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Teaching Evolution and Christianity – why they don’t have to be mutually exclusive

Okay if you have been around a while you know that I am the QUEEN of a preface (I just feel like I have to say all the things since most likely you are a stranger reading this and you don’t know me, and I don’t know you, and it is 2021 and I am bound to say something offensive without meaning to!) but this will for sure be the biggest preface in my blogging history – I mean, how could it NOT be when writing a post about evolution AND Christianity??

I want to share with you how I have addressed conflicts with admin, students, and parents regarding teaching evolution and Christianity, and why I don’t believe they can’t coexist as topics we teach our students.

So before I dive into two very polarizing topics in one post, I just have to preface by saying that I absolutely do not presume that I know everything about this. Heck, I do not even know a lot – ha!! BUT I do want to share what I believe to be true in case this reaches some teacher out there who is struggling right now with teaching evolution and Christianity – whether it be your own struggles or the struggles of your students, admin, or parents with these two topics.

I know that there are MANY different religions and viewpoints that would make this blog post very different if written from those angles. But like I promised on day one when I decided to start a teaching blog, I will only ever write from my own experiences and perspectives. So because of this, I will be sharing my experiences teaching evolution and Christianity as:

  1. A science teacher who loves science.
  2. A follower of Jesus who loves the Bible.
  3. As someone who spent four years teaching in a small private Christian school.

I have taught in a large public school as well where sharing my beliefs obviously did not happen, out of respect for all of my students and of course the legalities of the job. However, when I did teach in a small private Christian school, I was not only encouraged but expected to integrate my faith into my lessons daily. So again, I just want to be fully transparent with the perspective from which I am writing this!

Long story short – take everything I am about to say with a grain of salt!! Here are my thoughts on teaching evolution and Christianity as a high school science teacher and professed Christian.

First, how to address teaching evolution and Christianity when your admin doesn’t approve:

I am going to be completely honest. I feel like NOT teaching evolution isn’t an option. I believe it is an extreme disservice to your students to NOT educate them when we have experimental data that shows it happening in our lifetime (Ex. The evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.) Our students need to be prepared for higher education, and honestly, just life in general!

It’s our job as science teachers to teach science and evolution is science. Here is how I approached this when interviewing with the admin at the private Christian school I most recently taught in. I asked their policies on teaching evolution and explained that it was a non-negotiable for me. They were extremely receptive and completely heard me out! If that isn’t the case where you are, I recommend looking for a job at a school where their values and beliefs align with yours. Being on the same page as your admin makes doing your job so much more enjoyable!

I truly don’t think there is any reason why evolution isn’t possible AND believing the Bible isn’t possible. These two things can co-exist! Even Darwin, who is most often associated with evolution (even though he didn’t even come up with evolution – just the mechanism for HOW it occurs) didn’t seek out to disprove the existence of a god.

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking out Stories Behind the Science. This website has a list of articles on different topics that tell – you guessed it – the story behind the science. I love the story about Charles Darwin and his faith journey. The story explains how he was a professed Christian at one point in his life. I won’t ruin it – you should read it for yourself – but he actually died claiming to be agnostic. This wasn’t because of what he determined about natural selection, but because of some really sad circumstances that made him question the existence of a god.

I actually use the Darwin and Wallace stories to introduce my evolution unit to my students. It helps students to see the nature of science, that Darwin wasn’t the ONLY one with the idea, and that he wasn’t out to destroy the church (yes, I have had students say this to me.)

I also really love this site and all of the common misconceptions about evolution that they address. It has been an incredibly helpful resource for both me and my students!

Your admin and students may think:
evolution = big bang theory
or that
evolution = humans were once monkeys.

These are SUCH misguided beliefs! There is SO MUCH MORE to teach them about evolution than the origin of life theories. If you are at a Christian school fighting to bring evolution into your curriculum, I highly recommend showing them all that you can teach about the principles of natural selection and mechanisms of evolution without ever touching human evolution or the creation of the universe. My entire unit is written that way!

Second, how to address teaching evolution and Christianity with students and parents who have conflicting beliefs:

Maybe your admin is on board with evolution and Christianity but you have students or parents that are extremely anti-evolution and arguing from a biblical standpoint. I hear that completely. Here are two thoughts and two verses I have about the Bible and evolution:

(1) Science is a study of the natural world and God is supernatural. This means that he is outside the boundaries of science. If we are trying to put God in a box to understand all the things, then that is not how faith works.

Faith is being willing to believe in something without having all the answers. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” [Proverbs 3:5-6]. I have found this verse really helpful if my students can’t reconcile what they are learning in school vs. what they were taught in church. I think that’s a great scripture to say, “Hey, if you want all the answers, then following Jesus will be really hard. It’s going to require accepting that you will NOT have all the answers!”

(2) Another verse I love is [Deuteronomy 29:29] that says, “The secret things belong to God.” If not understanding is a major roadblock, point to this verse. We weren’t intended to understand everything!! There are limitations to our understanding, and that’s okay! One of those major limitations can be wrapping our minds around evolution and the creation story in the Bible. But it doesn’t mean that we need to dismiss evolution entirely OR dismiss God entirely.

I know that I’m not God. I know that I don’t have all the answers. But I believe with all of my heart that the God that I follow and serve is big enough for the things in the Bible to be true AND the principles of natural selection to be true as well.

I have wrestled through questions with evolution and Christianity since I first sat in an evolutionary biology class in college over a decade ago and then sat in an hour-long Bible study right after that for a semester. I have prayed and brought my questions and doubts to God. This is what I have learned over the last decade, and this is how I’ve approached the topic with my students who were struggling, too. I hope these reflections from my own experiences are helpful to you. Feel free to reach out to continue the discussion through my contact page here!

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