Posted by jlwile on February 7, 2011
The journal Science recently reported on the results of The National Survey of High School Biology Teachers.1 This survey studied the teaching habits 926 public high school biology instructors that are supposed to be representative of the nation as a whole. The results cause alarm in some and hope in others.
The “take home” result is that 13% of the teachers surveyed spend at least one hour teaching either creationism or intelligent design in a positive light. In contrast, 28% of teachers are strong advocates of evolutionary biology, stressing it as a unifying theme in the life sciences. The majority (roughly 60%), however, advocate neither position. In fact, many of them spend as little time as possible on the subject of origins.
The authors of the article, of course, find these results appalling. To them, evolution is something that should never be questioned. It is scientific dogma, and you should never question the dogma. While they obviously are upset at the teachers who dare to teach against the dogma, they actually heap the most scorn on teachers who have the audacity to teach all sides of the subject. They state:
Finally, a sizable number of teachers expose their students to all positions—scientific or not. Students should make up their own minds, explained a Pennsylvania teacher, “based on their own beliefs and research. Not on what a textbook or on what a teacher says.” Many of these teachers might have great confidence in their students’ ability to learn by exploration. But does a 15-year-old student really have enough information to reject thousands of peer reviewed scientific papers? This approach tells students that well-established concepts like common ancestry can be debated in the same way we debate personal opinions.
There are so many things wrong with this tiny paragraph that it is hard to know where to begin. Nevertheless, I will give it a try. First, they use the phrase “all positions—scientific or not” in an attempt to imply that any view other than the evolutionary view is “not science.” Tell that to the more than 700 PhD or MD scientists who are willing to publicly state they are skeptical that evolution can explain life as we know it today. Or tell that to the more than 3,000 academics who are known to be skeptical of Darwinism.
Next, they imply the teachers are naive in believing that 15-year-old students can actually think for themselves. As someone who has spent a great deal of time educating students in this age group, I can state categorically that most of them can, indeed, think for themselves. In fact, some of them can out-think me and several other scientists I know. Indeed, the most intellectually intimidating person I ever met was one of my high-school-aged students!
I expect that the authors (and many in the evolutionary biology community) specifically don’t want these young people thinking for themselves. When students think for themselves, useless scientific paradigms eventually fall. I applaud those teachers for their confidence in their students’ abilities, and they are probably doing more for science education than either the ones who promote creationism or the ones who promote evolutionism.
The authors also imply that rejecting evolution means rejecting thousands of peer-reviewed papers. Of course, they are quite wrong about that. Rejecting evolution has nothing to do with rejecting peer-reviewed papers. It has everything to do with rejecting various authors’ opinions about what the data in their peer-reviewed papers mean.
This seems to be one of the major things the authors of the article fail to grasp. The authors imply that there is a difference between debating common ancestry and debating personal opinions. They fail to grasp the fact that common ancestry itself is a personal opinion about what the data mean. Most of the data I have seen promoted as evidence for common ancestry is much better understood as evidence for common design. To claim that common ancestry is “well-established” just because the majority of scientists think it is true is simply using the argument from authority, one of the most insidious logical fallacies found in science.
The authors stress that people must work harder to make sure that evolution is taught as a unifying theme in all biology courses across the U.S. The problem is that many people have been working hard at this for many years, but these survey results specifically show that the effort is just not making headway. The reason, of course, is simple. Rather than trying to promote a scientific discussion of evolution, people like the authors of this article have been trying to promote pro-evolution propaganda. While propaganda might be effective in some areas, it is not effective in science, because science is based on the data. As long as the data do not support evolution as a unifying theme in biology, there will be many scientists and science educators who do not support the propaganda.
So I do find hope in the results of this survey. Despite the fact that the evolutionary propaganda machine has been working for several decades, there are still many teachers out there who are interested in making sure their students are exposed to real science. Please note that I am not necessarily talking about the teachers who portray creationism or intelligent design positively. I am talking about the teachers upon which the authors heap their scorn – those who have the audacity to believe that their students can think for themselves.
To the teachers out there who show their students multiple sides of the evolution controversy, you have my heartfelt thanks. Science will progress only when it facilitates critical inquiry. While many evolutionary propagandists wish to squash such inquiry when it comes to certain areas of science, it is heartening to see that there are teachers out there promoting it!
1. Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer, “Defeating Creationism in the Courtroom, But Not in the Classroom,”Science, 331:404-405, 2011.
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