Bringing the scientific evidences for creation into the public classroom has always been legal. Nevertheless, many teachers wonder how to do this. Schools should be places of inquiry, where students are taught to analyze all sides of an issue. Few academic subjects have greater inherent interest for high school, college, or graduate school students than the origins question. The fact that it is controversial is, therefore, not a liability but an asset. The origins question, then, is an ideal vehicle for developing analytical skills. An excellent way to develop these skills is "The Origins Research Project."
The Origins Research Project
Introduction. The Origins Research Project may be one of the most interesting and exciting projects your students ever experience. It will certainly be one they will remember the rest of their lives. It will demonstrate how scientific inquiry works while building upon one of the most basic and natural questions a person ever asks: "How did everything begin?" Each student is (a) to decide which theory of origins best fits the scientific evidence, and (b) to write a paper presenting his or her reasoning. Religious beliefs, while possibly important to the student's overall conclusion, are not to be a part of this paper. Neither is there any right or wrong answer. Instead, breadth of research, critical thinking, sound logic, and detailed comparisons of the data with the various theories should be the basis for evaluating the student's work.
The following description of the Origins Research Project has been written in a generalized form, so it can be used at the high school, college, or graduate school levels in either secular or religious schools. You can tailor this project to the time available, your student's needs, and your objectives.
Purpose. The purposes of this project are (a) to help each student develop analytical skills in science, (b) to integrate many seemingly diverse topics and fields of science into a meaningful, maturing, and exciting investigation which the student largely controls, and (c) to permit academic study in an important area of science without infringing on diverse religious views that are the prerogatives of the individual and the home. Since strongly held views will be presented on both sides of this question of origins, the student will develop, probably for the first time, strong, reasoned, and confident disagreement with some scientific authorities and textbook authors. This experience, which even most scientists or engineers do not have until they are well into their first major research effort, is one of the most maturing that an education can provide. Unfortunately, the typical classroom experience, especially in the sciences, is that of learning or absorbing a fixed body of knowledge—not that of evaluating the evidence and deciding which of several scientific explanations is most plausible.
The Project. Each student is to write a paper stating which theory of origins he or she feels is best supported by the scientific evidence and why. The first sentence of the paper will be, "I believe that the scientific evidence best supports ____________." The blank space, for example, might contain one of the following:
The Role of the Teacher. The teacher's primary role is (a) to develop each student's analytical skills in science, (b) to prevent religious aspects from entering into any classroom discussions, and (c) to challenge and stimulate the student's thinking. Teachers should frequently ask thought-provoking questions such as:
Don't be concerned with what I believe. What matters in this class is how thoroughly you examine the scientific evidence on both sides of this issue. I am not interested in your specific conclusion; I am only interested in the thoroughness and logic you use to reach your conclusion. You are on your own.
The teacher's goal is to teach students how to think, not what to think.
Select the resources to be made available to the students.
Decide the length of the written paper. This decision should be based upon the student's academic level, the scientific fields the student should explore, and the objectives of the teacher. For a high school physics, biology, or modern science course, 1000 words might be a minimum. For a graduate student majoring in science education or geology, 40 typewritten pages might not be sufficient.
Determine the beginning and ending dates for the Origins Research Project. The project should be long enough to allow the student to reflect on the subject, to do the depth of reading and library research the teacher desires, and to write the paper. It is suggested that the Origins Research Project span 1-4 months and be completed in time to allow one week for grading. This project can be completed using a minimum of three classroom periods.
Specify the writing and grading standards. The required quality of the written paper and its adherence to the school's style manual should be established. Schools that have a well-integrated curriculum may want English teachers to grade the papers from a writing standpoint and science teachers to grade the papers from a scientific standpoint. If, among the teachers available for grading, at least one is an evolutionist and one is a creationist, then students could have their papers graded by a teacher who holds their basic view of origins (creation or evolution).
Establish the weight that will be assigned to this graded project. It should be commensurate with the research effort that the teacher desires and the student motivation that will be needed, possibly one-third to one-sixth of the course grade. Some students have been allowed to complete the Origins Research Project in lieu of taking the final exam.
Resource Materials. Many resources are available to help students form their conclusions. Teachers and school officials are encouraged to examine the following list of resources and select those they feel are appropriate for their learning situations. Regardless of which specific resources or activities the teacher selects, every effort should be made to provide a balance between at least the two basic scientific models of origins—evolution and creation.
"The Great Debate: Evolution vs. Creation" (50 minutes). This excellent video features a debate between Professor Evolution and Dr. Creation, each played by Terry Mondy, a public high-school biology teacher. Entertaining, informative, interesting, and accurate. Appropriate for high school through college audiences. Available for purchase from Terry Mondy, 6305 Ojibwa Lane, McHenry, IL 60050 for $24.95, plus $3.00 for mailing and handling.
