Evolution Education:
To Help You Cope with Complexity,
A Multiple-Positions Website from
the American Scientific Affiliation

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.
for the National Science Teachers Association
conference in Anaheim, California — April 8, 2006

This web-page shrinks the original powerpoint file into a
smaller space so you can more easily see the "big picture" overview.
It looks best when font-size is small enough to let full lines of text fit in table cells.

I'm chair of the ASA Science Education Commission
and editor of the ASA Science Education Website,
but the views in this presentation are my own,
not those of the American Scientific Affiliation.

Sometimes science teachers feel like they are immersed in a
"climate of controversy" so this was the title of a booklet
published in 1986 by the American Scientific Affiliation.
Potential Causes of Conflict:

conscientious teachers can feel

• teach unconventional theories, or
• avoid questioning conventional theories.

compassion (for student with personally
          meaningful beliefs about origins),
responsibility (to teach scientific evidence
          and logic that might affect these beliefs).

an overview of this presentation:

PROBLEM:  A Climate of Controversy, and
the Challenges of Coping with Complexity
in Questions involving Science and Religion.

SOLUTION?  No, because an educational approach
that's ideal for some is unacceptable for others,
and both extremes feel similarly strong about
the correctness and importance of their position.

RESOURCE:  we offer a multiple-positions website
about Origins Questions (not The Origins Answer,
as in most websites) that you may find useful.

Two Goals:
Accurate Understanding
and Respectful Attitudes

--> Educational Philosophy for Website

My civics teacher in high school
changed the way I think, in a good way,
with discussions about controversial issues.
Because our teacher was an expert debater,
Monday he persuaded us for one view, but
Tuesday he re-persuaded us for another view.

After awhile we learned that if we want to get
get the best information & arguments from all views,
and not allow weak/distorted "strawmen" by others.

RESPECTFUL ATTITUDES  —  After we learned a
more accurate/full understanding, we recognized that
even if we have good reasons for our view (no pomo),
others may have good reasons (intellectual & ethical)
for their views, --> respect for people and their views.


    Who are we?
    The American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) is an organization of scientists who are Christians, and our "multiple positions" website is consistent with our official policy:

"As an organization, the ASA does not take a position when there is honest disagreement between Christians on an issue.  We are committed to providing an open forum where controversies can be discussed without fear of unjust condemnation. Legitimate differences of opinion among Christians who have studied both the Bible and science are freely expressed within the Affiliation in a context of Christian love and concern for truth."

      But we are active in encouraging careful, high-quality thinking about how to interpret scripture and nature, in an effort to promote high-quality theology and science:
In 1986, we wrote Teaching Science in a Climate of Controversy.
In 1991, a policy statement about Teaching Evolution as Science.
Now, a Topics Collection developed by Jack Haas (former editor of the ASA journal) and a website for Education in Science & Faith by me.
ASA has other projects, plus individual activities by its members.

The Views of ASA on Origins & Creation

      ASA is a community of scientists — and engineers, and scholars in fields related to science, such as the history and philosophy of science, and science education — who are Christians. Although ASA doesn't "take positions" we are not postmodern relativists.

      Most members of ASA have old-earth views, some type of evolutionary creation (theistic evolution) or old-earth creation.
      Young-earth views are clearly expressed in the website, in the best pages we can find, but we also have counter-arguments from an old-earth perspective, so the overall result is a website that may be unsettling for those who don't want their views to be critically examined.  Thus, citing us might be a cause for concern by some students and parents, and a source of controversy for teachers.  And it could be a cause for opponents of "multiple positions" who don't want to include any ideas about creationism or intelligent design, or any critical questioning of evolution.
      ASA says "yes, God intelligently designed nature," but takes no position on the controversial claims for detectable "intelligent design-directed action in history."  The ASA's journal & websites include papers from both pro-ID and anti-ID perspectives.
What it is and is not — the ASA Science Education Website is an educational resource, an organized collection of useful information, but is not a declaration of policy.  Our website examines Origins Questions (for theology, science, and education) but does not claim to offer The Origins Answer (for theology, science, or education).  Our goal is accurate understanding with respectful attitudes.

