Theories of Origins: A Multi-And Interdisciplinary Course for Undergraduates at Wheaton College
Moshier, Stephen O., Arnold, Dean, Funck, Larry L., Lewis, Raymond J., Smith, Albert J., Walton, John H., Wharton, William R., Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
Scientific theories for the creation of the universe, earth, life, diversity of life, and humankind are explored in Theories of Origins, a science course at Wheaton College. Professors representing the sciences and biblical studies guide the class through origins theories and introduce various approaches for relating scientific and biblical accounts of creation. Most students are nonscience majors, so a major course objective is for students to appreciate the sophistication of modern scientific work on origins problems and to understand the evidence leading to paradigms and paradigm shifts. Tensions perceived by students between scientific and biblical accounts of origins are diffused when the purviews of science and theology are properly defined and the cultural-historical contexts of scriptural accounts are considered. Learning is stimulated by a variety of means, such as illustrated lectures, videos, demonstrations, Internet resources, selected reading materials and integrative writing assignments, a museum field trip, and class discussions.
Theories of Origins (IDS/SCI 322) is an upper-division science course for undergraduates at Wheaton College in which students encounter scientific explanations for the origins of the cosmos, earth, life, species, and humankind. The course is team-taught by faculty representing the disciplines of astronomy, geology, chemistry, biology, physical anthropology, and biblical studies. Accordingly, students get exposed to important scientific concepts in each discipline in addition to the sustained consideration of origins from scientific and theological perspectives. Established in 1860, Wheaton College represents the evangelical Christian tradition in undergraduate liberal arts education. Scientific origins theories are controversial, indeed often considered antagonistic to biblical faith for many people in the evangelical subculture. Surveys of students entering the class reveal a range of positions on origins questions, often tracking the results of national polls.
A major course objective is to give students a background for evaluating the merits of scientific and theological claims for origins theories. Mainstream scientific approaches to origins are emphasized in the course, but alternative or "anti-establishment" approaches such as creation science and Intelligent Design are presented because of their influence among Christians. Efforts are made throughout the course to diffuse the warfare metaphor for science-faith issues by framing science and theology as complementary means of discovering truth about origins. This course embodies the educational purpose of Wheaton College to combine faith and learning in order to produce a biblical perspective needed to relate Christian experience to the needs of contemporary society.
Objectives, Outcomes and Assessment
Theories of Origins (hereafter, Origins) is a full-semester, non-lab course in the general education curriculum (4 credit hours) intended to follow completion of a lab course (e.g., general geology, biology, chemistry, or physics). Most students in the course are nonscience majors. Origins was conceived and developed by a committee of science faculty in 1994-1995, at a time when the college was revising the undergraduate general education program. The new program, "Essentials of a Christian World View," was designed with the purpose to "introduce men and women to an understanding and appreciation of God, his creation and grace, and to our place of privilege and responsibility in the world." The Christian liberal-arts project of faith and learning integration is embedded in specific goals for all general education curricula. Objectives for Origins reflect the goals that were developed for all science courses in the Nature Cluster of the General Education program. Specific outcomes for students who complete Origins are listed in Table 1.
Student demand for this course has influenced us to raise the class size from 40 to 60 students. There is sufficient interest in the course to justify increasing the cap, probably to 75 students or more. However, additional students would burden the process of reading and evaluating written assignments and exams and returning them in a timely and formative manner.
Students in the course are given opportunities to learn and be evaluated in different ways. Most lectures are illustrated with computer-generated slide shows and some lectures include demonstrations or specimens that are passed around the class. All slide shows, plus other learning resources, are available to students outside of class on the course web page. Examining fossil evidence for the history of life on earth is facilitated by a class field trip to the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History. Questions are welcomed in class and spontaneous discussion is encouraged. There are two designated discussion sessions, at the beginning and end of the semester, in which all faculty participate as a panel. Students' understanding of scientific content is measured by exams and homework assignments. Students' critical thinking on matters of faith-science integration is assessed by their work on study questions relating lecture and assigned reading material. Course assessment is based upon student evaluations of the course, percentage of correct responses on selected exam questions, and results of an assessment exam administered by the science division for all students in the college (after they have completed their Nature Cluster courses).
Textbook and Supplementary Reading
We are not aware of a single text that treats scientific theories of origins according to the content objectives of our course. …
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Publication information: Article title: Theories of Origins: A Multi-And Interdisciplinary Course for Undergraduates at Wheaton College. Contributors: Moshier, Stephen O. - Author, Arnold, Dean - Author, Funck, Larry L. - Author, Lewis, Raymond J. - Author, Smith, Albert J. - Author, Walton, John H. - Author, Wharton, William R. - Author. Journal title: Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. Volume: 59. Issue: 4 Publication date: December 2007. Page number: 289+. © 2009 American Scientific Affiliation. COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group.
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