Books for student reference:
a. From the evolution perspective:
Charles Darwin, The Illustrated Origins of Species by Charles Darwin , abridged and introduced by Richard E. Leakey, Hill & Wang, 1979.
Nicholas Hotton, The Evidence of Evolution , The Smithsonian Series, American Heritage Publishing Co., 1968.
F. C. Howell, Early Man , Time-Life Books, 1973.
Robert Jastrow, Until the Sun Dies , Warner Books, 1977.
Ruth Moore, Evolution , Time-Life Books, 1970.
b. From the creation perspective:
Walt Brown, In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood , Center for Scientific Creation, 1995.
Duane T. Gish, Challenge of the Fossil Record , Master Books, 1985.
Henry M. Morris and Gary E. Parker, What is Creation Science? , Master Books, 1982.
c. Which contrast the creation and evolution perspectives:
Richard Bliss, Origins: Two Models, Evolution/Creation, Master Books, 1978.
Richard Bliss and Gary E. Parker, Origin of Life, Evolution/Creation , Master Books, 1979.
Richard Bliss, Gary E. Parker, and Duane T. Gish, Fossils: Key to the Present, Evolution/Creation , Master Books, 1980.
Francis Hitching, The Neck of the Giraffe, Ticknor & Fields: New Haven and New York, 1982. (Also see the article excerpted from this book: "Was Darwin Wrong?", Life , April 1982, pp. 48-52.)
R. L. Wysong, The Creation-Evolution Controversy , Inquiry Press, 1978.
d. Books by non-Christians:
Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Burnett Books Limited (London), 1985.
William R. Fix, The Bone Peddlers: Selling Evolution , Macmillan Publishing Co., 1984.
Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe, Evolution from Space , Simon and Schuster, 1981.
Norman Macbeth, Darwin Retried: An Appeal to Reason , Harvard Common Press, 1971.
Gordon Rattray Taylor, The Great Evolution Mystery , Harper and Row, 1983.
The local school may invite, for separate appearances, outside experts to the school to answer students' questions. These experts would usually be an evolutionist and a creationist scientist. It is not recommended that teachers assume this role and defend one point of view. Teachers are encouraged to create an atmosphere of inquiry by stimulating and motivating their students to arrive at their own conclusions independently.
Having expert witnesses just before the students begin writing their papers will help the students concentrate on unresolved questions. It might be instructive, especially at the high school level, to devote some classroom time to formulating questions. The students who favor evolution should question the creationist witness and the students who favor creation should question the evolutionist witness. This will increase the level of interest and the desire to adequately prepare. Both questioning sessions could be done simultaneously in different rooms.
Miniature student debates are an excellent way to increase student interest and involvement in this project. Each student could be given five minutes to state his or her case regarding some category of evidence, followed by two-minute rebuttals. A sign-up sheet could be posted for students to seek an opponent to debate selected topics. One such debate each week, lasting possibly 15-20 minutes, could provide an important stimulus for all students. Care must be taken at the high school level to prevent debates from becoming disorderly. At all levels, videotaping during nonclassroom time can be effectively used. This would allow the teacher to select only the best debates for classroom viewing.
Bulletin Board Displays
Students should be encouraged to bring to class any magazine, newspaper, or journal articles on the subject of origins. After they have been posted on a bulletin board for several days, discussions concerning the quality of the articles, the evidence cited, and the identification of hidden assumptions can be very informative. Letters to the editor by students could provide additional interest. (The teacher may want to offer an incentive for any student's letter that is published. Perhaps excuse the student from some other writing exercise.)
Questions and Answers
Q: Are there approaches I could take other than having my students write a major paper?
A: Yes. Students could be exposed to the same scientific evidence by being asked to do one or more of the following:
Summarize or outline what they feel are the most convincing evidences for the various theories of origins.
Make an oral presentation of a specified length.
List a specified number of evidences for creation and evolution.
Prepare a poster or display dealing with one or more of the evidences for creation or evolution.
Write a short critique of (a) any viewpoint expressed by a prominent creationist or evolutionist, (b) a museum display that relates to the origins issue, (c) a recent newspaper or magazine article, or (d) a chapter in a textbook.
Q: How can creation be dealt with scientifically?
A: Scientists employ a common but special type of reasoning when they try to explain past, unrepeatable events that had no observers. They first develop a model—or what some scientists call a "working hypothesis." This is simply a description of what they think happened. Once the model is defined, especially when alternative models are available, observations and measurements can be made that will help raise or lower the model's plausibility.
