Teaching Evolution: Creationism is only part of the problem

“This continues to be a struggle for the American education system, despite overwhelming evidence and research.”

Richard Wrangham explains. http://bigthink.com/videos/why-many-americans-dont-believe-in-evolution


The following is my response to the video assessment of
“Why Americans don’t believe evolution.”

He is correct but missed one very important point. It is not just creationism; it is deeply rooted too in racism. The comparative morphology between monkeys and men, as depicted in the all too familiar illustration of man evolving from primates, is at the root of denial as well.

Many of the European scientists, contemporaries of Darwin, who began to codify the science behind organic evolution, believed that black people – the African “negro” and the Australian “aborigine”- evolved from monkeys and the rest of the human population were somehow unique and special, sprung from Caucasian Adam and Eve. Jesus was white too. This religious and racial bias is deeply rooted in modern U.S. culture, and adults born after 1960 are probably not aware of the socialization passed down from “European forefathers.

“In this passage, widely quoted by opponents of evolutionary theory, Darwin suggests that the break between “man and his nearest allies” will be widened through the extinction of the great apes, leaving a gap between the more civilised man “and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla”. No doubt about it: he regards Africans and Australians as closer than Europeans to the apes. This, he implies, is a natural condition that will frustrate any cultural efforts to mitigate it.”


As a science professor: I have found that students, when presented with clear geologic evidence and the process of science, agree that species appear to evolve thru time. The science fails to convince them when they realize that organic evolution also includes their own evolutionary history as a member of the Kingdom Animalia. We too are animals, being multicellular, having eukaryotic cells, as well as morphological characteristics of other organisms in the kingdom Animalia. That part of the process is simply unacceptable to the student who believes in creationism and the racial “specialness” of a Caucasian Adam and Eve.

Fig-5-Sudden-appearance-of-the-serpenticone-and-simplified-ammonites-Neophyllites-andWhen taught the scientific process, and presented with geologic principles, like superposition, students will accept that the geologic record reflects the evolution, thru time, of many species (foraminifera and ammonites). What many will never accept is that humans were part of the organic evolution of life on this planet.

As their science teacher, I recognize this bias and its origins. Instead of trying to change a student’s beliefs, I focus on the scientific process. I teach the science and leave the beliefs, which are either anthropocentric or religious, out of the equation. Beliefs are just that, “beliefs.” They are not rooted in scientific facts and do not need to be validated in that manner. My job is to teach students how to use scientific reasoning and the scientific process. Their beliefs are their own and are respected in this learning process.At the end of a class in physical science, there are usually a few students who question or reject scientific evidence of organic evolution or the science behind climate change. After spending an entire semester exploring the evolution of scientific thinking and learning about the paradigm shift from geocentrism to heliocentrism, I ask them,

“How is your thinking different than the geocentrists of the past?”

The cognitive dissonance is clear in their faces, and I leave them to resolve it independently. I taught them the scientific process and how to use it; the rest is up to them.

“My job is to teach them how to think, not what to think.”

C. Dianne Phillips, Sciencegranny57



Creationism. (n.d.). Retrieved April 11, 2017, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/creationism

Racism. (n.d.). Retrieved April 11, 2017, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/racism

Early Theories of Evolution: Pre-Darwinian Theories, Retrieved, April 11, 2017, http://anthro.palomar.edu/evolve/evolve_1.htm

organic evolution. (n.d.) WordNet 3.0, Farlex clipart collection. (2003-2008). Retrieved April 11, 2017, from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/organic+evolution

“Charles Darwin – The Descent Of Man Page 105”. Charles-darwin.classic-literature.co.uk. N.p., 2017. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.

Did Charles Darwin believe in racial inequality? http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/did-charles-darwin-believe-in-racial-inequality-1519874.html

Animalia. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved April 11, 2017, from Dictionary.com websitehttp://www.dictionary.com/browse/animalia

law of superposition. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved April 11, 2017, from Dictionary.com websitehttp://www.dictionary.com/browse/law-of-superposition

geological timescale. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved April 11, 2017, from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/geological-timescale

Geologic Time

Belief. (n.d.). Retrieved April 11, 2017, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/belief

De Cruz, Helen, “Religion and Science,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), retrieved from URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2017/entries/religion-science/&gt;.

Foraminifera evolution | major events British Geological Survey 1998 – 2017 (c)NERC http://www.bgs.ac.uk mail to www-bgs@bgs.ac.ukhttp://www.bgs.ac.uk/discoveringGeology/time/Fossilfocus/foraminiferaEvolution.html

“Geocentrism vs. Heliocentrism: Ancient Disputes.” Science and Its Times: Understanding the Social Significance of Scientific Discovery… Retrieved April 11, 2017, from Encyclopedia.com:http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/geocentrism-vs-heliocentrism-ancient-disputes

Publication (PDF): Reinitialization of evolutionary clocks during sublethal environmental stress in some invertebrates. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/223405990_Reinitialization_of_evolutionary_clocks_during_sublethal_environmental_stress_in_some_invertebrates [accessed Apr 12, 2017]

Morphology. (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2017, from https://www.britannica.com/science/morphology-biology

2 thoughts on “Teaching Evolution: Creationism is only part of the problem

  1. Thanks, Dianne, for sending your blog! Of course, as an algae guy I believe that evolution had a part in what we see today, a conclusion in the discipline supported by chemical, physical, and geologic evidence. Many years ago I studied comparative anatomy of mammals in seminar but we focused only on appendages and the like. A later course in developmental embryology permitted closer comparisons. It is hard for me to imagine racism playing a part in scientific studies but I accept that it does. If you succeed in overcoming that block among your students, I commend that effort. I know little of creative evolution apart from Henri Bergson’s philosophy, which seemed vague to me. Happy Easter!


    • Thank you Dominic. I find that the first step is to accept their faith based conclusions and then teach them the science as it applies to all other life beyond humans. In this way, I am able to teach them the science and then leave the human evolutionary issue to them to resolve. I do teach them that humans are animals and that we are part of the organic evolution of the planet, but do not force them to accept that notion if it is counter to their deeply held religious beliefs. As long as they understand that life began with one celled organism (Prokaryotes) and then developed a nucleus (Eukaryotes), then multicellular development,….and eventually diversification of life…then I have succeeded.

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