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#53 Teaching Evolutionary Theory

April 21, 2008

I am a teacher of high school geology and environmental science. I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable teaching the curriculum which includes the typical "proofs" of evolution. Am I betraying Christ by mindlessly repeating what I am expected to say? Can I justify my actions by saying that they should "know their enemy"?

Help most welcome!

Warm regards,


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Dr. craig’s response


As we begin our second year of Reasonable Faith online, I think that this is an appropriate question to begin with.

Sarah, I think you find yourself with a wonderful opportunity! Being a teacher is a sacred trust. To mindlessly repeat what you think to be untrue is to betray not only Christ, but also your vocation as a teacher as well as all those parents and students who trust in you.

All of us who teach have to teach about views we disagree with. In so doing we have an obligation to present those views fairly prior to subjecting them to criticism. Evolutionary theory is so important, not only scientifically, but culturally, in our day that it is imperative that your students understand it accurately. So you need to teach it to them well.

But that doesn't necessitate your presenting falsehoods as truths. Rather teach your students that this-or-that is what the theory asserts. Then discuss how well the theory measures up. Present the pros and cons of the theory in totally naturalistic terms, so that religion isn't pulled into it. To take a more neutral example, suppose you were teaching about cosmology. You'd want to discuss a bit the historical situation prior to Einstein's enunciation of his General Theory of Relativity. Then you'd want to show how Einstein applied his theory to the universe at large and what predictions it yielded. You'd want to talk about Friedman and Lemaitre's solutions to Einstein's equations that predicted an expanding universe. You'd want to talk about the empirical discoveries that were taken to confirm their theory. Then you'd want to talk about alternative theories, like the steady state theory or oscillatory theories.

Why can't you do the same thing with the Darwinian theory of biological evolution? Describe the problems and perplexities confronting Darwin and what theory he proposed to solve them. Show how his original theory needed to be shored up by Mendel's genetics. Describe how modern evolutionary theory has developed since. Then you can assess the strengths and weaknesses of the neo-Darwinian approach. You can say that this is the controlling paradigm in biology today which is overwhelmingly accepted. Tell your students what the theory explains well; share with them what it doesn't explain so well. A good example of this approach is Stephen Meyer, et al., Explore Evolution (Melbourne: Hillhouse, 2007).

You needn't mention God or creation or even intelligent design. Just weigh the merits and demerits of the theory. After all, rejecting neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory doesn't imply embracing a supernaturalistic alternative. We can be fairly confident, I think, given the explanatory inadequacies of the mechanisms of genetic mutation and natural selection, that by the end of this century current evolutionary theory will have morphed into a different evolutionary theory with additional mechanisms. Then everyone will say, just as they have before, "Well, we always knew that the old mechanisms were explanatorily deficient, but now we've solved that problem!"

- William Lane Craig