Excellence in Teaching Award Winner

Keith B Miller (kbmill@ksu.edu)
Sun, 21 Feb 1999 21:04:46 -0600

I think this is a very interesting post on the need for dialog between
science and theology.


>Below is a message from Dawn Adams at the Tapestry Institute for Philosophy,
>Religion and the Life Sciences in Waco, TX on her award winning course on
>science and religion (see Meta 220:1998). Adams is a paleontologist. She
>originally taught her course with Stuart Rosenbaum at Baylor University in
>1996. She notes that in later years, she integrated components of her science
>and religion course into her regular biology courses for nonmajors. The
>message below includes an interesting discussion of both effective pedagogy and
>reflections about the role of religious content in science courses. More
>information about Adams and the Tapestry Institute can be found on the web at
>-- Billy Grassie
>From: Tapestryda@aol.com
> Subject: Teaching award information
>Although Stuart Rosenbaum and I taught a Science and Religion course in the
>spring of 1996, enrollment was limited by curriculum and financial constraints
>on the number of electives students can realistically take. I therefore
>integrated parts of the science and religion course into my introductory
>nonmajors biology course with an enrollment of about 300 students per year, 75%
>of them in their first year of college. My initial goal was to find out how
>much of that instructional material I could reasonably and responsibly fit into
>a course that met the university's general science requirement while also
>meeting the course goals. Because of existing course structure, students had to
>integrate religion and science themselves instead of simply studying the ways
>that scholars have done it. I also incorporated religion and science course
>materials and methods into my upperclass-graduate Evolution course with an
>enrollment of 15 students per semester, offered every fall. This permitted me
>to evaluate the response of biology majors to having such material in a
>degree-plan course. It also provided me with a comparison group for the
>nonmajors course, highlighting differences in student response due to age,
>academic experience, or major. In this way, I ended up teaching the core of the
>original science and religion course to 600 students in my nonmajors' biology
>course and to 30 biology majors, some of them graduate students.
>Science content varied in the courses -- from Darwinian and non-Darwinian
>models of evolution, the effect of non-deterministic probability theory and
>non-equilibrium thermodynamics on contemporary evolutionary theory, in the
>evolution course; to current methodological and conceptual issues in science
>(the existence (or not) of "a" scientific method, the use of models and
>paradigms, reductionism and determinism in modern biology, and the interplay of
>these ideas in practical fields such as medicine and healing) in the nonmajor'
>biology course. Such methodological and epistemological issues were also
>addressed in the evolution course, but in a more integrated way throughout the
>semester. It was more difficult to address religious thought in the two science
>courses, as the religion content had to be brought in to serve a specifically
>scientific course goal. In the evolution course, this was done in primarily a
>historical way: we read and discussed the role of Christianity on the
>development of evolutionary thought throughout its history. Students were
>surprised to discover how many contemporary biological questions have roots
>that go back to those early paradigms. In the introductory non-majors course,
>the scope of religious thought was introduced to students in an exercise on
>environmental issues that had assigned readings by Nicholas Wolterstorff and
>Vandana Shiva, and a guest lecture. In both courses we discussed models of
>relationship between science and religion, using a little essay and table by
>James Miller in the nonmajors course and the relevant chapter from Ian
>Barbour's book in the evolution course. In addition, specific exercises in the
>nonmajors' course explored the relationship by letting students role-play and
>then analyze what they had done. For example, a learning cycle on paradigms and
>paradigm shifts demonstrated to students that religious ideas are as
>paradigmatic as are scientific ideas. All three courses were designed
>specifically to teach students how to carry out critical analysis in an open
>and intellectually humble environment, how to move up the Perry Scale towards
>more integrated epistemological positions, and how to learn (as opposed to how
>to "get an A").
>When we discovered that forcing the students to support their non-scientific
>statements made them reflect on their religious beliefs in ways they had not
>done before, we added more of that to their essays. Because the more
>conservative students had come from backgrounds in which religion is strictly a
>faith issue, it had never occurred to them that religious statements could be
>analyzed and evaluated intellectually. We had realized that we could help them
>integrate religion and science epistemologically by responding emotionally or
>intuitively to science, but it had not occurred to us that teaching them to
>respond analytically and intellectually to religion was equally important.
>The particularly innovative or creative pedagogical aspects of the course
>included the use of learning cycles, student writing and oral reports (instead
>of exams), Bloom and Perry schemes (which were explained to students and used
>to evaluate student work), and authentic learning. The exploration phases of
>the learning cycles for all three courses consisted of readings, which were
>analyzed through small-group discussion, generation of lists, and/or sorting
>exercises. For example, the first class exercise in both evolution and
>nonmajors introductory biology was to read a selection of passages from
>literature and scholarly texts, and then discuss how each seemed to relate to
>science. We then discussed their responses as a large group and they noted that
>many ideas they had thought were "recent" had very old roots. In one critical
>case, they discovered that the phrase "Nature red in tooth and claw" that they
>were positive was written in angry response to Darwin, had been written nearly
>10 years before he published his theory of natural selection. The result of the
>exercise was that students realized that science grows out of the culture it's
>in, and that most of the "science vs" issues -- especially "science vs
>religion" -- are extremely old. It provided them a context within which we
>could examine science and religion.
>A final important issue was that students were required to learn in ways that
>approximated the ways they will someday use their knowledge. This is "authentic
>learning." Assignments were relevant to contemporary problems that students
>will face or have already faced, and students had to respond in a fashion that
>gave them "practice" for the future. These exercises forced students to
>integrate religion and science in their own lives, at least in a hypothetical
>way. My hope is that it will enable them to do it, however haltingly, for real
>when the time comes that they must.
>Until I started doing this work, I didn't realize how ignorant "religious"
>students are about religion. I felt inadequate to teach them about science and
>religion because I thought I had to have a theologian in class with me to do
>so. I felt like I could teach them biology, but that they must know at least as
>much or more than I did about the Bible, for example. I was wrong. I never
>attempted to teach my students religion as if I was a theologian, of course,
>but I did ask them to back up what they said, to find me a Bible verse if they
>cited it for support, to look up scholars' analyses of the passage, to read
>something from Barbour or another scholar and tell me what they thought about
>it, and so on.
>I had also not realized how interested students are in the topic of science and
>religion, and how desperate they are to learn models of religion and science
>dialog. We had all thought, they and I, that such a topic was "forbidden" in a
>science course. I had thought the students would not want to discuss it, and in
>the case of my majors (in the evolution course), I had thought the discussions
>were actually not necessary. Certainly the biology faculty are under the
>impression even now that every major we graduate has come to accept the tenets
>of genetic determinism and evolution by natural selection; they are wrong. In
>every case, students were at first timid, afraid that their points of view were
>going to be ridiculed or punished with poor grades. Once they discovered what
>the ground rules were, however, they opened up with tremendous relief and began
>to talk about the ways that religion and science relate to each other to such a
>degree that they spent many hours in my office talking with me and borrowing
>additional readings. They told me that they spent a good deal of time
>discussing the topic outside of class as well. Many of them said later that
>this one course had changed their lives, because it had permitted them to find
>a way to begin to bring together the two great loves of their lives: their
>religion and their career. The more I saw how students responded to the
>material and how important it was to them, the more I realized how much such
>information needs to be made widely available to the general public in a way
>that can be understood and appreciated. There is not just interest in this
>topic; there is a desperate hunger for it.
>Dawn Adams
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Keith B. Miller
Department of Geology
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS 66506