Evolution and Religion – 4.15.22

Dear College of Science Faculty and Staff, When I was 21 and teaching Science in Neasden High School, London, I was volunteered for a debate titled ‘Evolution vs Religion’. The venue was one of the science labs, which was incredibly noisy and packed with kids. My opponent was a dapper math teacher, who vociferously laid out his case that evolution was a failed theory, and that creation was the only truth. Armed with undergraduate knowledge, I bravely represented natural selection as more than a theory, but he was well-equipped with rhetoric. When the bell rang, my adversary huffed off, declaring himself victor. I’ve thought quite a bit about that debate, and how to have prepared better, but more importantly, whether Evolution vs Religion is even a contest. By the time I started teaching Introductory Biology to university students, my framing had shifted. Some of the students worried that studying science or engineering was not compatible with religious belief, and some worried that if they openly showed their connection to religion, they would be ridiculed by their peers. I decided to tackle both worries in our large class, with a module called ‘Evolution and Religion’. In part 1, I shared data from bacteria or yeast which both multiply very fast so it's easy to see evolution and natural selection in action. Here’s a great video showing evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria over 11 days. In part 2, I told the students that in my view, Evolution and Religion are not opposing, they are different. Evolution explains changes in Life over time, while Religion is for me about the spirit, connection, and comfort. To me, Evolution and Religion are in different domains, and you can have both. I shared that I’m quite religious and have never found this counter to my deep involvement with Science. The class was very still during the discussion, so I knew it was making an impression. Sometimes I invited clergy to the lecture and pointed them out as a resource. It was always positive. It would be interesting to go back in time to Neasden High School and have that debate again. Maybe I’d bring a mic. I would surely bring plenty of supporting data, to explain that Evolution is real, and not a crazy theory. But I would also try to deflect the debate to acknowledge that there is plenty of room for both Religion and Evolution. I think the kids would appreciate the view. It’s a view that might be helpful in the still ongoing debate as to whether to teach evolution at all. But perhaps more of that another week. This week and next have much religious significance. Easter begins with Good Friday today, and my warm wishes to everyone observing, for a joyous Easter. Passover begins tonight and Chag Sameach to everyone preparing for a seder and the next eight days. Ramadan continues, and Ramadan Mubarak to our College members observing. May you find peace and comfort.

Best regards,

dean signature

Hazel Sive PhD
Dean, College of Science
Northeastern University