GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 285-12
Presentation Time: 11:25 AM


BARINEAU, Clinton I., Earth and Space Sciences, Columbus State University, 4225 University Avenue, Columbus, GA 31907-5645,

A large body of research in the fields of political science and psychology provide an excellent framework for understanding why scientists have been largely ineffective in significantly affecting student opinions on topics such as the age of the Earth, flood geology, evolution, and climate change. Unfortunately, confirmation bias, solution aversion, and a host of other psychological impediments to critical thinking make the most common educational tool employed by scientists – presentation of the facts – a significant obstruction in changing the opinions of individuals with entrenched beliefs. University students with strong beliefs in young Earth creationism, flood geology, and similar non-scientific convictions about the nature of the universe are not likely to ever be swayed by typical pedagogical techniques employed in introductory geology courses which present evidence contrary to their previously held opinions. A more effective approach, however, may present itself in the form of elective courses designed specifically to explore the sometimes overlapping magisteria of science and religion through open and impassive discussion of the two topics. In contrast to a traditional science class where students are graded on their ability to learn and synthesize facts, in this course students are encouraged to examine their own worldviews through classroom discussions and writing assignments on both scientific and religious topics without being graded on whether or not their view is scientifically correct (i.e. opinion papers). These topics often include published articles and presentations by religious scholars in support of evolution and other theories commonly rejected by the religious public, instead of scientific literature presenting the evidence for these theories. In-class electronic polling via personal response systems provides a mechanism for gathering real-time information on student opinions and changes in opinion over the duration of a single class or during an entire semester. Data from this course gathered over the past decade suggests it is at least moderately effective in swaying student opinions on topics ranging from flood geology and evolution to the age of the Earth.