      Theology in Public Schools?
      ASA is an organization for scientists who are Christians, promoting quality thinking about theology and science, and this website is about "Whole-Person
Education for Science and Faith."  But how can a "science and faith" resource, exploring relationships between science and theology, be useful in public schools where the curriculum should not include theology?
      a short answer:  Even though theology should not be taught in public schools, teachers should understand it, and they can explain religious perspectives (carefully, with wisdom and sensitivity) without teaching them.
      Teachers can USE the religious perspective of ASA, and also our resources for education, science, philosophy.

Religion in Public Education looks at what teachers can and cannot do legally, and the meaning of "establishment" and "free exercise" and their applications for education.
      For a tighter focus on questions about evolution, design, and creationism, read Origins Education in Public Schools.

      Using the ASA Science Education Website
      Teachers can use Origins Questions indirectly:
1. learn from it, decide what to "pass on" to students.

      Or teachers can use it more directly in two ways:
2. they can cite it as a resource for students to explore;
3. assign function-fulfilling pages for students to read.

      For #1, the website is designed to be a Quick Education, useful for busy teachers who want to find accurate information about a wide range of religious and scientific views.  Then you can decide how much of this information should be shared with students.
      For #2, a motivational disadvantage is when students ask, "will this be on the exam?"  Citing a website with a religious perspective may produce controversy, or it may help ease the burden from your back, so you don't have to do all the work and take all the heat, so you can tell students, "We'll teach the basic science in school, but if you want to explore more widely and deeply, here is a website that can help you learn."


The site-map for Origins Questions can be viewed in two ways.
• vertically, the columns show three perspectives:
theological (purple), scientific (green), educational (blue).
• horizontally, the rows show three questions:
When we disagree? How old is the earth? Was it all-natural?

What should we do when we disagree?
Respect and Truth
this is also
in science
Theology +
Science in Edu
Questions & Views
1. How old is the earth and universe?
Age of Earth:
Age of Earth: Science
Theology +
Science in Edu
2. Was the origins process all-natural?
Methods of
Design of Nature,
The Evolutions
Theology +
Science in Edu
Can a design theory be scientific?
+ philosopy
of science
Our website-goal is a quick education on two levels:
INTRODUCTION:  We'll begin with a condensed overview, an
organized "essence of important ideas" as in Cliffs Notes.
EXPLORATION:  To help you explore, we'll select pages that
examine the ideas and their relationships in more depth.

But our selectivity is not censorship.
This is a multiple-position website that includes people
with different perspectives, so you can be well informed
while you develop your own perspectives.

An I.O.U.
This website is under construction.  Plans for the future
are in Developing the ASA Science Education Website.
So far, as editor I've made most decisions about content,
style, and links. *  But soon, the responsibility will widen
and "we" will include more members of ASA.
(* views in the website don't necessarily represent views of ASA)

      Although I do express opinions about issues, my main feeling is not
"the issues" but is empathy for conscientious teachers who must Teach
Science in a Climate of Controversy.  (from my Origins Education)
      Teachers can "feel conflict" in a climate of controversy due to
External Pressures (teach unconventional, don't question conventional),
Internal Tensions (compassion for students, responsibility for science).

      Multiple Views:  for Accurate Understanding & Respectful Attitudes,
but doing this well (to maximize learning, minimize controversy) is difficult.

      ASAno official positions, but "quality thinking" in theology & science.
      Religious Perspectivesunderstand, explain (teach about, don't teach).
Use RP-Website:  indirect (learn & share), cite for students or assign pages.

      Web-Structure Sitemapperspectives (theology, science, education),
questions (When we disagree? How old is the earth? Was it all-natural?)
      Quick Education:  Overviews + Exploration, selectivity not censorship.

      ASA is scientists & scholars, mainly old-earth, not pro-ID or anti-ID.
Our "multiple positions website" offers an exploration of Origins Questions instead of claiming The Origins Answer.

