The Trouble with Teaching Evolution When You’re Surrounded by Creationists March 29, 2015

The Trouble with Teaching Evolution When You’re Surrounded by Creationists

University of Kentucky Biology Professor James J. Krupa has a tough job because, well, he teaches science in Ken Ham Country. In an article for Orion, he explained why he defends Darwin despite the opposition:

We live in a nation where public acceptance of evolution is the second lowest of thirty-four developed countries, just ahead of Turkey. Roughly half of Americans reject some aspect of evolution, believe the earth is less than ten thousand years old, and that humans coexisted with dinosaurs. Where I live, many believe evolution to be synonymous with atheism, and there are those who strongly feel I am teaching heresy to thousands of students. A local pastor, whom I’ve never met, wrote an article in The University Christian complaining that, not only was I teaching evolution and ignoring creationism, I was teaching it as a non-Christian, alternative religion.

Some students take offense very easily. During one lecture, a student asked a question I’ve heard many times: “If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” My response was and is always the same: we didn’t evolve from monkeys. Humans and monkeys evolved from a common ancestor. One ancestral population evolved in one direction toward modern-day monkeys, while another evolved toward humans. The explanation clicked for most students, but not all, so I tried another. I asked the students to consider this: Catholics are the oldest Christian denomination, and so if Protestants evolved from Catholics, why are there still Catholics? Some students laughed, some found it a clarifying example, and others were clearly offended. Two days later, a student walked down to the lectern after class and informed me that I was wrong about Catholics. He said Baptists were the first Christians and that this is clearly explained in the Bible. His mother told him so. I asked where this was explained in the Bible. He glared at me and said, “John the Baptist, duh!” and then walked away.

It’s enough to make you want to get out of the classroom. But hats off to Krupa for sticking with a class that has to be incredibly frustrating to teach.

I’ve often seen the best educators in a school teaching the most advanced classes. They contain the best students, who need the most expert-level help, the thinking goes. But Krupa is evidence of why that’s the wrong way of doing things. We need top professors teaching the most basic classes because the students in them need the most guidance and understanding. Imagine if people like Krupa, who has a wealth of experience handling Evolution 101-type questions, taught biology all across the country. It would go a long way toward clearing up these misconceptions.

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