National Association of Biology Teachers Honors Two Arizona State Scholars With the Evolution Education Award

Dr. Brownell and Dr. Barnes

Sara Brownell, a professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University and Elizabeth Barnes, who recently earned her Ph.D. at the university, have been awarded the 2021 Evolution Education Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers for their work overcoming the stigma that scientific teachings preclude religious beliefs. The Evolution Education Award recognizes innovative educators who “promote the accurate understanding of biological evolution.” Only one award is administered each year, alternating annually between educators in higher education and K–12. The award is sponsored by the National Center for Science Education and the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study.

“Most religious beliefs can be compatible with evolution,” Dr. Brownell said. “We encourage students to learn about evolution while also acknowledging that they may have religious beliefs and try to help them see how the two can be compatible.” Dr. Brownell and Dr. Barnes have found that there are many simple strategies that can be used by educators to help students reduce perceived conflict between their religious beliefs and the teachings of biological evolution.

“Many students have misconceptions that one has to be an atheist to accept evolution, which means that we need to do a better job at highlighting that science is actually agnostic with respect to whether there is a God because it is outside of the bounds of science,” Dr. Brownell said.

“Much of our work is showing that the perception of conflict between religion and evolution is greater than the reality of conflict,” Dr. Barnes said. “However, students are often only exposed to how science and religion can conflict and are not given the opportunity to see the many ways in which they can coexist peacefully. If we are going to increase trust in science and scientists among the public and our students, then we argue that scientists will need to start finding ways to communicate how religion and science can coexist. I think our award reflects that the scientific community is starting to recognize this as well.”

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