      Evolution Education: Options for Coping With Complexity 
      When teaching evolutions (astronomical, geological, chemical, biological) the questions (scientific, philosophical, religious, educational) are complex and difficult. Teachers may feel external pressures to teach unconventional theories, or to avoid teaching (or avoid questioning) conventional theories. Or a teacher may feel internal tension between compassion (for a student with personally meaningful beliefs about evolutions) and responsibility (to teach the scientific evidence and logic regarding these beliefs).
     So a teacher doesn't have to teach everything (and be externally accountable for it) a potentially useful resource, for students and teachers who want to explore, is a "multiple positions" website I'm developing for the American Scientific Affiliation — an organization of Christian (but generally not young-earth) scientists — featuring the best available arguments for different views about Origins Questions.
     The goals of this approach are intellectual stimulation, scientific integrity, and educational quality, to allow inquiry-based learning that requires evaluative thinking. In the current social context, no approach can bring total harmony, because instruction that is satisfactory for some will be unacceptable for others. But we can aim for understanding and respect, with teachers who are "free to teach" building a solid foundation by planning wisely, and carrying out their plans with sensitivity and respect.


The remaining slides are a
sampling of Origins Questions
that are mainly in the domains of
although there are many overlaps
and interactions between these domains.

The intended goal of these slides is to convince you that
there are many interesting questions, but no simple answers.
  Accurate Understanding should lead to Recognition of Complexity,  
  and why our website is Origins Questions, not The Origins Answer.  

Origins Questions
that are mainly
a possible Theological Misconception by students:

Does "natural" mean "without God"?
NABT said YES with "unsupervised" nature!

In a Judeo-Christian theistic worldview,
"natural" does not mean "without God"
because we believe that natural process is
designed, created, and sustained by God, and
also guided by God, although views vary about
divine guidance, re: control (none, partial, total),
frequency (never, rarely, usually, always), and
context (formative history vs salvation history).

If some students are reluctant to learn evolution
because they think it must be atheistic, a teacher
can help improve their attitude and motivation by
explaining (not teaching) this theological principle.

In my definitions, natural = normal-appearing,
and is contrasted with miraculous-appearing.

When something occurs by natural process, does
this count for or against God being the designer?

Does "God of the gaps" have too many meanings?

Three Questions & Three Views of Creation

Three Types of Divine Design
1a) Design of Natural Process (before history began)
1b) Undetectable Guidance of Nature (during history)
2) Detectable Design-Directed Action (during history)
Design of Natural Process (of the Universe):
Sunshine warms our bodies, grows our food, and lets us see.
But why do we have sunshine?
It occurs because natural processes — which depend on the
mass of particles, mass-to-energy conversion (by e = mc2),
rate of nuclear reactions, sizes of nuclear & gravity forces,...
produce a cosmic tug-of-war balance between opposing
forces lasting billions of years, with nuclear explosions
pushing outward and gravity force pulling inward.

The relationship between 1a and 2 (A Design of Nature
and Design-Directed Action) is a controversial question in
theology, science, and education.  If nature was designed
(one question), was it designed to be totally self-assembling
by natural process (the usual "intelligent design" question)?

Most scientists agree that nature is "fine tuned" — imagine that dozens of dials on a console all tuned to the "just right" settings required to allow life — but disagree about the status of competing explanations:  1) designed universe,
2a) non-designed multiverse,
2b) designed multiverse.

Theists who think the universe was designed don't agree when we ask — Was nature designed to be totally self-assembling by natural process?  It seems to be partially self-assembling, with stars forming in a cosmic tug-of-war (nuclear vs gravity) and heavy nuclei forming in stars (we're made of stardust!), but is it TOTALLY self-assembling by only natural process or did God — who in conventional theology can do miracles — use miracles during the formative history of nature?

Maybe there is an essential tension, and a universe that is optimal for OPERATION (with sushine and life) cannot be totally self-assembling.  Walter Bradley asks, "Should we try to design a car that can change its own spark plugs?"  Why?

