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Teaching Origins in the East Texas "Bible Belt"
REBECCA OWENS, Tyler Junior College, Tyler, Texas
Thank you for the recent issue of In The Trenches addressing the difficulty of teaching topics such as evolution, the Big Bang Theory, and other origins-related topics to students who have previously learned these are anti-Christian. This is a constant challenge for me, as I teach historical and physical geology in Tyler, Texas.
A simple technique I use to encourage my conservative Christian students not to be afraid of these topics is the inclusion of a homework assignment on the history of society's acceptance or rejection of evolution and the age of the earth. PBS has an excellent timeline called Evolution Revolution (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/religion/revolution/index.html) that walks students through the reaction of the Christian church, in general, to evolution over the years. My students read the timeline and answer questions about society's response to the theory of evolution. I introduce this topic by making it clear that even if a student is not religious at all, the fact that this debate exists will affect them. It affects society's perception of science, which affects our acceptance of things like climate change or the value of vaccines or even how biology is taught in high school. Response to the assignment is often positive; students are surprised to learn that even the early fundamentalists allowed for a less-than-literal interpretation of the seven-day creation story in Genesis. Many of my students thought that rejection of evolution and an ancient Earth are innate parts of Christianity and had never considered that this was once a belief held only by some fringe religious groups.
For a Christian, evolution should be nothing worrisome. In the same way Christians readily accept the science of human reproduction and prenatal care while still believing that children are a "gift from God" (Psalm 127:3), evolution, the Big Bang Theory, and Solar Nebular Theory can be accepted as sacred natural processes that do not detract from the sanctity of all life, nor the uniqueness of humans. A resource for evolutionary creation is the Christian organization Biologos (https://biologos.org/). Another good resource for religious students and the educators who teach them is the book Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and IntelligentDesign (2011) by Deborah Haarsma and Loren Haarsma.
It is difficult to teach about origins and continued evolution in an area where it is accepted as common knowledge that their theories are contrary to faith. As educators, we must respect our students and the beliefs they have learned from trusted faith leaders, while not diluting the science we teach.