SICB Annual Meeting 2008 Symposia

Symposium: "Evolution vs. Creationism in the classroom: evolving student attitudes"

(Organized by E. Lovely)

Teaching college students about the nature of science should not be a controversial exercise. College students are expected to distinguish between astronomy and astrology, chemistry and alchemy, medicine and voodoo magic. Likewise, they are expected to accept the theory of evolution as an established scientific model, and creationism as a religious belief. In practice, however, the conflict between creationism and the nature of science may create controversy in the classroom, even walkouts, when the subject of evolution is raised. Creationist views can obstruct learning in biology and zoology. When students do not approach introductory courses rooted in evolutionary theory with an open mind, they can struggle to see the relevance and importance throughout the semester. For example, in zoology classes the characteristics of taxonomic groups are learned within a phylogenetic context. If a student rejects common ancestry the majority of the semesters work placed in an evolutionary context becomes irrelevant and incorrect. Teaching Biology and Zoology to a class where creationist views are common can be a challenge. The time and patience spent convincing obstinate students can encumber class time. Occasionally students with these views can disrupt class and impede the quality of the course for other students. The recent court case in Dover Pennsylvania, media coverage, and school board decisions throughout the United States indicate this is an important and current issue. The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology is sponsoring a symposium during their 2008 annual meeting concerning teaching evolution and college student attitudes. Many members of this society are college biology instructors. The objectives of this gathering are to address undergraduate attitudes and teaching strategies. What can educators of undergraduates do to effectively present material, minimize conflict, and maximize student learning? Are there pedagogic techniques that can help us in a classroom with diverse student attitudes?

Outline of Program:

  • Introduction to symposium and student attitudes survey results
    Eric Lovely

  • List of speakers:

    S4-1.1 Fri, Jan. 4, 08:00 LOVELY, Eric C.: Teaching Evolution: Evolving Student Attitudes

    S4-1.2 Fri, Jan. 4, 08:30 VERHEY, S. D.: Update on the Effect of Engaging Prior Learning on Student Attitudes Toward Creationism and Evolution

    S4-1.3 Fri, Jan. 4, 09:00 KONDRICK, Linda C: Thomism and Science Education: History Informs a Modern Debate

    S4-1.4 Fri, Jan. 4, 09:30 DONOVAN, S.: Tree Reasoning in Evolution Education

    S4-1.5 Fri, Jan. 4, 10:30 ALTERS, Brian: Teaching Evolution in Higher Education

    S4-1.6 Fri, Jan. 4, 11:00 JUNGCK, John R*; WEISSTEIN, Anton: Synergistic Evolutionary LEarning Consortium: evolution in acTION: A NESCent Working Group

    S4-1.7 Fri, Jan. 4, 11:30 NELSON, Craig E.: Teaching Evolution Effectively: A Central Dilemma and Alternative Strategies.

    S4-2.1 Fri, Jan. 4, 13:00 PADIAN, K: How to get coverage of major evolutionary adaptive changes into textbooks and curricula

    S4-2.2 Fri, Jan. 4, 13:30 FORREST, Barbara: Still Creationism After All These Years: Recognizing and Counteracting Intelligent Design

    S4-2.3 Fri, Jan. 4, 14:00 SCOTT, Eugenie C: Creation Science is Alive and Well

  • Roundtable and summary session

Speaker Biographies

Eric Lovely
Dr. Eric Lovely received his Ph.D. in zoology from University of New Hampshire. His dissertation research focused on the life histories and evolution of sea spiders (Pycnogonida). He is currently an Assistant Professor of Biology at Arkansas Tech University where he has been polling students on their opinions concerning evolution before and after introductory courses that teach evolution.

Steven Verhey
As an Assistant Professor at Central Washington University, Steve Verhey accepted leadership of assessment and improvement efforts for the university's General Education Program, and chaired the campus-wide General Education Committee for two years. He also initiated the university's Darwin Day celebration tradition, now in its sixth year.

While teaching introductory biology for both majors and non-majors, he noted that nearly all students had had previous exposure to creationism/intelligent design. As a result of his own learning about teaching, he decided to try offering his students some information about intelligent design along with traditional evolutionary biology material.

Although engaging prior learning undeniably reflects sound pedagogy, it is controversial in the area of creationism-evolution education.

Compared with students in other sections of the same class, students who had experienced a respectful presentation of some intelligent design information were significantly more likely to change their attitudes from christian literalist or young Earth creationist toward more rationalist views. A preliminary report of this study was published in BioScience in 2005. Further data strongly support the initial observation.

The year the BioScience paper was published, he was denied tenure at CWU. This gave him the opportunity to begin a new career while continuing his interest in evolution education. He is currently at work on a paper reporting the results from the larger data set.

Brian Alters
Dr. Brian Alters holds an $8 million endowed chair (the Tomlinson Chair in Science Education) and project, is named Sir William Dawson Scholar, and holds appointments internationally at McGill University in Montréal, and at Harvard. He recently won McGill University's highest teaching award, the President's Prize for Excellence in Teaching. He served as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the first legal case involving intelligent design, Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District, which originated in Dover, PA. Along with producing 5 books in the last 5 years on biology, evolution, religion and education, Dr. Alters is founder and director of the Evolution Education Research Center, a joint involvement between researchers in science and education at McGill and Harvard. He writes primarily about evolution education and teaching, with some recent books being Biology Understanding Life (a university-level biology textbook), Teaching Biology in Higher Education (a teaching guide for instructors), and Defending Evolution in the Classroom (with a Foreword by the late Stephen Jay Gould). His work has been reported world-wide in thousands of articles and media outlets, including Nature, ABC, CNN, CBC, MSNBC, Associated Press, The New York Times, Scientific American, MTV, and Rolling Stone.

