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a journal of analysis and comment advancing public understanding of religion and education
(more on the Journal)

Fall 2006
Vol. 33 No. 3

A Clash of Opposing Worldviews: How One Professor Teaches
Intelligent Design/Evolution Controversy

Robert J. Nash

My main purpose in writing this article is to look at the controversy between Intelligent Design (ID) and Evolution (EV) from the point of view of a veteran college professor who teaches a unit on this topic in his elective graduate course “Religious Pluralism for Educators.” Many public school teachers and administrators sign up for this course every year, along with a number of higher education administrators. Because so much has already been written on the ID/EV controversy, and because the most publicly visible advocates of each position tend to express their views in stark either-or rhetoric, I have decided to write this essay in another way. I am less interested in providing readily available technical information about ID and EV (the other articles in this theme issue of R&E do that very nicely), or in arguing for a pet position, than I am in giving readers a sense of what one professor actually tries to do on the front lines of a classroom seminar as professional educators grapple with the ID/EV conflict.

As a teacher, I seek to be a reconciling force in the ID/EV debate without watering down those intractable intellectual, political, and philosophical differences in the opposing views. This is dangerous, of course, because both sides have accused me of selling out to the opposition, of watering down the obvious “truth” of science or religion, of giving aid and comfort to the “enemy” because I refuse to take them on and immobilize, or destroy, them once and for all. I am a college professor of nearly four decades working in a college of education and social services, and there isn’t much by way of extremism that I haven’t heard in my religious pluralism, and other philosophically-oriented, courses that I teach, especially on the ID/EV conflict.

So, what the reader can expect in the following pages are a brief summary of the main points of Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Evolution, as well as some issues that come up in my classes around the ID/EV controversy and how I handle them. When appropriate, I will also share my own point of view on the issues, for what it might be worth. I will close with a series of modest recommendations for how to talk with educators about ID/EV in a graduate student classroom in a way that doesn’t silence unpopular points of view.

Let me begin by saying that whenever the ID/EV controversy takes center stage in my course, whether or not I have formally assigned readings on it, our seminar conversations become volatile, emotional, and, at times, one-sided. It seems that everyone in the field of education, whether teacher or administrator, student or parent, has a particular point of view on this issue. Everyone, with few exceptions, becomes a partisan. Whether they stake out their territory as secularists or spiritualists, evolutionists or teleologists, naturalists or supernaturalists, when the right buttons get pushed, people take sides. Many become strident fundamentalists. They burn with righteous zeal. And, make no mistake, buttons do get pushed.

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