Re: Excellence in Teaching Award Winner

Jonathan Clarke (
Mon, 22 Feb 1999 19:22:47 +1100

Dear Keith

Thanks very much for this. It shows what can be done with a little creativity and
imagination (and courage) in a course.

God Bless


Keith B Miller wrote:

> I think this is a very interesting post on the need for dialog between
> science and theology.
> Keith
> >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:
> > 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
> >=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
> >Footer information below last updated: 1/1/1999.
> >
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> >
> Keith B. Miller
> Department of Geology
> Kansas State University
> Manhattan, KS 66506