Creationism and Intelligent Design or Simulation Creationism are the words we use to give supernatural explanations for a large amount of diversity of species on the planet and the origin of life. Many scientists argue that science classrooms aren’t the ideal place for the discussion of Creationism. When I began teaching, I focused on my areas of expertise instead of teaching Creationism. Over time it became clear that students were curious to learn about Creationism. And those people didn’t have a proper understanding of the differences between non-scientific approaches and a scientific approach to knowledge. These things led me to wonder whether ignoring supernatural views allowed them to remain viable alternatives to the scientific hypothesis in a student’s mind. A psychology class is technically an ideal place to discuss the scientific method and the cognitive methods associated with non-scientific views. I explain Creationism concepts in my type and model the scientific thought process that leads to a rejection of Creationism ideas. My approach is consistent with the research that demonstrates the teaching content alone. It is insufficient for students to develop critical thinking. My personal anecdotal experience leads me to conclude that teaching the controversy has benefits for science students.
In the initial days of my teaching career, My excitement for sharing my psychology experiences and training students in scientific methods was very high. That eagerness and excitement are still in me. But there are changes, among other things. However, I learn to love technology that allows me to communicate with and teach students differently. I go through various methods and continue to revise my materials. I adopt new approaches and abandon the old ones. I will also significantly change my attitude towards discussing Simulation Creationism in my classroom sessions. That change is the main focus of this article.
I will use the term Creationism in this article to refer mainly to typical Judeo-Christian accounts of the origin of life that one can find in the biblical book of Genesis. While there are many creation stories in various religions and cultures, this version of Creationism is mostly related to political movements whose primary intention is to suppress the teachings of evolution or to include the instructions of supernatural accounts that are alternatives to evolution. I also have the concept of Intelligent Design in my definition of Creationism. Even though Intelligent Design does not name a specific entity as the originator of life, it does propose a statement that says a master intellect is a reason for the initiation of life. It operates outside of natural laws that are known to us. While the belief system is not associated with any of the specific religions, in practice, most Intelligent Design proponents happen to be Christians who use the term Intelligent Design to cover the religious nature of their arguments against evolution.
I am not going to discuss the validity of the evolutionary theory of Creationist beliefs. We settle that matter from a scientific perspective if not from the overall opinion perspective (Miller, 2008). There is no scientific evidence supporting any Creationist theories, whereas nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. I will discuss whether it is acceptable to discuss Creationist ideas in Science Classrooms. I will present positions from educators, scientists, and creationists. I will discuss Simulation Creationism in the classrooms to teach students about psychology and evolution.
Teaching the controversy
People use the term “Teach the Controversy” from around the turn of the 21st century; one can see the reflections of that in the newspaper article by Intelligent Design advocate Meyer (2002). He states that teachers must present arguments both for and against Evolutionary theory. And the government must grant permission to educators to teach Intelligent Design as a competing theory. He argues that there is a supreme court mandate to teach scientific critiques for prevailing theories. And the federal policy says that curriculum should help students understand the controversies better. The teachers should be looking to teach evolution as an actual scientific controversy about evolutionary theory. As Scott and Branch (2003) say, the proposal is somewhat consistent with ongoing lobbying by creationist groups in the U.S, and people cloak it in a veil of fairness about presenting both sides of an argument. While scientists should try to educate about scientific critiques of prevailing theories, there shouldn’t be any obligation to teach non-scientific analyses as if they are equally valid.
Scientists and researchers react strongly to suggestions about the teaching of creationist views along with the scientific theories. Coyne and Dawkins (2005) state empathetically that there is no place in the science classroom for Creationist concepts. If Science instructors try to take the 10 min to exhaust the Case for Intelligent Design”. (Coyne and Dawkins, 2005, One side can be wrong, para, 20), then they lend legitimacy to Creationism by their presence in the Science classroom. The case is consistent with Grayling’s position (2014) that broadens the conversation to include non-scientific approaches validating and providing them with institutional importance. Scott (2007) warns educators about the potential incursion of “Teach the Controversy” policies that badly affect the curriculum. Under the guise of recommendations for the pretext of teaching critical thinking, these proposals present false views that there are questions about evolution’s occurrence. She writes:
It might be a beneficial critical thinking exercise for a student to debate actual scientific disputes about processes and patterns of evolution, as long as they have a solid grounding in the required basic Science. However, it would not be a good critical thinking exercise to educate students that scientists are debating whether evolution occurs. In contrast to that, it would be misguided to teach students that the validity of one of the most robust scientific theories is on trial. (Scott, 2007)
More recently, Coyne reveals his disappointment when Bill Nye (The Science Guy) started speaking roughly with Ken Ham, a young-earth creationist in a popular public event.
In National Public Radio (2014). Like Dawkins (206), Coyne argues that by engaging in a public debate, scientists give credibility to creationists and elevate their arguments to the level they don’t deserve. By acknowledging creationist statements and treating them as dangers to scientific knowledge, we have the risk of validating them.