Origins Questions
that are mainly
      How strong is the scientific support for evolution?
This is a "trick question" that is too broad to be properly answered.
Instead, we should ask about four (or more) natural evolutions:
Most scientists are very confident about major current theories
for ASTRONOMICAL evolution and GEOLOGICAL evolution,
but not current theories for a CHEMICAL evolution of life
because "what is required" seems less than "what is naturally available."
      With BIOLOGICAL evolution, scientific support varies for:
micro-evolution in a species (plus minor macro-evolution),
fossil evolution (and an old earth) in the geological record,
universal ancestry (with all organisms related thru descent),
a natural Total Macro-Evolution of all complexity & diversity.  
      This is examined in Principles for Logical Evaluation of Evolutions.
      Is a theory that "Joe is an Olympic Weightlifter" supported if we see Joe can lift his hat?  Is it falsified if he cannot lift a 10-ton truck?  What crucial-experiment evidence lets us compare competing theories?
      Unfortunately, neo-Darwinism is often viewed as a "package deal" with all aspects of evolution having similarly high status.  Questions like those of Mike Behe (re: irreducible complexity) are rarely asked
A table from Principles for Logical Evaluations of Evolutions:
creation by
micro-E and minor macro-E YES YES YES YES
old earth with basic fossil-E YES
full common descent
YES no no
100% natural
Total Macro-E
YES no no no

We should avoid an illogical shifting of support
from one aspect of neo-Darwinism to another.
As you can see in the table above, the degree of scientific questioning varies:
young-earth creationists challenge all historical science, in biology and in geology & astronomy;
but other scientists, including Michael Behe and myself, are wondering if the history of nature is
100% natural (not just 99.99999...% natural) so our questions are about "the other .00...01%".

Policy decisions in education are complicated by the fact that questions span such a wide range,
from .00...01%-questions of Behe to the comprehensive challenges of young-earth creationists
(who claim that most conclusions of conventional historical science are wrong).  As a person
"in the middle" I'm faced with subtleties such as explaining why it may be educationally useful to
ask some questions (like those of Behe) but not other questions (from young-earth creationists).
(later, I look at some practical questions about a slippery slope in education)


What is scientific method?

For my PhD Dissertation, I constructed a model of scientific method:  Integrated Scientific Method (ISM) is a model of scientific action.  It is a synthesis of ideas — mainly from scientists and philosophers, but also from sociologists, psychologists, historians, and myself — that describes the activities of scientists: what they think about and what they do.  It shows how the mutually supportive skills of creativity and critical thinking are intimately integrated in the problem-solving methods used by scientists.

Because I agree with the consensus of scholars that no single "method" is used by all scientists at all times, I am not trying to define The Scientific Method.  Therefore, it's more accurate (and more useful) to view this model as a roadmap that shows possibilities for creative wandering, not a rigorous flowchart for describing a predictable sequence.

Ideas in the next two slides (visual picture of ISM, and more) are from:
An Overview of Scientific Method  
Reality Checks in Scientific Method  
Can "intelligent design" be scientific? 
Can historical science be scientific?

and Integrated Design Method is a strategy for doing almost everything!

are the logical foundation of SCIENTIFIC METHOD:

The essence of scientific method is
a skillful use of evidence-and-logic.
One way to use evidence-and-logic is described below.

Testing Design by using "Mutual Exclusion" Logic:
If non-design (by undirected natural process) and design
are defined to be mutually exclusive, the status of
design changes if the status of non-design changes, so
a design theory is empirically responsive and testable. 

 %-probability of non-design 
%-probability of design
SUM of %-probabilities

      Is rigid methodological naturalism useful and wise in a scientific search for truth about the history of nature?
      Must all scientists always conclude — independent of evidence and logic, for every question about the history of nature — that "it happened by natural process"?
      If the history of nature has not been totally natural, but has included occasional miracles, then methodological naturalism that is rigid (not testable) will automatically reach some wrong conclusions.  Is this what we want?
      If the conclusion of rigid methodological naturalism (non-testable MN) is "independent of evidence and logic," does this rigid-MN bypass the logical process of science and then claim the cultural authority of science?

      Do scholars ask questions?  You can see arguments (logical & practical) for both rigid-MN and testable-MN.

