Science and Religion, The

Part of an image shown on the Faraday Website

A recent poll reported that very few people in the US accept the theory of evolution as a valid explanation for the creation of life on Earth.  According to the National Center for Science Education, in a 24-country poll, 41% of the respondents identified themselves as “evolutionists” and 28% as “creationists”, and 31% indicating they don’t know what to believe.  In the US, 28% were “evolutionists”, with the “creationist” view held by 40%.

However, in a Gallup poll in 2010, 38% believed that humans developed from less advanced form of life over millions of years, but God guided the process, 16% believed that humans developed from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in the process, and 40% accepted that God created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years.

Given these numbers, I found myself part of an online discussion of science and religion this past week.  Here are some details.

The National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) hosts a discussion site and this week, a discussion on the nature of science was started when Prof. Keith Taber from the U.K. announced that a new website to support learning about the Nature of Science was live, and was entitled Faraday Schools. According to Taber, the site is about learning about science and religion.

Taber claims that science education takes a rather narrow view on the issue of science and religion, and in his opinion, this site would avoid such a single narrow view.

Northing could be further from the truth.  The Faraday site is intelligent design and creationism wrapped in a well-designed website with videos, animations, images, and text.

Check out the website ( and see for yourself what they have developed.  For one, the images are suggestive—there is the image of the face of Charles Darwin on the body of a monkey.  When you study the list of topics, and the “articles” that are referenced, your breath might be taken away.

Taber’s comments on the NARST list stimulated a bit of discussion.  And still is going on today.

One science educator (Dr. Norm Thomson, Professor of Science Education at the University of Georgia) had this to say about Prof. Taber’s comments:

Hello Keith, I do have a problem with your statement to Shari (Prof. Shari Britner) that “However, the idea that science excludes God is not part of a consensus view on the nature of science among the scientific community.” Science neither excludes nor includes “God” and that is the nature of science. And that is why scientists do not look for a deity to answer the questions posed in science. And, I think that from my experience with traditional cultures in Africa that to include the “Abrahamic” views of a God is Western arrogance. Why do we constantly refer to “God” in singularity versus plurality? I have not seen the new website to which you are referring but I have never seen a scientific paper that (1) has shown evidence for an external reality, (2) has proposed a means by which to measure it, and (3) I have never read a paper in the journals of Science or Nature that supports a the position that there is a “consensus view” of “scientists” which again is getting confused with “science”. I hold the position that the argument being posed by you is bordering on the approach used by those who support intelligent design. So I hold a narrow view of what science is and that is different than what individual scientists view and that is why there is a consensus of what science is, versus a plurality of views about one or many deities. So, if there is any mention of “God” that other myths of cultures should also be included. Norm Thomson

After reading this comment, I wrote this:


I have spent a good deal of time studying the Faraday website.  It is a very well designed creationist/intelligent design curriculum claiming to represent the nature of science.    The content of the site is not different than the curriculum materials developed by the creation science advocates of the 1970s, and makes use of the slogans of the intelligent designers.

It is well worth looking at the site what.  It’s well done, but my suspicion is that most middle and high school students would see through the scheme and wonder why this “stuff” is being taught in a science course.  To be sure there is science in the pages of this website, but is primarily there to set up the real reason for the faraday curriculum—creation science–which a limited Western world view.

Norm replied with this comment:

Well, thank you for the link and now I astounded that there is even a discussion going on with respect to this website and its position. It looks like something that the Discovery Institute would propose. It goes back to the 19th Century for science and the year O for religion. I am now pondering why someone would even bring this site up for some view of science. And, I am disappointed that the position of this site reads as what I would expect from Fundamentalists who put words in the mouths of Darwin, etc. If anything, what we have learned about evolution since he offered his perspective would probably settle once and for all what his position might be and maybe even have persuaded Emma to have a different view.

It seems to me that the Dover decision took care of the US view on this matter most recently and in this country to bring this website into a classroom would be a violation of the First Amendment. And, I am surprised that our British colleagues have a concern about science being “dominated by atheists” whereas we know the impact religion had with respect to other science positions for so many years.

I would hope our astute students would see the deceit being proposed and it now bothers me to have read Keith Taber’s position on this. When I taught in East Africa with the British curriculum there was a clear distinction between science and religious education and as my headmaster who graduated from Cambridge said, there is a reason why the English language has different words for different phenomena.I am not ready to accept a field of “scireligion”.

According to Dr. Taber, the intention of the curriculum “is to develop balanced materials which can be used in schools, including teaching about the relationship between science and religion (currently part of the school curriculum in England), as well as the nature of science (a key part of Secondary school science here.”

