Defending Darwin in Introductory Biology

James Krupa, a professor who teaches introductory biology at the University of Kentucky, published an outstanding article in Orion Magazine about using evolution as a cornerstone in his courses. Find it here.

Krupa defends the importance of teaching nonmajors biology courses and argues that evolution should be a thread throughout each course. He writes with sometimes humorous candor about his failures and successes with reaching students who have strong preconceptions about evolution. Along the way, he provides strategies for building relevance for students who resist evolutionary theory.

In my own classes at the University of Oklahoma, I encounter fewer student objections to evolution now than I did when I first started teaching nonmajors biology. I am not sure if that’s because I have become more skilled at teaching the topic, because outside groups haven’t been whipping up the anti-evolution fervor lately, or because the anti-evolution movement is losing steam nationally. I’d be curious to know what other instructors have experienced in recent years. Feel free to leave a comment!

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3 Responses to Defending Darwin in Introductory Biology

  1. Doug Mock says:

    I watch pretty carefully for signs that the anti-science folks might (finally!) be losing steam in the decades-long mission of denying evolution, but am not encouraged in that direction. During my last few years at OU I taught or co-taught 2 courses on this theme, a capstone and the “Mind-bending: Religion, Law, & Science” lecture/discussion. In preparation for that I consulted with a former officer of the OU Intelligent Design Club and she led me to understand that many/most of the OU students with religious objections just stay silent. Considering that both my courses were to be as interactive as possible, this was useful insider information. According to her, the most conservative Christians know that the ‘scientific establishment’ is very pro-evolution and, as instructors, has the power to make things uncomfortable for those who disagree. This makes reading the tea leaves of student opinions very problematic!

    • Thanks for the comment. I’m not sure how I feel about that. It’s a shame when students don’t feel like they can speak their mind in class, but it’s also frustrating when a student who does speak up won’t acknowledge logic and evidence.

      • Doug Mock says:

        Well, I for one am convinced that they can be drawn out, but it takes a bit of doing and a whole lot of civility! That’s not bad in and of itself, of course! When such students become relaxed with the scene, they sometimes say things that I found utterly astonishing. In short, I learned much from them about the challenges we face in trying to lead someone from a strong authority-based worldview to an evidence-based alternative. That distinction is, I now realize, the crux of the matter.

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