      Imagine this super-science:  a society of ET-aliens who are intelligent (IQ = 20,000), billion-year lifespan, devoted to science, exploring universe for 5 billion years, concluding "undirected natural process cannot produce life."
      In this situation, would "undirected natural process" be the best explanation, based on scientific evidence-and-logic?
      Will "future science" always increase the status of a naturalistic theory?  ( Chemical Evolution in 1954 & 2006? )

      Should we ask the questions?
      For example, should scientists welcome the questions of Mike Behe,
viewing them as a stimulus for critical analysis and creative thinking, an
opportunity to better understand evolution at the molecular level?  Should
science journals be eager to communicate new ideas, to host invigorating
debates between a theory's critics and its loyal defenders?  Even if Behe's
answers turn out to be wrong, his questions might be scientifically useful.
      In the late-1990s, Mike Behe tried to publish in science journals, but
his papers were rejected.  Was this response based on the evidence-and-
logic of scientific method?  Were the rejections logical or sociological?
Were they related to methodological naturalism and an assumption that
"it happened by natural process" must always be the answer?
      Should journal editors wait until proponents of design theories have
irrefutable proof?  In the near future, scientists will disagree about the
plausibility of Behe's claims, but conflicts are common in science and
the resulting interplay of ideas can be productive.

      Similar questions could be asked about a chemical evolution of the
first life, since current theories seem scientifically questionable.

Origins Questions
about relationships between

Coping with Complexity in Relationships
A prominent historian, John Brooke, emphasizes the
difficulty and complexity of defining religion and science.

my example:  Imagine that we consider five definitions for each
(in table, Rel-1 thru Rel-5, and Sci-1 thru Sci-5) and we wonder
which of the 25 science-religion interactions should be used to
define "the relationship" and, to further complicate the analysis,
which of the many interactive dimensions — logical, sociological,
psychological, institutional,... — should be the focus(es) of attention.


What are the similarities and differences between
Intelligent Design (claiming to be science) and
Young-Earth Creationism (clearly religious)?
There are major differences in scientific claims:
flood geology is a claim of YEC and not by ID.
But both dispute claims of total natural evolution.
YEC claims "creation by God" but ID doesn't,
yet "creation" seems strongly implied by ID, and
theistic evolution also claims "creation by God."
The ID community has welcomed YECs into its
" big tent" which offers benefits for political and
financial support, but not for scientific credibility.
How should we define creationism:
theologically (all theists are creationists)?
if any claim for miraculous-appearing action?
if young-earth flood geology based on Genesis?

Michael Behe says:
as a person, I think the designer was God, but
as a scientist, I think the evidence is ambiguous
when we ask "who was the designer?"

Richard Dawkins makes scientific claims (for E)
and religious claims (for atheism); is his science
influenced by his religion, and should we ignore
his scientific claims due to his religious claims?
Phil Johnson makes scientific claims (against E)
and religious claims (for theism); is his science
influenced by his religion, and should we ignore
his scientific claims due to his religious claims?

Should we judge Mere Evolution (for Dawkins)
and Mere Design (for Behe or Johnson) purely on
their scientific merits, using evidence-and-logic?

What are the mutual science-religion interactions
for natural evolution and miraculous creation?
These are examined in the two slides below:

The two tables below are identical, but different conclusions
are reached by focusing on horizontal or vertical relationships:

With theism, scientists are free to follow evidence-and-logic.
With atheism, science conclusion is determined by worldview.
(but the "only acceptable conclusion" could still be true)
Natural Evolution can be consistent with different worldviews;
but Miraculous Creation cannot, so it strongly implies theism.

Evolutionary Creation (Theistic Evolution) can be
consistent with strong Christian theology, in my opinion.
But others disagree, adopting a simplistic "two model" view.

For some theists (especially young-earth creationists),
evolution = atheism, and science is determined by worldview:
And for some atheists,
evolution strongly implies atheism, and is necessary for it:

Origins Questions
that are mainly

Educational questions began earlier in the presentation:

How can teachers cope with external pressures and internal tensions?