If you analyze the Table of Contents for each grade (7-12–,  and look for a balance between topic titles that seem to lean toward science (The Big Bang, Ideas and evidence, the Red Shift VS those that lean toward religion (Dear Darwin, because of you…, God and Miracles, Ways to interpret Genesis, God and Gaps, Galileo and how he understood the Bible, A physicist’s view of Genesis, there is a huge imbalance—toward religion.  Further, the religious ideas are rather narrow and are based on Genesis.

You might consider this post a warm-up of what is to come in the 2012 Republican primary for president.  Already, we have candidates that would totally support the Faraday website.

4 Aspects of the Artistry of Science Teaching

In our view, teaching is professional artistry.  As such, not only is your work as a science teacher an artistic one, but the way teachers are educated should also embrace professional artistry.

Many years ago, I was working on a book with Joe Abruscato entitled The Whole Cosmos Catalog of Science Activities, and during this period it became clear that teaching science was far from the logical portrayal as seen in the textbooks that we use with students.

I asked Bob Samples if he would be kind enough to write a foreword to our readers, and he did.  His foreword helped us all understand how artistry  and fun is fundamental to science teaching.  Here is part of what he said:

This book is fun. It is fun to read and fun to use and it is fun to write an introduction. With all this fun, does that mean it does not contain serious science.  Of course it contains serious science, but this book also contains the courage to be honest.  Science is fun.  It always has been.  In the presence of the joy of creating and discovering, there is always the sense of the antic.  Jerome Bruner said it best when he described the act of creativity.  He said, “There is something antic about creating, although the enterprise be serious.”

Teaching is creating.  Teachers take their experiences and knowledge of science and method, and wed them to new, immediate experiences.  Out of this teachers create a way to help students transform their own understanding of science, resulting in “new knowing.”

Teaching is artistry in action.  And it is intimately related to human imagination and creativity, and one’s willingness to experiment and play.  Jacob Bronowski uses these four concepts to draw similarities between art and science.  According to Bronowski, “science uses images, and experiments with imaginary situations, exactly as art does.

For science teachers, Bronowski offers this teaching suggestion:

Many people believe that reasoning, and therefore science, is a different activity from imagining.  But this is a fallacy, and you must root it out of your mind.  The child that discovers, sometime before the age of ten, that he can make images and move them around in his head has entered a gateway to imagination and to reason.  Reasoning is constructed with movable images just as certainly as poetry is.  You may have been told, you may still have the feeling that E = mc2 is not an imaginative statement.  If so, you are mistaken.

Teachers exhibit their professional artistry in their encounters with students.  When you see someone teaching you witness their imagination and creativity unfolding in the classroom with their students. If you return a few days later you see again the process at work, but this time within a different context and activity.

The teacher’s courage to be creative in his or her encounters with students is important in understanding professional artistry.  Rollo May notes that a creative act is an encounter.   As such, teachers’ professional artistry is exhibited as a creative act in the classroom.  According to May, creative courage is the most important kind of courage in that it results in new patterns upon which a society or a profession is built.  He says

In our day, technology and engineering, diplomacy, business, and certainly teaching, all of these professions and scores of others are in the midst of radical changes and require courageous persons to appreciate and direct this change. The need for creative courage is in direct proportion to the degree of change the profession is undergoing.

We will explore further on this blog the notion of “professional artistry.”  You might want to think about how Bronowski’s four concepts that link science and art play out in your classroom.

  • How do you use imagination in the planning of your courses and lesson plans?
  • Do you see that creativity is an essential aspect of planning, and classroom activity?
  • Do student design their own experiments and activities from time to time?
  • In ways do you implement play in your encounters with your students?


Does Sending Scientists into Classrooms Help?

There is an interesting discussion right now on the NARST (National Association for Research in Science Teaching) list about the relative impact of bringing scientists into science classrooms, K-8.

As one researcher said, it all depends on what goals you have in mind for a visit by a scientist. In this researcher’s case, the goal was to impact student’s career understanding. In other cases, teacher’s were interested in having the visiter discuss the scientist’s field of expertise.

One researcher questioned the value of a 40-minute (isolated) experience where a scientist came into a classroom to give a talk, answer a few questions, and then say goodbye. More importantly this researcher pointed out this type of experience is the antithesis on much of the research on how students learn science. Although we might be enthusiastic about having a scientist visit our classroom, it is important to consider the context, and the realities of the impact of classroom visitions.

