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Author Topic:   Help in teaching 11-12 Year olds (RE (Religious Education) in the UK)
Member (Idle past 488 days)
Posts: 7789
From: Manchester, UK
Joined: 05-01-2005

Message 8 of 126 (531815)
10-20-2009 4:40 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by JJtheJester
10-19-2009 3:32 PM

Might I suggest you leave explaining evolution to the biology department? If you want to introduce it into year 7 RE it might be an idea to consult with a biology teacher.

Much better would simply to say that scientific methods have arrived at certain conclusions about the natural history of life about how life changes over time. There was an age of fish, 'reptiles', dinosaurs and mammals and after detailed study science has reasonable understanding of how species change over large periods of time.

Then point out that the scientific account (which they will learn in only a tiny tiny amount of detail in biology class) has received resistance from acceptance from some quarters because it conflicts with religious ideas. Then you can talk about religious ideas.

A year 7 RE class doesn't strike me as a particularly suitable venue to hash out scientific evidences vs Creationist apologetics.

If you do want to 'teach the controversy' so to speak you might also consider asking a history teacher and going through the basic history of ideas including the teleology of the ancient Greeks and Romans through to the specific creationist ideas of various religions including Jewish/Christian/Islam/Hindu/whatever faiths you are focussing on in your school. Cover the 18th Century attempts to understand how to square these ideas with the geology and the fossil record and (even) biogeography and eventually Darwin's key idea of descent with modification and natural selection.

But to be honest - I'd probably focus more on comparing and contrasting the differences in world religions about origins with only a mention of the scientific account. I think the format of 'here are the three best arguments for 1 side, and here are three of the best arguments for the other' is unnecessarily adversarial and I personally don't think it's the best method for teaching the issues.

Such a list - if it were to be true would have to have one member in each side that looks like this:

There is no way humans can come into existence through natural processes. It must have been God.

We have a mountain of scientific evidence which confirms that humans can come into existence through natural processes. It doesn't have to have been God, though of course we can never rule such a hypothesis entirely out.

Edited by Modulous, : No reason given.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by JJtheJester, posted 10-19-2009 3:32 PM JJtheJester has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 14 by JJtheJester, posted 10-20-2009 7:04 AM Modulous has responded

Member (Idle past 488 days)
Posts: 7789
From: Manchester, UK
Joined: 05-01-2005

Message 19 of 126 (531889)
10-20-2009 11:12 AM
Reply to: Message 14 by JJtheJester
10-20-2009 7:04 AM

Hey, I'm getting the hang of this forum, now I can properly box and shade quotes ... thanks for the advice bluegenes

Glad to see it!

Modulous, adversarial techniques are a very good way of looking at issues- I have used it for class discussions and it is certainly a better way of teaching than telling children what to think

I'm not disputing the utility of adversarial techniques, but I think it isn't entirely appropriate for an introduction to this topic.

Using this type of technique forces us to look at the evidence, and not just simply take what someone else tells us.

Agreed. And if creationism had evidence then this might be worthwhile. Instead what is being done is presenting arguments which goes along the lines of:

Science: The evidence suggests that life evolved.
creationism: No it doesn't.

That isn't really useful. Instead of doing all of this you could do something much more useful.

You could say: Here is the Genesis account which is largely agreed upon by the Abrahamic faiths.
Taking it literally brings it into conflict with science, since the evidence points to a gradual emergence of life.
So how do the religious handle this conflict?

Some claim evolution is wrong, that the science is somehow faulty. That the word of God is more trustworthy than mankinds attempts to uncover truths.
Some claim that the evidence is conclusive, and that evolution happened and that this is how god did it and the genesis account is metaphorical or is itself a manmade story inspired by the fact that god created the universe and is told in a way that people of the time could understand. Or the like.

Then you could adversarily discuss the merits and problems of these approaches for religions to adopt when it comes into conflict with scientific ideas.

That way - you don't have to worry about teaching wrong things about the science or the religion. The kids get to be exposed to the idea that religious ideas and scientific ones may be seen to be in tension with one another and some of the various ways that religions deal with this tension. They remain free to decide which strategy they prefer so that when it comes time for them to study evolution for about a week in a few years time if they find a conflict with their religious beliefs they'll have some tools at their disposal for handling it themselves.