In short, the rejection of the Teach the Controversy movement has two fundamental principles. Firstly, there isn’t any controversy. Evolution is a well-supported and robust theory that has undergone rigorous testing and is a unifying science theory. Secondly, Simulation Creationism does not belong in the Science curriculum. Entertaining non-science notions is dangerous because discussing these notions in Science classrooms risks legitimizing them. While I endorse the first principle, I have different thoughts about the second principle. It is not to say that I would ever support Creationism as a valid scientific theory. But instead, there is value in discussing Simulation Creationism in the Science classroom.
Until the year 2005, I was inclined to teach evolution as if Creationism didn’t exist. It was not a part of any teaching materials, and if any of the students ask questions about Creationism, I tend to respond that those questions aren’t suitable for the Science classroom. I did entertain such questions outside of class. When I speak about these topics, I clarify that they are my opinions rather than course materials. But I draw a hard line at the classroom door. In 2005, it came to my attention that there was a significant rise in the number of questions students ask about Creationism. Most likely in response to the media attention about the trial in Dover, Pennsylvania. One of the parents took the Dover Board of Education to court because of the board’s decision to use the creationist textbook in Science classes.
It is worth noting that creationist views aren’t rare among people. Almost one-third of American adults reject evolution, and more than half of the population do not entirely endorse Evolution (Miller, 2006). Even though the rate of creationist beliefs is higher in the United States than in many other countries, there isn’t any consensus on Evolution in Britain or Canada. According to a recent study (Angus, 2012), 17% of Britons and 22% of Canadians endorse Creationism. When we compare with 51% of Americans who support Creationism, the numbers seem modest but are still concerning. There are regional differences in the United States. The people who stay in the South are most likely to have creationist opinions. In England, there is less variation, but London city has the highest amount of creationists. In Canada, Alberta’s province has the lowest Evolution endorsement rate at 48% of the population. And 17% of the people aren’t sure. So, there is a reasonably large number of people who are unsure about the theory of evolution.
After the trial, I made a decision to use a few lectures to explain to students why and how Creationism is not Science. I had mixed feelings about bringing such a topic into the Science classroom. But after noticing apparent benefits to student learning, I am going to continue talking about it. While I respect my colleagues’ admonitions and views who avoid discussing Creationism, I think Creationism’s inclusion is consistent with Scott’s advice (2007). Perhaps because I am a psychology teacher, I have different perspectives on appropriate topics.
Psychology is a science that studies animal and human behavior. The application of Psychology is in educational, clinical, and other settings. Teaching psychology is very meta because teaching deals with the same content that we aim to teach. Evidence from psychological studies is essential to understand the value of delivering content and fostering critical thinking skills in the classroom.
While my colleagues in Biology might recoil against the notion of discussing non-Science topics in the classrooms, the psychology class differs from other Science classes in one crucial way. The subject of our inquiry is thoughts, including behavior. People expect any psychologist who teaches development, cognition, or social behavior to cover content about decision making and cognitive biases. There is an encouragement to support critical thinking skills (Lilienfield, 2012), for psychologists to work toward debiasing public thoughts (Lilienfield, 2009), and pseudoscience debunking (Lilienfield, 2005). While it is essential to train students and youth by discussing controversies between competing scientific theories and within our field (Dawkins and Coyne, 2005; Scott and Branch 2003), It is instrumental in training our students to argue against pseudoscience and detecting it (Lilienfiel, 2012).
Among many Psychology courses that I have taught over the years, one of my favorites is human behavior and evolution. Coming from a background of experimenting, having animal learning and behavior skills, I understand human behavior as an interaction between the environment and our evolved tendencies. There has always been a controversy about this field from the term “Sociology” by E.O. Wilson. And I always enjoy teaching that controversy as a way of demonstrating scientific progress and thoughts. For example, I have students that generate a sex difference hypothesis. And we work through methods of testing these hypotheses to distinguish between tests on biological sex differences. And “just-so stories” that ignore the role of learning and lack evidence. Within the course, I can discuss cognitive biases as evolved heuristics (Cosmides, 1989), resulting in predictable judgment errors. In the current context, where I model scientific logic and give information about human errors in cognition, a discussion on Creationism is appropriate.
People present Creationism as a sociopolitical controversy rather than a scientific controversy. I emphasize that there isn’t any model about the validity of evolution as an explanatory model. I present Creationism as a denialist or political movement (Mckee and Diethelm, 2009) instead of a competing theory with its evidence and strength. I then offer a few common assertions from Creationism (e.g., No transitional fossils) and refute them with scientific evidence. I explain several common logical fallacies that are evident in creationist arguments at the same time. I always encourage my students to ask various questions and make me defend my statements. I then ask them to attempt to test and generate a hypothesis for Creationism. The struggles with the tasks lead them logically to conclude that creationist assertions are unfalsifiable and, therefore, non-scientific.
