2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 7
Presentation Time: 9:30 AM


THOMAS, Robert C., Environmental Sciences Department, University of Montana Western, 710 S. Atlantic St., Box 83, Dillon, MT 59725, Rob.thomas@umwestern.edu

The religious fundamentalist student has always been in college level geosciences courses, but recently they seem to be far more vocal and in some cases disruptive to the class. Since geoscience educators will always have to contend with these students, it is important to have strategies for dealing with the religious fundamentalist student.

Talk with any geoscience educator about religious fundamentalists in their classes and you will hear stories that are hard to believe. From Bible-thumping students shouting out in class that the professor is “going to Hell”, to students who obtain geoscience degrees in order to lend scientific credibility to their faith, the religious fundamentalist student has a significant impact on geoscience classes. The standard strategy is to ignore the problem and tell the student that their faith-based beliefs are not relevant in a science course. However, the growing percentage of college-level students who do not understand or believe in the most basic concepts of geologic time and evolution is alarming and requires the attention of geoscience faculty.

Since the primary issue is the non-science nature of religious fundamentalism, then it is critical that geoscience courses, especially at the introductory level, have a significant component that teaches the difference between science and faith in a manner that is not threatening to the student of faith. One method that appears to work is to point out the student's use of the scientific method in finding the classroom and how the outcome might have been very different had they used a faith-based approach. An effective strategy in smaller classes is to pair the students in the first week of the course and have them present the case for and against the teaching of "Intelligent Design" in public school science classes. The result is that they come to understand the difference between science and faith.