeschools for all sorts of different reasons.  D’s work reminded me how quickly and easily we can oversimplify the many approaches people make to these snarled questions of evolution, religion, and education.

Yesterday, I heard back from D:

From: D
Sent: Monday, March 18, 2013 5:09 PM
To: alaats@binghamton.edu
Subject: Hi

Hi Dr Laats,
Well, I wanted to let you know that I checked out the [Dawkins] book The Greatest Show on Earth.  I never would have considered it except for your response.  Dawkins says on page 155 ” it would be so nice if those that oppose Evolution would take a tiny bit of trouble to learn the merest rudiments of what it is that they are opposing.”  I couldn’t believe that I totally agreed with Dawkins about something!  I am happy to listen, minus the hostility.  I don’t sense hostility in this book, which makes it readable.  This has made me realize that I can not get my head wrapped around what evolution IS.  He says we did not descend from monkeys, but we have a common ancestor.  I do understand that we would find no missing links because of the extreme gradual process, that is what I understand from the book, hopefully that is correct.  So I looked on Internet, and I guess I don’t understand phylogenies.  So we did not descend from monkey, but have a common ancestor, and then branched off to chimpanzees and humans etc.  So, it seems to me that we descended from something “monkey like”.  I guess I don’t understand how he can say that we did not evolve from monkeys, whether it was monkeys or monkey like, it seems similar.  Can you shed any light on this please?  As you can see, I am making an honest attempt to understand this so I don’t teach it incorrectly.  Thanks for the help,
D

First of all, my hat’s off to D for engaging with Richard Dawkins’ writings.  It is far too easy for all of us to read only those materials that confirm our own beliefs.  I am optimistic that there may be far more “Ds” out there than we might think: people who have strong beliefs, yet hope to find out as much as they can about the other side.  How many of us can say–like D–that we have taken the time to puzzle through books and websites of people with whom we totally disagree?

As for D’s question about phylogenies, I suggested she check out Dennis Venema’s series about evolution theory on recent pages of the BioLogos Forum.

Any other suggestions for someone like D?

 

 

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5 Comments

  1. Wow. My hat is well and truly off as well. I found Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True good, but from what I can remember has a fair amount of invective against Creationism. Of the Dawkins books, she should obviously avoid <emThe God Delusion like the plague, but The Blind Watchmaker and <Climbing Mount Improbable are directly relevant to Creationist objections to evolution.

    Brian Cox (very popular science communicator in the UK) recommends Life Ascending by Nick Lane. I haven’t read it, but I gave it to my Mum (who now accepts evolution but wanted to understand it). She found it rather technical, I think, but most readers say it’s very clear.

    Reply
  2. Glad you suggested BioLogos, Dennis, etc. A reasonable resource for folks like D. I would also suggest the materials available via the Faraday Institute: http://www.st-edmunds.cam.ac.uk/faraday/index.php

    Reply
  3. It’s good to hear that D is finding NCSE’s website useful, but it’s not really intended as a general resource for learning about evolution. I suggest Carl Zimmer’s The Tangled Bank (Roberts and Company, 2010), which is a lively textbook introducing evolution. Helpful supplements for teenagers would be Jay Hosler’s splendid comic treatment Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth (Hill and Wang, 2012) and perhaps the PBS Evolution series from 2001 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/ as well. For D to prepare her lessons and for her kids to delve further, the University of Calfornia Museum of Paleontology’s Understanding Evolution website http://evolution.berkeley.edu will be useful.

    Reply
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