The only other fair way of dealing with it is to teach them the totality of the evidence for evolution and let them decide for themselves if it is compelling enough. And that's the role of the biology class. And that won't really get covered at GCSE level anyway.

So unless you feel up to the task of explaining phylogeny, cladistics, comparative genomics, comparative morphology, nested hierarchies, biogeography, atavisms, developmental biology as well as geology, paleontology and so on - you are not going to be doing justice to evolution and you are going to give a skewed view of things.

Since the evolution vs creation debate is ultimately a question about whether the evidence for evolution is compelling enough to account for all life and is not really about the evidence for special creation you might as well leave that aside, try not to make it a science vs religion issue and try and impress upon the kids that while some people feel there is a definite conflict and one or the other must be true, many others feel the two views can be harmonized.

No matter how I try and answer your call for three evidences it comes down to this:

The creation view is that the apparent design of life cannot be explained by evolution or any other natural process.

The evolution view is that it can.

And the only way to settle this is by exploring whether evolution can explain the apparent design of life or not. So it turns into a pure evolution lesson.

So here are the arguments for creation I've come across:

1. The argument from design (and that evolution can't account for it) therefore an intelligent being did it.
2. The argument from bible (the Holy Bible is true, therefore Genesis is a true account, therefore Yahweh did it)
3. The argument from consequences (if evolution did do it - we'd be immoral monsters and there'd be no ultimate court of appeal and that would be bad so therefore it isn't true and it must have been god (invoking of a shaky dichotomy)).

Evolution simply points at genetics, anatomy, biogeography, geology, paleontology, the patterns in the fossil record, the way in which embryonic development occurs - everything piece of physical evidence imagined and studied so far is entirely consistent with evolution having occurred. Multiple independent lines of evidence that all point to a specific conclusion.

I think the adversarial method is a great teaching tool at times, but there are other times where it isn't practically workable and, excuse me for a moment, is just a way to make things easy for the teacher who supplies the students with a small bunch of arguments and asks them to decide which they prefer. All they learn are what some arguments are.

That's why I think there is much more value in teaching them that there is a tension between some religious ideas and some scientific ideas and give them some ideas on how to tackle them. Tell them that Creation is one, and that scientists are overwhelmingly of the opinion that evolution occurred based on the mountain of evidence in its favour. If this is so, how to reconcile this with Genesis? You might raise some other famous controversies: The Germ Theory of disease vs demon theory. The heliocentric solar system vs the geocentric.

Tell them it is possible to reconcile some of these religious ideas with scientific ones but it requires changing one or the other or both. Let them decide whether they accept evolution when they hear it presented by someone trained in doing so (which will sadly have to wait principally until A-level), and let them use your valuable lesson in reconciliation guide them on how to square the acceptance of evolution with their religion. Do they completely reject one, or do they somewhat modify one or two?

If you really want to present the evidence for both cases in a tight little package my best advice is to teach it historically as I said earlier. That was how I learned it in RE, and it was fab. I learned about the argument from design and how compelling it was and how science started wondering about things when they noticed the patterns in the fossil record. Darwin came along and presented a scientific account for how things could gain the appearance of having been designed without the need for a designer. You can even go into the social issues that this brought up - how it upset people, and the birth of Scientific Creationism which was an attempt to find scientific flaws in evolution or to try and prove various stories in the bible were true, and that it is a field that has so far not gained any real support in scientific circles while evolution continues to acquire new pieces of evidence every day.

But no doubt that will cause upset by the creationists. Just about anything you do will be considered controversial by one side of the debate or another no doubt - hence why my prime advice is to not go down that route at all and just teach the evolution exists, is in conflict with a literal interpretation of Genesis and you can debate some of the ways to handle this conflict.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 14 by JJtheJester, posted 10-20-2009 7:04 AM JJtheJester has not yet responded

Member (Idle past 488 days)
Posts: 7789
From: Manchester, UK
Joined: 05-01-2005

Message 23 of 126 (532000)
10-20-2009 7:56 PM
Reply to: Message 21 by JJtheJester
10-20-2009 6:26 PM

Re: Last post...
I came sincerely looking for opinions on a topic which I admittedly have sparse knowledge of ... in reply I get a couple of members who can answer my request (thanks phage0070 and bluegenes) and numerous other comments calling into question my ability to teach effectively.

I don't know if anyone called your ability to teach effectively into question. We did call into question the wisdom of setting this topic up in the way that you are thinking of.

