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Online Learning

Course Number: STP 610
Course Title: Evolution and Catholic Thought
Term: SPRING 2014


Deacon Dr. Donald W. Sparling


1. Course Description

This course blends instruction on the theory of evolution with Catholic thought on this much-debated topic. Students will study the scientific topics of variation within species; natural selection;, speciation; evidence for and contra to evolution; and the development of organization at population and community levels; including, of course, human evolution. In concert with the science, students will explore relevant articles from Church teachings including Vatican II documents, the Catechism, papal encyclicals and other sources of Catholic Tradition and tradition regarding whether evolution is an 'acceptable' concept within the Church, the distinction between biological and spiritual man, and the uniqueness of humankind. The course will also provide discussion on Intelligent Design and Creationism.

2. Envisioned Learning Outcomes

  • Investigate Catholic teachings on the interrelationship between science and religion;
  • Instill an understanding of the science of evolution sufficient to make intelligent discourse;
  • Promote critical thinking of what it means to be human both in terms of biology and of spirituality.

3. Readings

  • Kurkonis G. and Barr T. 2013.  Evolution for Dummies.  John Wiley & Sons.  $14.99 thru Amazon
  • Wiker, B. 2011.  The Catholic Church & Science: Answering the Questions, Exposing the Myths.  Tan Books.  $10.39 thru Amazon.
  • Various documents provided by instructor

4. Course Schedule

Note, for consistency’s sake we list the schedule according to topics in the Evolution for Dummies (hereafter Dummies) book.  Each lesson will have Church documents as well.

Week 1. Introduction.

  • Objectives for the week: Master the logistics and mechanics of the course and website; become acquainted with the instructor.

Week 2. What is the Attitude of the Catholic Church Towards Science in General?

  • Objective for the week: Trace the history of the Catholic Church’s attitude about science and gain an understanding of the common search for knowledge and truth

Week 3. What is the Attitude of the Catholic Church Towards Evolution?

  • Objectives for the week: Examine various Catholic views on evolution (what, you mean not everyone in the Church agrees on all issues?? Imagine that!) and deterimine if there is a modern concensus.

Week 4. What is Evolution?

  • Objectives for the week. So far we’ve seen what some theologians have to say about evolution.  In this week we begin to examine what the science of evolution is actually about.  Develop a basic understanding about evolution, including genetic mutation, randomness, natural selection and other aspects of the science.

Week 5. More Basics on Evolution

  • Objectives for the week: Learn more about the basics of evolution.

Week 6. Speciation.

  • Objectives of the week: Be able to intelligently discuss how natural selection can proceed to the development of new species.

Week 7. Life History and Sociality

  • Objective for the Week.Describe how evolution has shaped animal life history strategies and social behavior and be able to intelligently discuss if evolution has interacted with natural law or the Catholic concept of the dignity of life .

Week 8. Evolution of Sex

  • Objective for the Week: There are two major biological driving forces among organism – survival and reproduction.  Begin an understanding on how organisms have developed strategies for the latter.

Week 9. Whence We Came

  • Objective for the week.  Understand the scientific and theological concepts of the origin of the human species.

Week 10. Evolution of Development

  • Objective for the week. Consider how evolution affects the early development of organisms, including humans.  Reflect on how what this might say about the sanctity of the embryo and fetus.

Week 11. Co Evolution

  • Objective for the week. Kurkonis focuses on how different species interrelate and may, in fact, co-evolve.  This is an important topic and one worth reading.  Among humans, however, different societies and cultures may co-evolve.  For example, Judaism, Christianity and Islam all claim Abraham as their spiritual father and share several tenets. Other religions have not had much contact with theses monotheistic ones and have developed very different ideas about many topics, including evolution.  The objectives for this week include developing an understanding on how species may influence each other's evolution and identify difference and similarities among several of the world's religions and how they view evolution.

Week 12. What Evolution Is Not - Creationism

  • Objective for the week. Distinguish the major differences between Creationism and Evolution.

Week 13. What Evolution Is Not – Intelligent Design

  • Objective for the week. Learn about Intelligent design and discern whether it has scientific or theological merit. 

Week 14.  Know Your Enemies

  • Objective of the week.  There have been many  'enemies' of religion and belief in a divine being over the centuries.  In modern times we have had three that have stood out as being very vocal and actually popular: Christopher Hitchins, Steven Hawkings and Richard Dawkins.  From what I can tell from Google Hitchins has not lectured very much on evolution per se and, besides, he died  in 2011.  Hawkings is brilliant but he looks like death warmed over and has lectured and written extensively on why God is not just dead but non-existent, even in the origin of the universe.  Interestingly, Hawkings is a proponent of the multiverse for which not a stitch of data exists and which requires more faith than God's existence.  Don't get me started on Dawkins.  I've heard many of his lectures on the internet and he clearly does not 'get it'.  Its a shame that all three of these men have made a ton of money by espousing the belief that science is everything. 

Week 15 Where Are We Headed?

  • Objective of the week. This gets very theoretical but the objective is to consider whether, with our ability to control our environment and our increasing ability to manipulate our genes, are humans putting natural evolution out of business?  What might be some of the theological implications of our tampering with our very nature?


  • Krukonis G, Barr T. 2008.  Evolution for Dummies.  John Wiley and Sons, Hoboken NJ
  • Wiker, B. 2011. The Catholic Church and Science. TAN Books, Charlotte North Carolina.
  • Various other reading assignments from Church encyclicals and other sources.


