Teaching Evolution in Public Schools

Genesis Apologetics offers practical insights and tips for Christian teachers to consider when teaching the highly controversial topic of evolution.

We all know how controversial the creation vs. evolution debate can be. Just mentioning the topic conjures pictures of tense student-teacher interactions, parent-teacher meetings, and even school board meetings. How can Christian teachers move beyond the intensity associated with this topic and into real ministry efforts with students, while still teaching the state-required curriculum? Genesis Apologetics, Inc. proposes an effective, three-step strategy for educators.

1. Know the Top Four Reasons Students Believe in Evolution 

The topics involved in teaching evolution in public schools range from whale evolution to fossil layers to human evolution. But which topics actually make up the core reasons why students start believing in evolution? To help answer this question, Genesis Apologetics conducted a research project involving 292 young people (ages 14 to 24) that included asking the open-ended question: “Regardless of whether you believe in evolution, what is the best evidence that evolution is true?” The answers were varied, but we were able to sort them into ten categories. 

Interestingly, we found that of the ten categories, only four categories make up 72% of the reasons for belief in evolution. These are the arguments pertaining to human evolution (25%), Darwin’s Theory “proper” (mutations, natural selection, etc.) (21%), fossils and so-called “transitions” (15%), and the apparent consensus of scientists and science regarding the theory of evolution (11%). So belief in evolution is supported by a four-legged stool: human evolution, Darwin’s Theory, fossils/transition, and the idea that “scientists” support evolution. Focusing on these four topics will help teachers more effectively guide students through the maze of evolution teaching in public schools, which in some states (such as California) exceeds 250 pages and 50 classroom hours of instruction before graduating high school.

2. Learn the Dos and Don’ts Regarding the Evolution Topic in Public Schools

Evolution curriculum varies at the state, district, and sometimes even at the school level. This makes it difficult to come up with a one-size-fits-all set of guidelines for Christian teachers. Genesis Apologetics has, however, provided five recommendations that are likely to fit many situations.

  • Certain sections of the text can be skipped and other areas can be emphasized. The amount of leeway a teacher has regarding origin instruction will vary by school and grade level. In general, teachers sign a contract to be an agent of the state, county, or district. Therefore, they must teach the mandated curriculum.
  • Teachers can present a balanced treatment of the concept of origins in science class. If discussion would take an inordinate amount of class time, or derail scheduled discussion, students that have questions regarding origins can be encouraged to research the matter for themselves, ask their parents, or discuss after class so that instruction can continue. 
  • On an individual basis where teachers are not acting in their official capacity, teachers can share their personal opinions, beliefs, and perspectives on a variety of topics, including God, evolution, and biblical creation. This privilege is protected by First Amendment rights shared by teachers and students alike. However, teachers should be careful not to use their position as government employees to promote their religion or proselytize. 
  • Teachers can emphasize that (macro) evolution is a theory. Teachers do not have to affirm macro-evolution (“molecules-to-man”) as a fact, but they are generally required to teach the subject as represented in the textbook. However, teaching students only one side of the evidence does not promote critical thinking and scientific rigor. Students can be made aware of both the strengths and weaknesses of evolution theory—just as they should be with other theories. Some schools even have an academic freedom or critical thinking provision in a school policy or union contract. Such a provision allows teachers to discuss evolution and some of the counter arguments from a creation or abrupt appearance perspective. 
  • Teachers can point out that the theory of evolution is based on historical science and is not supported by observational science, for the simple reason that observational science requires making observations, conducting tests, and repeating tests. Historical science makes inferences about the past based on theories, but in the case of evolution (which supposedly occurred millions of years ago), it has never been observed in 4,000 to 5,000 years of recorded history. For example, consider asking students, “Was anyone present to watch the human ear form? Did someone observe all five independent systems necessary for hearing (pneumatic, mechanical, hydraulic, chemical, and electrical) become linked and inter-connected so that we can hear instantaneously today? Has anyone ever observed something like this emerge naturally in nature?” This will likely get students thinking. For more ways to present this concept in class, see "Science and Origin Stories" by Roger Patterson.

3. Equip Yourself with Solid Biblical Teaching That Addresses the Four Crucial Evolution Topics

The legality of teaching “creation science” proper and/or intelligent design is very complicated and can vary state by state. However, you can use the following resources to equip yourself with the truth. Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research are two established biblical creation ministries, and each of these ministries have abundant resources available on their websites. Genesis Apologetics has developed a free, six-lesson online program that is based directly on the ten main topics of evolution theory that are taught in public schools. Genesis Apologetics also provides a free mobile app

While mastering the ability to address every single piece of evidence for evolution is intimidating (if not impossible), learning about the four main pillars of evolution and how they can be debunked both scientifically and biblically is a great starting place for Christian teachers. 

Daniel A. Biddle, Ph.D. is President of Genesis Apologetics, Inc. a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to equipping youth pastors, parents, and students with Biblical answers for evolutionary teaching in public schools.

Need Help? Teachers should always teach with the goal of broadening students’ intellectual horizons, but should do so mindful of the sensitivities required by their position in light of current court understandings of the Establishment Clause. While navigating this complicated topic, CEAI encourages educators to seek counsel. Visit Ask an Attorney at ceai.org.


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