Strategies for Minimizing Conflict about Teaching Evolution
Distinguish between science and religion
Help students understand that science and religion are two different ways of knowing the world. They are not necessarily in conflict; they are two perspectives, two different lenses.
Science develops explanations for the natural world by gathering evidence. Explanations that are supported by evidence stand and those that are not are discarded. Science does not include supernatural explanations that cannot be tested by scientific processes.
Religion is a system of beliefs based on faith, not bound by evidence from nature. It offers a distinctly different path for understanding the purpose of the natural world and our place in it. It is not better or worse than science; it is just different. As such, people don't need to choose between the two.
Acknowledge that many scientists are religious and that many religions support the teaching of evolution.
Understand that the courts distinguish between science and religion in the classroom. It is not a matter of fairness to present creationism along with evolution in a science classroom. It is inappropriate to teach religion in a science classroom.
Understand that intelligent design and creation science arguments ultimately are religious explanations that rely on supernatural causes and thus are outside of science. Familiarize yourself with some of the creation science arguments such as intelligent design, but don't introduce this concept into your classroom because introducing religion into a science class is inappropriate.
Focus on science and scientific literacy
Use precise language. Watch how you use the terms belief, theory, and fact. One does not "believe" in evolution. It is a theory that scientists accept as the best current scientific explanation. Help students distinguish between everyday usage and scientific meanings of terms. People might say, "It's just a theory," meaning a guess or hunch. In science, a theory is an overarching explanation that connects many tested hypotheses and observable facts.
Give students experience using scientific processes. Students who understand science process and theory formation are more likely to have respect for the evidence that supports the theory of evolution.
Present scientific information based on the best current evidence and emphasize that scientific ideas may have varying degrees of support, depending on available evidence. Help students use criteria to assess ideas, such as the veracity and number of lines of independent evidence that support a hypothesis or theory.
Be knowledgeable about evolution, and dispel misinformation
Recognize evolution's significance as a cornerstone of biology. Teach students the interconnections between evolution and other aspects of biology. Know that the leading science education organizations support the position that evolution is a central unifying concept of biology and should be included as part of K-12 science frameworks and standards.
Thoroughly understand the evidence for evolution as well as the current understanding of mechanisms for evolutionary change.
Give examples of how evolution is relevant to students' daily lives (such as antibiotic resistance, pest control in agricultural crops, invasive species, etc.). When students gain an understanding of the role of evolution in society, they can be better-informed citizens and decision-makers.
Correct misconceptions about the process of evolution when they occur (e.g., we didn't evolve from apes, but we share a common ancestor with the apes that exist today; evolution happens in populations, not individuals; the disuse of an organ by a parent does not affect the offspring because only genetic traits can be passed on.
Create a respectful learning environment
Model respectful listening for students. Interrupt any putdowns between students and insist on respectful interactions. Gently redirect questions about religion back to science. Respect that students may have a wide range of beliefs about religion and that religious beliefs are a personal issue.
Point out that students are expected to learn about evolution, but that how they integrate it with their own beliefs is a personal matter. Accept your "creationist" students without prejudice.
Use sound pedagogy
Engage students with active learning experiences that develop deep understanding of key concepts. Present science as an ongoing process, not final conclusions. In science, change is expected and accepted. If something isn't testable, it isn't science. In science you never prove, only disprove.
Identify preconceptions early on as students build knowledge on what they previously believed to be true. Give students practice applying their knowledge to new situations.