And if creationism had evidence then this might be worthwhile.

Erm, *WHO* decides if creationism has the evidence?

When we are talking science, the community of science is a good place to start. But you have only a sparse knowledge of this area so I was giving you what knowledge I have acquired: Turns out that there isn't any evidence for creationism...creationists spend almost all of their energy arguing against evolution.

If you don't believe me, go right ahead and spend a few years reading creationist words and the words of those that disagree with them. That didn't seem like a practical thing for you to do so I thought you might appreciate my condensing my own experience for you.

You asked us for evidence for and against. I mean - you could stand up and say 'the fact that the grass is green and this makes us happy is evidence for creationism' - but I think you'd simply be misleading your students.

That isn't really useful. Instead of doing all of this you could do something much more useful.

What would be *useful* is to take an issue which was raised in class and to discuss it.

And I was giving you my opinion on a method for discussing it which I thought might interest you. Clearly you would rather become indignant that I had the audacity to tell you how you should teach or something.

The issues which you have raised have no interest in the class

I was talking about evolution and creationism controversy. This is exactly the issue under question.

If you want to teach your pupils about the controversy then do that.

If you want to teach them a handful of arguments that evolutionary biologists use to succinctly support evolution and a handful of religious apologetics use to support creationism then let me give you want you want.


1. The fossil record shows a history of change in the kinds of life that has existed over time.

2. Genetics can be used to calculate the relatedness of families and this can be extended to species and beyond.

3. The genetic family tree matches up with the family tree made by examining anatomy.

There three fairly decent arguments for evolution that are somewhat interrelated and show multiple lines of evidence converging towards a single explanation.


1. The second law of thermodynamics says things get worse, not better. Evolution says things get better. The second law cannot be broken. Evolution is false therefore god did it.

2. The fossil record has gaps, and is consistent with a global flood rapidly burying all life within a single year.

3. Evolution has never been observed - but witnesses have recorded speaking with god and they wrote down what he said and since god never lies evolution didn't happen and creation did.

If you simply give those arguments out to your pupils and tell them to repeat them at each other for a while, plus any information they happen to know independently of those arguments you can sit back and watch, occasionally moderating and I'm sure everyone will have a nice 50 minutes and everyone will be interested.

You know my opinion of doing that. If you don't like the creationist arguments, if you think they are too 'weak' because I

want to impose your world-view on others by *not* discussing alternatives.

then by all means - go look up some better ones. There are plenty of creationist websites you can look through. Or try www.evolutionfairytale.com - Fred Williams will be more than happy I'm sure to give you three of the best bits of evidence for creation.

However - you would be misleading your pupils if you used these kinds of arguments since the creationist ones have been shown to be false. That's why I suggest you focus on the philosophical and theological arguments like the argument from design and how evolution is a proposed explanation that scientists say gets around this argument.

If I seem to want to impose my world-view on others by *not* discussing alternatives to you - after my long post detailing what I think is a fair and balanced method for discussing the alternatives without upsetting either 'faction' then you have serious reading comprehension problems.

I don't think there is merit in teaching them apologetics - but it's your class and your job and I'm in no position to stop you. I can only express my opinion: Teach them that some people are creationists. Teach them some people believe life came about through evolution - a scientific theory. Teach them some people believe that god created life via evolution. Teach them the facts! Don't omit truths - I'm not suggesting you do. Just don't teach them a bunch of lame arguments about thermodynamics and fossil records and and think you are being 'fair minded' about the subject.

By not teaching them several years of physics, chemistry, biology and maths you will be the one telling a "lie by omission" as you put it. You would be omitting vitally important information needed to come to an informed decision as to the validity of evolution to explain the physical evidence.

Creationist arguments are designed to appeal to people who lack the background and training in science. They work best in small soundbites that are easily memorised and repeated. Arguments for evolution, being a scientific discipline, are complex and difficult to fully understand without learning a lot first. If you present them in this fashion they may think that thermodynamics does present a challenge to evolution...because they haven't got a clue what thermodynamics is and why it is doesn't pose a problem for evolution. What are the pro-evolution side of your debate to do? Start talking about Enthalpy, heat engines and energy flow? Whose going to teach them this? And when?

I hope to increase my knowledge of the issue of evolution/creation over time. Maybe I will return to this forum if I have further questions.

