Monday, November 20, 2006

NewU News: Creationism Offered Winter Quarter for Bio

Link to article

Creationism Offered Winter Quarter for Bio
BIOLOGY: Professor Walter Fitch offers an unconventional class setup on an controversial topic.
By Maya Debbaneh
Staff Writer

Among the wide variety of classes offered each quarter, it’s both refreshing and exciting to be able to take what some might call a “fun” class. The biological sciences department is offering a class titled “Creationism” next quarter for non-majors that may very well fall into this category.

The class strays from the traditional UC Irvine format of lecture halls and student anonymity, with a class size of 25 instead of the usual 300-person biology class. This allows each student to participate at least once per class period, which is one of Walter Fitch’s goals as professor of the course.

“I suppose one of the things I aim to teach is civility … trying to understand the way the other side thinks—for creationists to see how evolutionists think and for evolutionists to see how creationists think,” Fitch said.

What started out as one lecture in a course was developed into its own class by Fitch and was first taught last winter quarter. The class ended up sparking some long discussions among students, which Fitch saw as an ideal situation. However, Fitch warns against expecting agreement between both sides.

“The criterion for something being true differs between the two groups, so from that perspective, one cannot expect a debate to resolve anything,” Fitch said. “Evolutionists expect reproducibility of experiment and predictiveness of new things that haven’t been known before—that’s the ultimate criteria for evolutionists. For the creationists – the young earth creationists – their criteria is consistency with the Book of Genesis in the Christian Bible.”

Because of the national debate corresponding to this subject and the strong opinions many already have about creationism and evolution, the class gives priority for freshmen enrollment. Fitch believes the class is more effect for those who have not yet formed an opinion on the matter, which is why it is restricted to first-year students. This is also why it is a non-major biology course.

In addition, while it is taught under the School of Biological Sciences, the class itself involves very little science and so should not be considered a science class.

As an agnostic, Fitch – who is in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and a researcher in molecular evolution – considers this class a beneficial one and believes both arguments should be heard, despite his leanings toward evolution.

“I’m supposed to be an educator, not a proselytizer,” Fitch said. “I’m not trying to get recruits for evolution because that’s what I believe in. I’m trying to get people to understand other people—there doesn’t have to be a conflict between creationism and evolutionism. It’s perfectly possible to maintain both simultaneously.”

Fitch decided to make his original lecture into a class after observing the national debate that, in his view, was deceptive and divisive, so he took actions to help educate students in a more open-minded environment.

“I saw lots of things going on that I thought were very bad for the country and misleading,” Fitch said. “[I thought,] ‘I just can’t complain about it. Either shut-up or do something.’ So I did something.”

While Creationism, listed as BioSci 11, is currently only offered to freshmen, sophomores will be accepted if the class does not fill up.

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