How Do I Teach Evolution, Respectfully and Uncompromisingly?

I’m planning my unit on biology right now and I’m going to unabashedly teach evolution. The unit sequence begins with the essential questions of “What gives rise to the great diversity of life on this planet?” and “Where do humans come from?”* I will then ask my students to make predictions about what evidence would exist if creation were true, if evolution were true. By the end of the unit, students should have a solid understanding of the evolutionary process and the evidence for it. They’ll research an animal (or plant), its evolutionary history, what adaptations make that organism fit to survive and reproduce in its environment, and then predict how a population of that organism will evolve when placed in a new environment (meanwhile learning about biomes and ecosystems all the way).**

I will bring in elements of history and English by having my students read about the Scopes Monkey Trial as well. I think it’s incredibly important for them to know the context of the current evolution vs. creation “debate” and why evolution is not “just a theory” in the popular, not scientific, meaning of the word “theory.”***

What, if any backlash, will I get from the community? How can I plan to be uncompromising in terms of presenting scientific fact and at the same time be respectful of all the diverse and beautiful faith systems? I want to be sure to be sensitive at the same time push my students to think critically, question, and yes, at times, be uncomfortable.****

Also, if you’d actually like to take part in this process of unit planning, including creating the rubric for the project, or if you have these resources, please let me know! You can leave a comment here, find me on twitter, or email me.

Thank you in advance for your input!

*Essential questions adapted from the book Why Evolution is True by Jerry A. Coyne.

**Extension activities will include cross-disciplinary applications of the evolutionary process, specifically natural selection. For example, the process of brainstorming is all about getting ideas out in the open so that the best will survive, and computer scientists can generate random designs that are then tested for usefulness. Thanks to JDW for the latter idea!

***If you would like to debate the veracity of the evolutionary theory, please add your comments to this thread instead: I would like to keep the discussion of whether or not evolution is true and the discussion on how to teach evolution separate for clarity’s sake. Thanks!

****To put this post into its context, a 2006 poll revealed that “nearly one in eight American high school biology teachers admits to presenting creation or intelligent design as a valid scientific alternative to Darwinism” and “nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that if evolution is taught in the science classroom, creationism should be as well”. Meanwhile only forty percent of Americans judge the statement, “Humans descend from a primate lineage that split off from our common ancestor with the chimpanzee roughly seven million years ago” to be true. (All quotes from Why Evolution is True by Jerry A. Coyne.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Stephan Schildwacter says:

    What do you believe? By your post, it is obvious that you believe in in Evolution. What if you believed in Creation or Intelligent Design? You would then be putting more emphasis on those theories. Why not give equal emphasis to both, proving each one true (and even stating facts against each one equally), then letting students make a totally informed decision which one they want to embrace? They can do this with the help of their parents if parental involvement is passionate in this area. The student will then have a defense for and against the theory they embrace, without the teacher convincing them either way as to what way they should believe from you as the teacher, and should prevent parent backlash. Just my thoughts.

    1. debryc says:

      Hello Stephen, I cannot “prove” both theories true, because scientific facts do not give equal evidence for both. Creationism vs. Evolution should be decided by evidence, not by belief, and in teaching my students biology, they will see that the evidence points to evolution as the most robust theory, the narrative for all of biology that answers biology’s most essential questions. However, I welcome you to engage in dialogue on this subject by commenting on this post:

      Assuming that you wrote your comment as someone who believes in creationism, my questions are:
      What evidence do you have for creationism?
      Why, in your judgement, is the scientific evidence equally valid for creationism and evolution?
      Please specify your own understanding. Which story of creationism are you referring to? Is it the Christian story of creationism? Or the Nordic? If Christian, which variant?

    2. debryc says:


  2. Gertrude says:

    If Hindu parents want to teach their kids the creation story of Vishnu and Brahma, they can. If Greek parents want to teach their children the story of Gaea, they can. If Christian/Muslim parents want to their their kids the creation story of God, they can… but I don’t want my own children to learn those stories in school, especially in a science classroom.

    I pay taxes so my children learn science, no stories.

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