Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Passed History

This is "scratch your head" news.

Despite the best efforts of the Discovery Institute and the Religious Right in general to paint the theory of evolution as "Darwinism" and despite the plethora of recent stories about Darwin in the popular press in the run-up to the "year of Darwin," only 55% of respondents in a Gallup poll could identify him with evolution. Nor were the numbers any better among churchgoers, where only 54% of those attending weekly made the connection.

Unsurprisingly, the recognition of Darwin's main claim to fame varied strongly with education, with only 31% of those with high school educations or below knowing, while 63% of people with some college, 82% of college graduates and 86% of those with postgraduate educations were aware of it.

"Belief" in evolution (yes, I know) is strongly correlated with the same categories: church attendance and education, though I still find the numbers among the educated rather anemic: 41% some college, 53% college graduates and 74% postgraduates.

Perhaps the most heartening, in a halfhearted way, are the numbers by age, with 49% of 18-34 year olds believing in evolution as against 39% among 35-54 year olds and 31% among 55 and older. We may be on our way towards outlasting creationism ... unless people tend to lose their acceptance of science as they get older.

There is another survey that was released recently, as reported in Evolution: Education and Outreach in the article "Educational Malpractice: The Impact of Including Creationism in High School Biology Courses."

The report notes that while "only 2% of biology teachers at public schools teach creationism and not evolution, more than 20% of biology teachers at public schools teach both evolution and creationism." Surveying undergraduate students in introductory nonmajors biology courses at the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota both before and after taking the course, the study found:

[T]he inclusion of creationism in high school biology classes significantly increases the probability that students accept creationism and reject evolution when they arrive at college. ... [O]ur data suggest that high school teachers' inclusion of creationism in their biology courses may have a strong and lasting impact and that students are significantly affected by their high school biology teachers' treatments of evolution and creationism.

Worse, they found that the introductory biology course did not significantly affect students' acceptance of evolution.

In 1991, Eve and Harrold (1991) concluded that "over a quarter—and perhaps as many as half—of the nation's high school students get educations shaped by creationist influence—in spite of the overwhelming opposition of the nation's scientific, educational, and media establishments" (p. 166). Data presented here and elsewhere indicate that little has changed; surprisingly high percentages of high school biology teachers in the United States continue to teach creationism, and the products of this teaching are students primed to discount a fundamental tenet of modern biology. This educational malpractice denies students an appreciation of the nature of science, contributes to the ongoing popularity of creationism with the public, and cheats students out of an understanding of one of the greatest ideas in history.

There is little wonder that the Discovery Institute and the Religious Right is so focused on "academic freedom" in high schools. As the twig is bent, so grows the ignoratti.

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