Even though it feels ironic, the anecdotal evidence illustrates my approach. I present an ad hoc reasoning fallacy; there are responses from some creationists to fossil evidence with statements that the fossils must have been put there by supernatural forces to test or trick believers’ faith. After I point out that original ideas are revised to preserve Simulation Creationism’s fundamental belief, a student indicates that he is confused. He says that being able to adjust one’s thinking is essential in Science. He couldn’t understand the reason behind creationists changing his thinking was terrible, but a scientist saying her review was useful. I could see several other students tilting their heads to agree with this point; I had to revisit and back up the concept of falsifiability. Using evidence to reject any hypothesis is scientific. Scientists use ad hoc to strengthen and refine theory but not to insulate a weak idea from criticism. We then discuss several situations, including support for political parties or decisions about medical treatments, in which people should reject the hypothesis because of available evidence. Instead, create additional layers of explanation to avoid changing their mind. Students often tell me that they know about the flaws in creationist arguments. But they don’t know how to articulate their discomfort. Students express appreciation for providing tools to argue their positions better.
There are many reasons why the approach is valuable. The approach is consistent with the “Teaching as Persuasion” method and allows the discussion of multiple views. Some views face rejection for lack of substantiation. It also debunks pseudoscientific concepts (Lilienfeld, 2005) and provides direct evidence against them. Further, by learning arguments against standard creationist assertions, all students benefit from the inoculation effect and should be better able to refute arguments in the future.
I think that all Science teachers could benefit from strategies for teaching critical thinking. Teaching just content does not teach students to think like scientists. The development of critical thinking requires students to learn content to practice metacognitive strategies related to critical thinking. Dawkins and Coyne argue that Creationism belongs more in Biology class than alchemy belongs in Chemistry. I say that alchemy belongs in Chemistry classrooms. Some gathering knowledge methods are more valid than other forms, and again, my psychology training may affect my views.
People often consider Psychology as soft Science. Contrasted with Physics and Chemistry hard sciences, it is repeatedly snubbed from medicine and biology’s life sciences (Lilienfield,2012). As a consequence of an inferiority complex, the Academy of Psychology focuses on training students in research methods to a greater extent than other sciences (Blais and Winston, 1996). The list of contents for many Psychology textbooks reveals a methodology chapter and discipline history. There are many good examples in the Psychology of paradigm shifts and hypothesis rejection. Phrenology is a method for inferring behavior and personality based on one’s skull shape. Phrenology was preferably once widespread and common (Goodwin,2005). There was a sound rejection because of evidence by physiologists and others. The disclaimer provides some crucial lessons about the differences between non-scientific approaches and scientific approaches to Psychology. Our understanding of Psychology depends not only on verifiable facts but also on the rejection of past ideas. Just like phrenology belongs in the Psychology classroom, so might Creationism concepts.
Creation Science, Creationism and the Language of Science
The argument for teaching the controversy means that Science is a matter of opinion. There will be a debate by opposing parties with equally valid positions. When creationists define Intelligent Design as a theory equal to that of Evolution theory, they demonstrate the ignorance of Science’s language even when they use its words (Barnes, 2014). By misusing the jargon, they deceive people who assume that everybody uses these words consistently. When I speak about evolution’s theory, I refer to an overarching set of predictions and principles to understand the natural world. A scientific approach isn’t a tentative statement, but instead, is supported by empirical evidence. I refer to predictions when I talk about the hypotheses. Based on the theory, predictions require testing. The idea is tentative, and one may refute the hypothesis by evidence. The failure of thought doesn’t necessarily mean theory degradation. When a creationist refers to evolution as “just a theory,” they ignore evidence that supports the theory since the time of Darwin. A non – scientist who hears a scientist and a creationist each use “theory” to refer to the positions that can be understandably confusing.
It’s inappropriate to position Intelligent Design as the scientific theory. It lacks empirical support, and parts of it are untestable. Our students must be allowed to understand the definitions of words like hypothesis, proof, theory, evidence, and to be able to detect when somebody uses them inaccurately. Learning to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate comments requires more than memorizing the definitions. If students practice the skills and apply the knowledge of Science, Since I am the scientist’s authority, I ask my students to take my word for it. They may adopt my views but not because they know the logic that leads to my thoughts (Mcafee and Saide, 2014). When I allow my students to apply scientific methods to Creationism, they learn to be scientists themselves. Even though critical thinking is challenging to teach and does not transfer across domains, there is incremental value in providing many opportunities to practice critical thinking while learning new scientific concepts.
There is no restriction on my position for using Simulation
Creationism to teach critical thinking. The same situation could apply to anti-Science views, including those opposed to vaccines, climate change denialism, fighting validated medical procedures, and other supernatural explanations for natural phenomena. As educators, we take the opportunity to tackle concepts that students may see on television, on social media pages, or around the dinner table, and model our thought processes as we explain how scientists arrive at conclusions. We emphasize that not all statements are equally valid; not all authorities are similarly authoritative, and not all hypotheses are similarly testable. We also allow students to improve their logic skills and apply them to topics that arise with Facebook memes or celebrity fads. Anti-Science and Non-Science views have a place in Science classrooms because we can teach students logic and scientific thinking.
Conflict of Interest statement
The author declares that the research does not have any financial or commercial relationship that can function as a potential conflict of interest.