There are many possible models of origins. However, the two basic models, creation and evolution, can be defined as follows:
The Creation Model of Origins:
Everything in the universe, including the stars, the solar system, the earth, life, and man, came into existence suddenly and recently, in essentially the complexity we see today.
Genetic variations are limited.
The earth has experienced a worldwide flood.
The Evolution Model of Origins:
Over billions of years, the universe, the solar system, the earth, and finally, life developed from disordered matter through natural processes.
Random mutations and natural selection brought about the present diversity of living things from single-celled life.
Man descended from a common ancestor with apes.
Neither creation nor evolution can explain scientifically what happened at the ultimate beginning. The evolution model is completely silent concerning the origin of matter, space, energy, time, and the laws of chemistry and physics. The furthest back in time that most evolutionists claim to go is to a hypothetical "big bang." They admit that they are scientifically blind prior to such an event. Creationists likewise have no scientific understanding of what happened physically during the creation event. Nevertheless, to the right of the shaded region, both models can be tested against the evidence. For any assumed starting condition in the past, scientists frequently ask if the laws of physics and chemistry would produce many details of what we see today. These are certainly scientific questions that give us insight into our beginnings.
Q: How can those high school students who are underachievers or poorly motivated carry out this project?
A: Students who have difficulty carrying out a full-scale research project will understand and enjoy the video tape described on page. They may also be directed to any one of the three illustrated booklets written by Dr. Richard Bliss. These books, which have been tested in hundreds of classrooms, are written at the 8th or 9th grade level. Even students reading below this level can read at least portions of these books.
Teachers who see students having difficulty may want to limit them to a narrow topic, such as the fossil record, and might help them formulate questions, such as:
How do evolutionists explain the fossil record?
How do creationists explain the fossil record?
How are fossils formed?
Are there other explanations?
Where are fossils formed today?
What details are found in the fossil record?
Do these observations better fit the creation or the evolution explanation?
The answers to these questions could form an outline for a student's paper. If the student requires more guidance, references and page numbers could be included with each question.
Many students, when arriving at their conclusions, are quite surprised to find that their verdicts differ from those of various scientists—either creationists or evolutionists. The confidence these students have that their answers are correct and the answers of one group of scientists are incorrect produces self-confidence and increased interest and awareness. Students frequently want to explore other aspects of the origins controversy on their own. Generating this sense of excitement and discovery should be an objective of every science curriculum.
Q: What would the minimum project involve at the high school level?
A: The following is an inexpensive way to structure this project so that only three classroom periods are needed. These three classes should be spread out over at least a three-week period.
Pass out the assignment sheets which (a) state the length, format, grading criteria, and due dates for the outline and final 1000-word paper, (b) define "creation" and "evolution," and (c) list the resources available in the school library.
Show the video tape "The Great Debate: Evolution or Creation."
Explain science methodology when dealing with past events that were not observed and cannot be repeated.
Have the students conduct one or two debates.
Lead an informal discussion of the issue. Emphasize the importance in science of basing conclusions on evidence.
Remind the students that their outlines are due in ___ days.
Comment on the quality of students' outlines.
Discuss articles posted on the bulletin board.
Discuss the summaries of the scientific evidence handed out on Day 1.
Remind the students that their final papers are due in ___ days.
References and Notes
As recently as 1987, the Supreme Court of the United States held: "Moreover, requiring the teaching of creation science with evolution does not give schoolteachers a flexibility that they did not already possess to supplant the present science curriculum with the presentation of theories, besides evolution, about the origin of life." "Edwards, Governor of Louisiana, et al. v. Aguillard et al.", Supreme Court of the United States , No. 85-1513, argued 10 December 1986, decided 19 June 1987, p. 1.
Richard Alexander, evolutionist and professor of zoology and curator of insects at the University of Michigan, proposed a similar idea.
No teacher should be dismayed at efforts to present creation as an alternative to evolution in biology courses; indeed, at this moment creation is the only alternative to evolution. Not only is this worth mentioning, but a comparison of the two alternatives can be an excellent exercise in logic and reason. Our primary goal as educators should be to teach students to think and such a comparison, particularly because it concerns an issue in which many have special interests or are even emotionally involved, may accomplish that purpose better than most others. Richard D. Alexander, "Evolution, Creation, and Biology Teaching," American Biology Teacher , Vol. 40, February 1978.
Analytical skills in science include observing; classifying; measuring; explaining; predicting; applying mathematics; designing investigations and experiments; collecting and analyzing data; drawing conclusions; identifying assumptions; contrasting alternative explanations; formulating definitions, questions, hypotheses, and models; and the willingness to retract prior conclusions when the evidence warrants it.
School libraries usually have many books dealing with evolution, which can be used to supplement those suggested here.