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Dr. R. Wesley McCoy, Ph.D.
Reitred biology teacher, North Cobb High School
Research affiliate, Kennesaw State University
Thoughts on Human Origins
I believe that all natural processes are part of God’s creation. I embrace evolution as God’s simplest and most elegant form of creation. Understanding how humans are intimately connected through genetics to all other living species fills my soul with wonder. My understanding of evolution does nothing to diminish my faith in God. In fact, my connection to God is deepened when I contemplate the intricate beauty of evolution.
The power of science lies in our ability to quantify observations of the natural world in order to construct natural explanations of what we see. But science cannot measure honor, courage or love. The sacred mysteries of nature can be expressed in music, poetry, art and prayer. Scripture points me to spiritual truth. My faith points to a Creator of natural processes. Science is one way to understand God’s reality. Faith also provides a way for me to explore the meaning and purpose of my life. Being human allows me the privilege of exploring the mechanisms as well as the meaning of life.
It is vital to me that all of my students understand why scientists call evolution the cornerstone of biology. It is also important that they understand that many people have faith in God, creator of evolution.
Reflections on The Age of Humans (the Anthropocene)
The evidence for human-caused global climate change is both compelling and overwhelming. In addition to data from thousands of scientists over several decades, schoolchildren readily demonstrate the climate-changing effects of greenhouse gases in half-hour laboratory investigations. Without intervention, the long-term effects of global climate change will be devastating. The longer we delay interventions, the greater the risk and the cost of repairing the damage that will occur.
Despite these facts, some people choose to reject the consensus of 97% of the world’s climate scientists and the massive evidence collected over the past twenty years. Scientific ideas sometimes receive pushback in the classroom, whether studying tobacco use or HIV/AIDS or evolution or climate science. Most adults over the age of thirty have not been taught about climate science in school, which compounds the problem.
Science is not based on belief, but on measurements. Most schools are now teaching students how to plan and carry out investigations, analyze data and argue from evidence. Therefore, scientific arguments should focus on data. Some people not only question climate science, but the integrity of scientists. We need to recognize that such attacks serve primarily to distract from the actual evidence and delay necessary changes in our policies. Science denial is the most serious hindrance to public understanding of the choices we face in the Age of the Anthropocene.
The core practice of education is developing a relationship of trust. The starting point for teachers is helping students feel valued, safe and welcome in an atmosphere of academic challenge. Fortunately, many families think of a careful science education as key to enhancing success in a global marketplace. Parents view a trustworthy teacher as a partner. To be trustworthy, a teacher does not need to know everything, but should be a reliable guide to understanding the best science available.
We do well to remember the self-correcting nature of science. Science is both collaborative and highly competitive, and new research is published daily. New measurements are always being evaluated to see if they may cause us to reject a scientific model or explanation. Just as more orbital cameras provide us with a more comprehensive view of the Earth, adding more reliable climate data helps us modify our explanations so we can be more confident in our claims. Data can reveal points where we need more clarity. For example, reliable sources such as the Smithsonian, the AAAS and NASA have identified a need for more precise projections of sea level rise so that local agencies may avoid duplicating efforts to protect human communities and ecosystems.
We should listen carefully to questions individuals pose about climate change. Some questions, such as “Is climate change caused by humans?” reveal two ideas. The individual accepts that climate change is occurring but wonders about the cause. Those are two separate notions. We must avoid the trap of dividing people into “pro versus con groups”. Otherwise we risk assuming that there are only two ways to think.
Finally, we can live our lives as active learners. We can prepare ourselves as climate change educators by evaluating current climate change data so we can suggest sources for further reading. Let your dialogue with individuals include statements like “I wondered about the same thing myself.” Educators always plant seeds of ideas for future consideration.