Remember when I was talking about how the adversarial method isn't always the best? Here at EvC we're all about adversary and arguing. We post arguments and criticisms. That is what we do - its a hobby/obsession. That's why we know this debate requires a lot of background knowledge to really tackle in any meaningful way in an adversarial fashion without 'lying by omission' (in fairness you could get the main creationist talking points done in a few minutes. Evolution may take a few years).

The adversarial method is great for this debate if both sides have access to sources as they are arguing - where they can look up sources and spend several weeks and months reading through lots and lots of text (and a fair amount of maths). When they don't have such access - it kind of fails as a method I feel.

However - you are always welcome. We're mostly really nice around here - but teaching of evolution and creation is often focused on American schools - and their culture is quite different so you might expect a bit of interest when a UK RE teacher shows up.

Final piece of advice if you do return: We aren't for censoring information: its just that there is so much more information to discuss about evolution than there is about creation to give them equal time misrepresents evolution and bolsters creation right from the start. We're not trying to prevent children from being exposed to this information. I've said many times they should be. But, from a position of someone whose seen many evolution vs creation debates in written and video form: I think the way you are doing it would be unfair. And I think you can give them all the same information in a more fair fashion.

What you do with my opinion - is up to you

This message is a reply to:
 Message 21 by JJtheJester, posted 10-20-2009 6:26 PM JJtheJester has not yet responded

Member (Idle past 488 days)
Posts: 7789
From: Manchester, UK
Joined: 05-01-2005

Message 38 of 126 (538562)
12-07-2009 10:20 PM
Reply to: Message 35 by Peg
12-07-2009 7:26 PM

Re: Do not mix science and religion
so tell me, does the evidence support the evolution of life from inanimate chemicals?

What do you think exactly is being taught?

My memory of being taught this stuff in the UK was quite simple. We spent a tiny amount of time on evolution and adaptation and there was a footnote to the effect of 'Scientists believe the origin of life started in a sort of organic soup...' etc. And yes - there is evidence of this claim, the consensus of scientists do think the origin of life started in what might be simply termed 'organic soup'.

has it been proved that inanimate chemicals can make the leap from non living to living matter?

Could you explain the difference between 'living' and 'non living' matter? It sounds like you think there might be some 'vital force' or something.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 35 by Peg, posted 12-07-2009 7:26 PM Peg has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 40 by Peg, posted 12-07-2009 10:49 PM Modulous has responded

Member (Idle past 488 days)
Posts: 7789
From: Manchester, UK
Joined: 05-01-2005

Message 47 of 126 (538623)
12-08-2009 10:10 AM
Reply to: Message 40 by Peg
12-07-2009 10:49 PM

Re: Do not mix science and religion
thats exactly what i'm talking about. There was no life, then in this soup of 'goup', life evolved

No. You were talking about evidence for claims being made to school kids in the UK. And there is evidence for the claim that scientists believe 'x'. I suspect you agree there is, otherwise this conversation wouldn't be happening.

If that were true, then surely scientists would be able to reproduce it in the lab.

Scientists have so far been unable to reproduce Henry VIII ruling Engand in the lab. Why would they have more success with an event that occurred billions of years before written records began?

We have all the chemicals here, all the building blocks of life are right here, so you would expect that they could reproduce this amazing thing called 'life'

Why would you expect that? You sound like an someone arguing that with 15th Century technology and knowledge, surely we should be should be able to turn lead into gold. But...why would that actually be the case?

And it's entirely beyond the point.

Unless children are being taught that scientists have done these things, it is not on topic. If you could show that school children are taught some origin of life theory as if it were factually demonstrated - then you'd be (at least somewhat) on topic. But I suspect you can't.

Edited by Modulous, : No reason given.

Edited by AdminModulous, : Sections not related to education hidden.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 40 by Peg, posted 12-07-2009 10:49 PM Peg has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 52 by Peg, posted 12-09-2009 5:49 AM Modulous has responded

Member (Idle past 488 days)
Posts: 7789
From: Manchester, UK
Joined: 05-01-2005

Message 62 of 126 (538709)
12-09-2009 10:44 AM
Reply to: Message 52 by Peg
12-09-2009 5:49 AM

what kids are taught
If there is no evidence for how evolution began, then there is no evidence that the theory of evolution is accurate.