A recent research paper published in the journal Science Education which makes some distinctions between “doing” science versus “being” a scientist appears to be relevant here.  Bringing scientists into the classroom is often done to help engage students more in the nature of science, and scientists.  In the NARST discussion, some researchers reported that visits by scientists to the classroom had positive outcomes, based on anecdotal reports.

However, given the fact that visits to science classrooms represent a very small increment of the experience of students in science class, one wonders if such experiences are worth the effort.  In my own opinion, probably not, because the visit may have a more powerful impact on the visiting scientist, and what he or she might do in the future regarding science education.  But that is another post.

As reported in the study cited here indicates that student interest of students in upper elementary school is fairly high—most notably because students experiences with a hand-on approach to science teaching.  If we want to continue high interest in science among students later in schooling (the evidence is that the longer one stays in school, the lower the interest in science, especially in Western Industrialized nations—see the ROSE project for more on this), then a more hands-on approach might help.

But there are other factors that are important here that perhaps need to be addressed.  Many students see science as being hard/brainy which leads to the assumptions among students that becoming a scientist depends on natural interest and ability.  And of course, there is the depiction that science is a male profession.

Each of these views of science could be further exacerbated by bringing a scientist into the classroom.  The views could also be challenged by establishing a visit in which the scientist was more directly engaged with the students, and indeed, continued a relationship with the students.  To make for a positive visit, you might read the ten tips for classroom teachers working with a visiting scientist from the Discovery Learning Center, Purdue University.
Archer, L., DeWitt, J., Osborne, J., Dillon, J., Willis, B., & Wong, B. (2010). “Doing” science versus “being” a scientist: Examining 10/11-year-old schoolchildren’s constructions of science through the lens of identity Science Education, 94 (4), 617-639 DOI: 10.1002/sce.20399

3 Assessment Methods, but Dominated by One

As teachers, we typically use three general approaches to assess student progress.  These include: diagnostic assessment—assessing prior knowledge, attitudes, and abilities, formative assessments–everyday methods that we use to help students improve their learning and understanding of science, as well as a way for teachers to inform and improve their teaching abilities, and summative assessment—the assessment of learning and that students have shown for a particular period of time.

Why is it that summative assessment is one that dominates the reform movement in the US, and the method that is used to evaluate not only students, but now, teachers, administrators and schools?

Why aren’t diagnostic and formative assessments given a prominent position in the reform of schooling, especially when the research in these two areas has tended to be supportive of helping students learn science?

We have been  convinced the bubble multiple choice tests can be used to measure and assess student achievement in all areas of schooling.  These high-stakes tests, which typically take two – three hours in each content area, are used to determine not only the achievement of individual students, but average scores are used to determine the effectiveness of individual teachers, as well the effectiveness of administrators and their schools.

High-stakes testing is driving the current model of reform in the USA.  This is causing a narrowing of student learning as seen in the Common Core State Standards movement in mathematics and language arts.  Instead of seeing education as a way to open students to the outer reaches of learning, we currently are turning inward and embracing a common set of standards that ends up narrowing education.

You might be wondering what can be done about this.  The action to challenge the current perception that learning can be measured on high-stakes testing is a difficult one.  You and I will have to speak out and raise questions about the emphasis on high-stakes testing as a force that now dominates educational reform.

Our questions need to be based on research, not simply on personal opinion.  They need also to grounded in experience that you bring to the table in the exploration of educational reform.

For example, just recently the National Research Council (NRC) announced the release of the newest reform document in science education, A Framework for K-12 Science Education.  The Framework will be used by Achieve, Inc., to develop a new set of science standards, which will be the basis for a new generation of high-stakes tests.  Yet, the same organization (NRC) published a report, What is the influence of the National Science Education Standards.  In that report, serious questions were raised about the impact of science standards on student achievement.

One research contributor to this report indicated that there is little evidence that the science standards have affected the achievement gap between African-American or Hispanic and European American students.  In this paper, the researcher indicated that we would be better off focusing on resources that are made available to students, rather than emphasizing standards.



10 Hall of Fame Teachers

Lori Kobelan emailed me linking me to Education Hall of Fame: 10 Teachers who made history.

Throughout our experience as a student, we all had at least one “hall of fame” teacher, a teacher that inspired us, believed in us, and showed us the way out of the woods.

Here is the list and a link to the post where you can read about each teacher on this hall of fame.  From there you can link to a website for each hall of fame teacher.

  • Socrates
  • Confucius
  • Anne Sullivan
  • Elizabeth Blackwell
  • Randy Pausch
  • Allan Bloom
  • Christa McAuliffe
  • Jaime Escalante
  • Erin Gruwell
  • Mary Duncan

Who would you add to the list? Add your choice to the comments section for all of us to see.

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