Dr. David Starrett dstarret at BIOLOGY.SEMO.EDU
Wed Feb 18 14:17:37 EST 1998

>If our science students cannot tell where science
>ends and religion begins, though, we do set up a
>societal problem.  If we expect our federal funds
>to continue to flow into our large state-supported
>schools, we need citizens and their representatives
>to know the difference.  When we get those graduates
>("I don't believe any of that crap but here's what
>you want me to say on this test") elected to public
>office and voting on funding for NSF, USDA, etc. we
>have a loose cannon and the blame is upon US.  We
>cannot afford to let our majors through without
>thorough appreciation of both types of inquiry.
>Why MUST science be funded by government and why
>MUST religion NEVER be funded by government?  If
>we cannot deal with such questions in our schools,
>we are short-changing students and ultimately
>By not discussing religion and contrasting it with
>science, our students get the impression that science
>is just another religion ("I don't believe any of that
>crap..."). By not squelching that erroneous idea,
>that unexpurgated thought condemns science by virtue of
>separation of church and state!  Goodbye NSF, etc.
>=46inally, a 1997 issue of Academe (publication of AAUP)
>is very helpful in on-campus discussions and awareness
>of the need to present what religion is so that we
>can know what science is not.  It also deals with
>the role of academic freedom in connection with
>any discussion of religion.  We DO have to be careful
>not to be preaching or teaching doctrines of any
>religion in state schools, but we MUST explain what
>religion IS and how it INQUIRES to distinguish that
>from what we do in science.  This much does meet
>the letter and spirit of the constitutional amendment
>calling for both religious freedom AND separation of
>church and state.  The local union officers and the
>university legal staff can help a faculty member learn
>what can be said and done that does not cross the
>constitutional lines.  We are wise to do as much as
>is legal IMHO.

When we teach our sci method oriented class, one of the first activites is
"how do you know what you know".  We classify information as being either
analysed or acquired, as well as objective versus subjective.  We get
students to put down statements of things they know.  We make a graph and
place them on their (sub vs obj on one axis, acq vs ana on other).  We then
circle the part of the graph sceince can deal with, and explain why it
can't the other part.  This works well as it doesn't say one type of
knowledge is better than the other, it simply says which kind can be dealt
with by science.  We explain it is a science class, thus we stay on this
side of graph.  We often get requests to give creation equal time.  Our
retort: this is a science class, we can't deal with creation as it can't be
tested by science and its processes.  This usually leaves students with an
understanding that they can keep their faith intact, but use science to
test hypotheses, etc.

When we "test" hypotheses of evolution, we point out that we are not
testing an alternative to creation.  We are simply testing whether the
hypothesis of evolution is supported.  Thus, we can't test whether God
created the earth, man, etc.  But, we can test whether man is related to
other organisms, whether evolution has basis, etc.  The biggest sore point
with students is that we can do a decent job of falsifying a lot of literal
biblical interpretations.  When the students come up with their own
hypothesis on diversity of life, many have the arc (Noah's) involved.  A
few quick questions such as what did the lions eat, how about aquatic
organisms (was it fresh or salt water, then were there aquariums for the
other?), etc. usually gets the student to think (or occaisonally to simply
consider us devil's advocates and write off the whole thing as a "test" of
their faith). 

But, they can still keep their faith after all this, and this really help
to get them to listen to what we have to say, not just disregard the whole
thing as crap (though as I ementioned before, I still get a lieast one of
those every semester).  In fact, some have told me that they always had
eviloution shived at them and never lsitened.  After this class, when they
tested it themselves, they got to see what it is about.  Some reformulate
their faith, etc.  Each smester  get at least one student come in and say
"help", I have attended Sunday school all my life, but this evolution stuff
makes sense, the evidence is convincing, what do I do?  Indeed!

Dave Starrett

Dave Starrett

* Dr. David Starrett                                      *
* Biology Department, MS 6200                             *
* Southeast Missouri State University                     *
* Cape Girardeau, MO  63701                               *
* Ph: 573-651-2382                                        *
* Fax: 573-651-2223                                       *
* Email: dstarret at biology.semo.edu                        *
* URL: http://biology.semo.edu/web/starrett/starrhpg.html *
*                                                         *

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