Would you agree that if there was no evidence for the origins of life, then a theory that describes how populations of living things change over time could still be accurate? That it could still be true that all living things are related?

Remember the theory is that life, including humans, slowly evolved on this planet. If they cant show how that evolution began, how can they claim evidence for the theory?

By showing how life slowly evolved on this planet. You could show patterns of relatedness confirmed by morphological and genetic examinations. You could show changes in the types of life that exist throughout the fossil record.

what children need to be taught is that scientists HAVE ATTEMPTED these things and failed again and again and again and again...and why have they failed?

because its impossible for non living things to come to life.

Should I call up my local cancer research lab and tell them their task is also impossible on the same grounds (perhaps moreso since a heck of a lot more time and money has gone into cancer research)?

If all children are taught that in science class, i'll be happpy.

I thought they were taught that. As a child I could have quite happily told you that 'at the moment, nobody knows how life originated but scientists think it was something along these lines...'. This is a true set of facts about the world - I assume you don't object? I could have told you that when I was ten years old, and I was never given any other impression when I was fourteen and I did it at high school and the subject received about a paragraph of our time.

Edited by AdminModulous, : Sections not related to education hidden.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 52 by Peg, posted 12-09-2009 5:49 AM Peg has responded

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 Message 66 by Peg, posted 12-10-2009 5:39 AM Modulous has responded

Member (Idle past 488 days)
Posts: 7789
From: Manchester, UK
Joined: 05-01-2005

Message 77 of 126 (538796)
12-10-2009 6:52 AM
Reply to: Message 66 by Peg
12-10-2009 5:39 AM

Re: what kids are taught
considering the toe has changed somewhat over the years, and scientists have been hotly debating the theory, then it is possible that that a theory could be wrong.

I'll split that into two parts.

First: Scientists aren't 'debating the theory' in the sense of debating whether it is true. They are debating which parts have more impact than another.

Second: However, it could still be true that a theory could be wrong. Science adopts the principle of fallibilism.
Why do you think this is important enough to stress here? It is true of all theories.

are all living things related?

The evidence strongly suggests that this is so.

how is a fish and a cow related?

They share a common ancestor that was a vertebrate.

a dog and a cat??

They share a common ancestor that was in the Order Carnivora.

thier DNA is not identicle, so how are they related?

I don't have identical DNA to my brother. And yet DNA testing would confirm that he was likely my brother (assuming he actually is).

Also, man and the ape may look similar, but it is impossible for man and ape to hybridize which kind of indicates that they are not related, yes?

No. There is no reason to base relatedness on the ability to create viable offspring.

abe: Let me expand on this. It is true that if we have one population that can freely breed and one which has difficulty interbreeding and one which can never interbreed we can use this as a method of sorting relative relatedness. But if I had a sister, and our genetic makeup meant that any child of ours had an 80% chance of not being viable (incest), that would not indicate that we were not closely related.

what genetic evidence is found in fossils?

Little to none, depending on what we mean by fossils. I didn't imply we could find genetic evidence in fossils.

what has cancer got to do with the subject???

You seemed to be of the opinion that if scientists cannot presently do something after spending some time trying, that means that it is impossible. You thought this was a killer argument against abiogenesis research, but you failed to realize that it applies to all ongoing research into subjects that have taken some time so far.

Such as Cancer research. By your reasoning we should shut down Cancer research because it is impossible.

Dont shy away from the fact that non living matter does not come to life

I don't understand what it means. What does 'come to life' mean? Is the carbon in my body 'alive'? Every part of my body was once non living matter, has it come to life?

Its what scientists themselves have shown time and time again.

No they haven't. They have shown that there are some interesting structures that can spontaneously self form, replicate, transmit information and under differential reproductive success. Is that 'coming to life'? I don't know. But even if they had completely failed so far, that isn't the same as showing something to be impossible.

This fact presents a major problem for how evolution got started...without non living matter springing to life, there could be no evolution

Why not? I used to think that God pressed his finger against a primordial pond and this zapped the first life forms into existence and from there evolution occurred. How could this not be true?

and we are just expected to believe that non living matter sprang to life even though good science has shown that its impossible????

You aren't expected to believe anything. You have not shown that any 'good' science has shown that life could not originate naturally.

And you seem to have drifted entirely off topic. Is there something specific that you think children are being taught that you have a problem with?

Edited by Modulous, : No reason given.

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