Who is responsible for a child’s science education?

I woke up this morning at 5 am hoping to grade a few papers that I have lingering from last week.  Instead, my mind is replaying and sorting, and trying figure out why some folks think the way they do.There are some in this world who firmly believe that if a phenomenon is not observable, that it is untouchable by science.  I guess because we have no way of verifying, with absolute certainty if our hypotheses about the past are true (whatever truth is!).

I enjoy doing science.  Or as Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory said, “Peeling back the mask of nature.”  I think many children are the same way; curious, imaginative, observant.  We have a public school system that is supposed to nurture this natural curiosity and aid in its development.  All kid sin american public school take “science.”  By the time they graduate they have had, earth science, biology, chemistry, physical science, and maybe even physics.  Then I get them…

When I get freshmen in General Zoology they are primed to begin their study to become doctors, veterinarians, physical therapists, dentists, and the like.  Then the bomb drops.  They have to learn about evolution.  Being most are from Oklahoma, this is the first time they have been exposed to the idea.  They should have been exposed to evolution in high school, yet most have not.  Needless to say there is lots of chair squirming for the several days we talk about natural selection, the endosymbiont hypothesis, and the origin of life.

This should be a pretty cut and dry series of lectures, but this year a student attempted to trap me in the reducio ad absurdum. Where did the first elements come from.  Where did the stars com from, why did the big bang happen….  She wanted me to say God made it happen.  I didn’t.  and I
 never will….in Science class.

There is a fundamental disconnect in american society.  We don’t know what science is and how to distinguish from non-science.  Our public schools need to do a better job teaching kids what science is and is not.  Religion is not science.  Just because science does not have an answer does not mean we should make recourse to a divine power.  Parents and teachers who do not know science shouldn’t teach it.  Pastors, priests, and preachers should mind their own business.  Help people with their moral compass, feed teh hungry and cloth the poor.  Holy books are not science books.  Don’t get me wrong.  Holy books are important, but they don’t tell us how the world works.  They tell us how we should work in the world and how we should treat this world in which we live.


My cereal is gone and I have to get those papers graded, so I will leave this post as a very rough sketch of what I wanted to say.  I welcome any comments anyone may have.





About benevolentheathen

I am an Associate Professor of Biology at Northwestern Oklahoma State University. I teach courses in ecology, evolution, and behavior with an emphasis on terrestrial vertebrates, especially reptiles. In recent years I have become increasingly interested in the interplay between science and religion. I consider myself spiritual, but not religious. I am continually reassessing my thoughts and ideas about God, faith, and religion and how they fit into my empirical worldview. View all posts by benevolentheathen

3 responses to “Who is responsible for a child’s science education?

  • terrepeneornata

    Not all schools fail to teach evolution. I learned bits about it in almost all of my science classes in middle and high school. I would have loved to be in class the day your student tried to corner you. I think we could have tag teamed her. 🙂 And I definitely agree with your last paragraph. There are a lot of things church should keep their noses out of (but that’s another story entirely.) I just love it every time some one finds out I’m a biologist that goes to church. First question is always: evolution or creation. I just love the look on their faces when I tell them both. Its better when I mention my theory of aliens.

  • Rod Murrow

    Evolution and Creation need not be at opposite ends of the continuum; they are complementary. I learned the creation story in Sunday School and church; I learned about evolution in science class. I knew that the Bible was not intended to be used as a science book – and I knew that a science book was not intended to be used as a Biblical reference book. Even as a kid I knew this. It doesn’t have to be either/or – it needs to be both/and. I think you could turn your notion of a ‘fundamental disconnect’ around to indicate that many folks don’t know what religious education is, nor do they know how to separate it from non-religious education. Can you imagine the clamor that would ensue if churches were to suddenly require certification for Sunday School teachers or advanced degrees in religious education or theology for pastors? What if the basic job description for a pastor said “Master’s degree required; doctorate preferred”?

  • lukescott313

    I love hearing what you have to say Dr. Place. I agree that people need to learn what exactly science is and what it’s purpose is for sure. Personally I acknowledge the Divine for creating and sustaining the universe and all existence and I see science as a tool for studying the universe. It all makes sense to me. I totally see why many people do not like religion. Religion in many ways makes things very complicated. The scriptures that have been passed down for thousands of years contain errors and this leads to problems when die-hard religious devotees swear that the scriptures are perfect in every way, especially when the scriptures THEMSELVES attest to the fact that they have been altered! To me it is clear that the mysterious power that commands the universe is responsible for the creation of life as well as the evolution of species, for it is the source of ALL. However, WHAT the Divine is EXACTLY is a topic that volumes could be written on. It is definitely NOT a man or an angel or “god” with a big long beard sitting on a throne in the clouds. IT is real though..it is the SOURCE of ALL, the ORIGIN of all..I should blog about it 🙂 Anyway, hope to read more blogs from you in the future!

    One Love

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