How can a "theology resource" (e.g. ASA Sci Ed Website) be useful in public schools where the curriculum should not include theology?

How can teachers use ASA Science Ed, either indirectly or directly?  Will it improve the quality of education, will students be motivated to use it, and will it increase or decrease a climate of controversy?

How is the website structured, so a teacher can easily find topics?

Other questions — about Freedom & Responsibility, Constitutional Legality, Methods of Teaching, Education Policies, and Young-Earth Views — are at the beginning of Origins Education in Public Schools which will be a good starting place for your explorations.

Later there will be two more sub-areas within Origins Education: for Christian Education (in church, home, school) and Informal Education (in popular books and magazines, newspapers and websites, radio and television, movies and music).

And the final slide contains some leftover questions:

      In the United States Constitution, the 1st Amendment (Bill of Rights) states that "Congress shall make no laws concerning an establishment of religion or preventing the free exercise." Interpretations differ for each of the bold-words, leading to arguments about legal principles and their practical educational applications in the classroom.
      For example, what can teachers be required to do, and allowed to do?
      Does an absence of religious perspectives produce a neutral treatment?
      Legally, what is similar and different about design and creationism?
      If there is a "slippery slope" leading inevitably from critical thinking about evolution to intelligent design, young-earth creationism, and evangelism in the classroom, should we avoid critical thinking?  ( This is a challenging question, because:  • creationists are using "design" and "arguments against evolution" to bypass legal rulings in the 1980s against teaching creationism;  • but there may be scientifically justifiable questions about some aspects of biological (and chemical) evolution, and appropriate use of critical thinking can be educationally effective. )
      Is "teaching the controversy" impossible because controversy doesn't exist, as indicated by an absence of pro-design papers in science journals?
      Can "critical thinking about controversy" be used to persuade students to change their personal beliefs about science and religion?

some personal comments:
Generally I don't think slippery-slope logic is valid, although it's easier to rhetorically defend
simplistic extreme positions that range from postmodern science (by creationists who want all
views taught as if they had equal scientific support) to neo-Darwinist unquestioning loyalty (with
no critical questions allowed) and a totally naturalistic history as the only acceptable conclusion.
But a middle position does face tough questions about how to minimize the possibility, in public
school science classrooms, of slippery-slope-sliding from potentially productive critical thinking
(about some aspects of evolution) into the unproductive relativism of teaching a variety of views
(including young-earth science) without the scientific criticisms justified by evidence-and-logic.
      some post-talk reflections:
      During the question-and-response part of my talk on April 8, most questions were what I had anticipated.  But two people asked, "What policy do you recommend?", and — oops! — due to my inadequate planning in not anticipating this, I didn't have a good response.  As often happens, at least for me, I think about "what I should have done" afterwards, and now I'm sharing my thoughts with you on the day after, April 9:
      What I should have done and said was to show the slide about A Problem and A Resource and say "here are the two goals, Accurate Understanding and Respectful Attitudes," and explain that I don't have a satisfactory SOLUTION (as explained earlier in the slide) but I think an improved understanding (more accurate) and attitude (more respectful) will help.  The goals are limited to "understanding with respect" because the ASA Science Education Website IS an educational resource, an organized collection of useful information, but IS NOT a declaration of policy.  Our website examines Origins Questions (for theology, science, and education) but does not claim to offer The Origins Answer (for theology, science, or education).
      In other talks at the NSTA conference, I heard very little recognition of any reasons (intellectual, ethical, or educational) for considering any instructional strategy except "evolution as fact with no questions allowed."  As a scholar and educator, I think this is not the best approach for a prestigious educational organization like NSTA, and one goal of my talk was to explain why — instead of all speakers repeating the same theme, claiming there are ZERO reasons to consider any alternatives to "declaration of fact" as the method of instruction, since no alternatives (including intelligent design) have any rational basis — perhaps more "understanding and respect" would be useful, to see that "even if we have good reasons for our view, others may have good reasons for their views."   { Slides 19-20 outline some reasons for why teaching evolution as "a fact" is logically justifiable in many ways but not all ways. }



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