Samuel Donovan
Donovan, S. (in press). Teaching the tree of life: Tree thinking and reasoning about change over deep time. In Bybee, R. (Ed.) Evolutionary science and society: Educating a new generation.

John Jungck
Dr. Jungck has specialized in mathematical molecular evolution, history and philosophy of biology, and science education reform. In 1986, he co-founded the BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium, a national consortium of college and university biology educators devoted to curricular reform across the nation. It promotes quantitative, open-ended problem solving, collaborative learning, peer review, research, and civic engagement/social responsibility. He is a Fulbright Scholar (Thailand), a Mina Shaughnessy Scholar, a Fellow of the National Institute of Science Education, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The Synergistic Evolutionary LEarning Consortium: Evolution in AcTION, a "Working Group" of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, is implementing applied evolutionary research in undergraduate biology education. Members of the working group include the BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium, scientific specialists, and science education researchers. Evolutionary research is engaged with many contemporary human problems in ways that are seldom included in current undergraduate biology education. Examples include: the development of vaccines for newly emerging infectious diseases (SARS, AIDS, Asian bird flu, etc.); design of pharmaceuticals; clinical use of chemotherapy to determine whether treatment will be efficacious or nontoxic for a specific patient; development of resistance to extensively used biocides (antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides, cancer chemotherapeutics); prevention of destruction to our environment by invasive species; use of index fossils to identify energy reserves; simulation of locomotion of diverse species to understand human biomechanics and construct better prostheses; improvement in the yield and quality of crops and livestock; sustainable management of national parks, forest, prairie, and coral reef preserves, and international heritage sites; and, preservation of endangered species and biodiversity, in general. Databases of primary research data on each of these issues will be constructed in a fashion that engage students in formulating and testing evolutionary hypotheses by importing the data into statistical packages, spreadsheets, phylogenetic software, and modeling programs. Explicit synthesis of various approaches to evolution at the molecular, organismal, and ecosystem levels and through heterogeneous perspectives of population and quantitative genetics, evolutionary ecology, bioinformatics, and phylogenetic systematics will be emphasized.

Craig E. Nelson
Teaching Evolution Effectively: A Central Dilemma And Alternative Strategies
CRAIG E. NELSON is Professor Emeritus of Biology at Indiana University. His biological research has been on evolution and ecology, most recently on sex-determination in turtles. He has taught biology, intensive freshman seminar, various honors courses, several collaboratively taught interdisciplinary courses (mostly in environmental studies) and a graduate biology course on Alternative Approaches to Teaching College Biology. His teaching papers address critical thinking and mature valuing, diversity, active learning, teaching evolution and the scholarship of teaching and learning. He has presented invited workshops at many national meetings and individual institutions (in 37 states and 8 countries). He has served on the editorial boards of several journals on pedagogy and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and on teaching grant review panels for the National Science Foundation and other national programs. He was co-director (for 10 years) of a set of NSF funded institutes for high school biology teachers on "Evolution and the Nature of Science" ( for resources), was founding Director of Environmental Programs in IU's School of Public and Environmental Affairs, was instrumental in the development of IU's award winning Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) program ( and was the first President of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning ( He received awards for distinguished teaching from IU and nationally competitive awards from Vanderbilt and Northwestern and is a Carnegie Scholar. In 2000, he was named the Outstanding Research And Doctoral University Professor Of The Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and received the President's Medal for Excellence, "the highest honor bestowed by Indiana University," in 2001.

Kevin Padian
"How to get coverage of major evolutionary adaptive changes into textbooks and curricula"
Kevin Padian is Professor of Integrative Biology and Curator in the  Museum of Paleontology at the University of California, Berkeley.  He is also President of the National Center for science Education.  He has worked extensively to improve science education and instructional materials for over 20 years in California, and was recently an expert witness in the Dover, Pennsylvania "Intelligent Design" trial. Drawing on this  experience and his research expertise on the origin of major evolutionary features, his talk will center on some approaches that SICB scientists can take to influence and improve the teaching of evolution in a variety of college courses -- from introductory biology to comparative anatomy, evolution, and paleontology. The photo is courtesy of E.W. Littlefield Jr. 

Barbara Forrest
Barbara Forrest is a Professor of Philosophy in the Department of History and Political Science at Southeastern Louisiana University. She is the co-author with Paul R. Gross of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (Oxford University Press, 2004; 2007, 2nd ed. paper), which details the political and religious aims of the intelligent design creationist movement. She served as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the first legal case involving intelligent design, Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District, which originated in Dover, PA, and was resolved with a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs in December 2005. She is a member of the board of directors of the National Center for Science Education and the National Advisory Council of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. She has appeared on Larry King Live, ABC's Nightline, and the BBC's Horizon documentary about the Kitzmiller trial, "A War on Science." Her radio interviews include NPR's Science Friday with Ira Flatow and Americans United's Culture Shocks with Barry Lynn. She is the 2006 co-recipient with Brown University cell biologist Kenneth Miller of the American Society for Cell Biology's Public Service Award.

Eugenie Scott
Dr. Eugenie C. Scott, a former college professor, is Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, Inc., a not for profit membership organization in Oakland, CA, of scientists, teachers, and others that works to improve the teaching of evolution, and of science as a way of knowing. It opposes the advocacy of "scientific" creationism and other religiously-based views in science classes. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS), and the advisory counsels of several church and state separation organizations. She has held elective offices in the American Anthropological Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Scott is the current president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, for which she has also been Secretary-Treasurer. Honors include the Bruce Alberts Award of the American Society for Cell Biology, the Isaac Asimov Science Award from the American Humanist Association, the First Amendment Award from the Playboy Foundation, the James Randi Award from the Skeptic Society, and the Distinguished Alumna Award from the University of Missouri College of Arts and Sciences.