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ERIC Number: EJ1164949
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2009-May
Pages: 10
Abstractor: ERIC
ISSN: ISSN-1089-9995
Commentary: On Teaching the Nature of Science and the Science-Religion Interface
Bickmore, Barry R.; Thompson, Kirsten R.; Grandy, David A.; Tomlin, Teagan
Journal of Geoscience Education, v58 n3 p168-177 May 2009
Science instructors, even at the college level, are routinely confronted with two facts about their students. First, most of their students have a poor understanding of the nature of science (NOS). Second, many of their students have religious objections to particular scientific theories that seem to cripple their ability to learn about, or even rationally discuss, these subjects (Antolin and Herbers, 2001). Many scientists and science educators have complained, for example, that if people only understood the NOS, they would not oppose evolutionary theory so militantly (Antolin and Herbers, 2001; Farber, 2003; Miller, 2005; Rudolph and Stewart, 1998; Sprackland, 2005). However if students enter the classroom expecting their religious beliefs to be attacked, they may not even be listening if we try to explain the NOS (Smith, 1994). These mutually reinforcing problems obviously need to be addressed together, but it is very common for one or both of them to be ignored. Time after time, national scientific organizations have urgently called for students to be taught the NOS (AAAS, 1989; NAS, 1998; NRC, 1996; NRC, 1997; NSF, 1996), but whatever is happening in the classroom, students are usually coming out with very naïve conceptions (Abd-El-Khalick and Lederman, 2000; Moss et al., 2001). Scientists typically do not think that religion is an appropriate subject for discussion in science classes (Ecklund, 2007), but as Farber (2003) points out, "Religion resides under the surface in any discussion of evolution." We add that religion resides under the surface in any discussion of the NOS, because a discussion of what science is must also address what it isn't. In this article, the authors argue that there are several reasons why students are still graduating in droves with inadequate views of the NOS and strong anti-evolutionary sentiments: (1) Science educators often neglect teaching the NOS because they feel pressure to cover a certain amount of science "content," and it takes too much time to adequately teach the NOS; (2) even if they do address the NOS, scientists and science educators often harbor naive views of the NOS similar to their students' views; (3) furthermore, even those who do have more sophisticated views of the NOS typically soft-pedal those aspects of the NOS that might lead their students to adopt more sophisticated views; (4) science educators usually neglect to discuss students' religious objections to scientific theories because they are typically not very religious themselves; (5) if they do, they often make the situation worse by making outrageous gaffes regarding the science-religion interface; and (6) finally, standard resources meant to help science teachers teach the NOS and deal with religious objections actually encourage instructors to soft-pedal certain aspects of the NOS and make naive claims about the science-religion interface. Additionally, they further explain and support the above characterization of this complex problem, and then describe a suggested course of action.
National Association of Geoscience Teachers. Carleton College W-SERC, One North College Street, Northfield, MN 55057. Tel: 540-568-6675; Fax: 540-568-8058; e-mail:; Website:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Evaluative; Opinion Papers
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: National Science Foundation (NSF), Division of Earth Sciences (EAR)
Authoring Institution: N/A
Grant or Contract Numbers: 0451068