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Notably, I've had some estate planning course students with very conservative religious backgrounds who expressed no problem doing hands out projects involving estate planning issues for same sex couples.

Hi Chris,

The problem is certainly not confined to North America. There was an interesting study conducted at Monash a few years ago. Surveys had found that a reasonably large proportion of first year science students were creationists: in fact, a significantly higher proportion than humanities students (reflecting, I think, the proportion of Malaysian and Indonesian students in the intake). In a follow up, some of the students professing creationist views were given extra classes in evolutionary biology (for credit). After the course, they were retested. A higher proportion than previously reported believing in creationism!

Clearly we shouldn't alter the content of our courses in response. There are two remaining questions: should we attempt to present this kind of material sensitively, so as to avoid implying (for instance) that the students are stupid? Should we make an effort to confront them?

It would be worth making it clearer whether your student's outrage at the notion that creationism is dead also implies a rejection, in whole or in part, of evolutionary principles. I can think of religious people I know who accept evolutionary theory and view it as the mechanism through which God created humans. On the face of it, these people might take umbrage at a plain statement of creationism having bitten the dust because they would take it as an assertion that God had nothing to do with the creation of humans.

As with many terms, the scientifically or technically accurate meanings of "creationism" or "intelligent design" aren't always precisely the same meanings the average person might ascribe to them. Many, at least here in the U.S., tend to view "creationism" not so much as a specific theory about how humans were created, but more as an acceptance of the principle that man was created deliberately by a deity. It's a stand-in for their faith. Of course, there are plenty of others who do reject evolutionary theory and do buy into the specifics of creationist theory, and your student could easily have been one of those. But to Neil Levy's question, I think the "sensitivity" required might just be clarity -- about what you mean, and about what you don't mean.

It is quite hard to know exactly what my student objected to, and the specifics probably matter little. It was a long and rather ramblingly complaint, ranging over numerous sins. (My lecture also contained a swear word used an adjective. A pretty common practice among Australian lecturers, but not appreciated by my correspondent).

I think the main thrust was that my out of hand rejection of creationism as a theory to explain the development of species was "disrespectful" to those who believed that creationism was a successful theory in this regard.

My reply was that I had no desire to offend, but the fact is creationism is a lousy explanatory theory and if some medical students thought otherwise they were just plain wrong.

To tackle Neil's point: being wrong about one thing, hardly makes you stupid. Presumably I am wrong about heaps of things, possibly this thing, but I'd think it unfair to be characterised as stupid on that evidence alone. (We just don't let any old body into medicine; I assume she ain't stupid).

It also seems to me to be more disrespectful not to take up this point head on. We know creationism is a stupid theory. To pretend we might think otherwise, or to pussy-foot around, in this context at least, seems to me to smack of a sort of paternalistic head-patting, implying that the other person is "stupid" - too stupid to see what most smart people can see.

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