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Age of the earth and relationship to belief systems

Dilemma

Matt Nyman, Al Werner

In order to fully understand Earth processes such as plate tectonics, mountain building, erosion, evolution, and various time scales of global climate change students must have a firm grasp of geologic time and the age of the Earth. Mary is a student in science class for teachers. In a reflective writing assignment Mary reported that she did not believe that the Earth was 4.6 billion years old and constructed a list of young earth arguments that indicate an age of ~6,000 years. She also delivered to the instructor several pieces of literature (books and articles) in support of a young earth. In response, the instructor provided literature from Christian scientists that discussed how an old earth is not inconsistent with their belief system. Mary flatly rejected their arguments stating that these people cannot be Christians if they don't accept strict Biblical interpretation. Feeling attacked, the instructor responded by telling Mary she could not teach in public schools while holding these dogmatic beliefs. Following this incident a letter from the Dean was delivered to all science departments encouraging them to be sensitive to students' beliefs.


Responses

Karl Wirth, Suki Smaglik

In this scenario, an instructor told a student they cannot teach in a public school system science curriculum because they do not accept arguments for ancient Earth. The conflict has already been referred to the dean who has called for "sensitivity to student beliefs." What should the instructor do now?

The instructor might invite the student in for a discussion. After apologizing for the earlier emotional response to the student, the instructor might invite the student to explore ways to teach scientific concepts even when those concepts are at odds with ones beliefs. Among other things, the conversation might include teaching from understanding, rather than belief, and the nature of science (natural versus supernatural explanations of our world). Depending on the course of the conversation, the instructor might emphasize the importance of teaching and modeling the scientific method in sciences courses, even if the topic under examination is at odds with ones personal beliefs. It is probably also good that the student confront these issues now while there is still time to consider other career choices.


Age of the Earth and Relationship to Belief Systems  

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