Evaluation will be based on three main areas:

  1. Short essays on various topics;
  2. Class participation;
  3. Quizzes.

Short essays will be assigned approximately weekly covering main points for that week. They will be evaluated using the essay guidelines presented under GRADING RUBRICS on the course website (link).

Class participation will consist of individual participation in the CLASS DIALOGS section of the course website (link). All students are expected to contribute to the running discussions on that site and participation will be evaluated using the class participation guidelines under GRADING RUBRICS on the course website.

There will be 4 quizzes spaced approximately every three weeks. These quizzes will include multiple choice, true and false and other objective evaluation tools to determine if the details of evolution are being conveyed.

Grading Scheme:

  • Short Essays 8 @ 30 points each -  240
  • Class participation 195 – based on 15 points for each of the 13 opportunities to participate in class dialog. Contributions must be on the topic for the week and intelligently presented. If you contribute to every dialog I will through in 25 extra credit points. 
  • Quizzes 4 @ 30 points -  120

Total points 555

Points will be deducted for late essays and quizzes; three points per day unless approved ahead of time. Essays and quizzes not completed within 5 days of their assigned time without prior approval of instructor will be assigned a 0 (zero).

The class week is defined as 12:01 AM Central Time on Mondays through 11:59 PM on Sundays. All assignments are due by the end of the class week.

IMPORTANT NOTICE. Every student is expected to do his/her own work. Plagiarism, even from another student, is a serious matter and it is particularly difficult to identify in an online course. However, all assignments will be examined for possible plagiarism and clear evidence of such will result in a 0 (zero) for that assignment for all parties involved.

Students who have difficulty with research and composition are encouraged to pursue assistance with the Online Writing Lab (available at

GRADING SCALE (Percent of total points):

A 94-100; A- 90-93; B+ 87-89; B 84-86; B- 80-83; C+ 77-79; C 74-76; C- 70-73 60-69; F 59 and below


Holy Apostles College & Seminary is committed to the goal of achieving equal educational opportunities and full participation in higher education for persons with disabilities who qualify for admission to the College. Students enrolled in online courses who have documented disabilities requiring special accommodations should contact Bob Mish, the Director of Online Student Affairs, at or 860-632-3015. In all cases, reasonable accommodations will be made to ensure that all students with disabilities have access to course materials in a mode in which they can receive them. Students who have technological limitations (e.g., slow Internet connection speeds in convents) are asked to notify their instructors the first week of class for alternative means of delivery.


Students at Holy Apostles College & Seminary are expected to practice academic honesty.

Avoiding Plagiarism

In its broadest sense, plagiarism is using someone else's work or ideas, presented or claimed as your own.  At this stage in your academic career, you should be fully conscious of what it means to plagiarize. This is an inherently unethical activity because it entails the uncredited use of someone else's expression of ideas for another's personal advancement; that is, it entails the use of a person merely as a means to another person’s ends.

Students, where applicable:

  • Should identify the title, author, page number/webpage address, and publication date of works when directly quoting small portions of texts, articles, interviews, or websites.
  • Students should not copy more than two paragraphs from any source as a major component of papers or projects.
  • Should appropriately identify the source of information when paraphrasing (restating) ideas from texts, interviews, articles, or websites.
  • Should follow the Holy Apostles College & Seminary Stylesheet (available on the Online Writing Lab’s website at

Consequences of Academic Dishonesty:

Because of the nature of this class, academic dishonesty is taken very seriously.  Students participating in academic dishonesty may be removed from the course and from the program.


Even though you are not required to be logged in at any precise time or day, you are expected to login several times during each week. Because this class is being taught entirely in a technology-mediated forum, it is important to actively participate each week in the course. In a traditional classroom setting for a 3-credit course, students would be required, per the federal standards, to be in class three 50-minute sessions (or 2.5 hours a week) and prepare for class discussions six 50-minute sessions (or 5 hours) a week. Expect to devote at least nine 50-minute sessions (or 7.5 quality hours) a week to this course. A failure on the student’s part to actively participate in the life of the course may result in a reduction of the final grade.


An Incomplete is a temporary grade assigned at the discretion of the faculty member. It is typically allowed in situations in which the student has satisfactorily completed major components of the course and has the ability to finish the remaining work without re-enrolling, but has encountered extenuating circumstances, such as illness, that prevent his or her doing so prior to the last day of class.

To request an incomplete, distance-learning students must first download a copy of the Incomplete Request Form. This document is located within the Shared folder of the Files tab in Populi. Secondly, students must fill in any necessary information directly within the PDF document. Lastly, students must send their form to their professor via email for approval. “Approval” should be understood as the professor responding to the student’s email in favor of granting the “Incomplete” status of the student.

Students receiving an Incomplete must submit the missing course work by the end of the sixth week following the semester in which they were enrolled. An incomplete grade (I) automatically turns into the grade of “F” if the course work is not completed.

Students who have completed little or no work are ineligible for an incomplete and must receive the grade that they have earned. Students who feel they are in danger of failing the course due to an inability to complete course assignments should withdraw from the course.

A “W” (Withdrawal) will appear on the student’s permanent record for any course dropped after the end of the first week of a semester to the end of the third week. A “WF” (Withdrawal/Fail) will appear on the student’s permanent record for any course dropped after the end of the third week of a semester and on or before the Friday before the last week of the semester.


Deacon Dr. Donald W. Sparling (titles sometimes are confusing, I have a Ph.D. in biology and I am an ordained deacon in the Catholic Church – so is it Dr. Deacon? Deacon Dr.? Reverend Doctor? Don works fine if you’re comfortable with it).

Current professional address: Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory, MC6504, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL. 62901.

(860) 632-3010