The Templeton Foundation has granted money for a study determining how the teaching and believing of evolution fares by comparison to creationism and intelligent design in America’s classrooms by high school biology teachers.
In the courtroom, the science of evolutionary biology has won every battle with creationism and Intelligent Design. In the classroom, however, scientific orthodoxy remains besieged and defensive to a startling degree.
That’s the striking conclusion of Penn State political scientists Eric Plutzer and Michael B. Berkman, authors of Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control American Classrooms, a book based on their survey of 926 public high school biology teachers.
“We find that about 13 percent of public high school biology teachers are active advocates for creationism or Intelligent Design,” Plutzer tells TR. “They emphasize to their students that these are ‘valid scientific alternatives’ to mainstream evolutionary biology, and devote at least some formal class instruction to the topic. An additional five percent of teachers take the same position, though typically in brief responses to student questions.”
Think anti-evolution teaching is confined to schools in certain regions? Think again. Plutzer says he and Berkman find that “active proponents of creationism as science can be found in every state, even in fairly cosmopolitan school districts.” While it is true that those who reject evolution tend to find jobs in more socially conservative school districts, where they receive parental backing, it’s also the case that teachers who experience the most pressure teach in districts with large and clashing constituencies of conservative Protestants and pro-evolution opponents. Says Plutzer, “In these districts, there is no easy path for teachers to teach in accord with local opinion, because local opinion is polarized.”
God forbid that biology teachers have their own minds and teach it as they see fit. It seems like Plutzer is implying that those teachers who do disagree with evolution do so for some community benefit “where they receive parental backing,” and that teachers would normally “teach in accord with local opinion,” but find it difficult and therefore “experience the most pressure” when they can’t please everyone “because local opinion is polarized.” This would cut both ways then, as to motives of what is taught (evolution or creation or ID) and would explain teaching evolution as a result of political and community pressures. Meanwhile, the merits or lack thereof of individual science teachers real motives for why they teach what they teach are not discussed. Plutzer seems to take it for granted that community plays the largest role in what is taught and why. If he believes that people act in accordance with social norms for social purposes in their findings and beliefs about science, this would include himself and his findings and beliefs. What community does Plutzer live in, and what social pressures is he experiencing? Why would he be immune to this social dilemma while 926 high school biology teachers are not?
The path of least resistance—one taken by 60 percent of high school biology instructors—is a pedagogical middle road, in which teachers remain non-committal about evolution, especially if they lack confidence in their own understanding of the science behind it. While politically safe, Plutzer says this approach “undermines the legitimacy of science and the weight of empirical evidence.”
Everyone who teaches evolution lacks confidence in it, because it is a hodgepodge of anecdotes, which doesn’t exactly exude confidence. That the bat, buffalo and banana tree, along with the wombat, wildebeest and walrus had the same parents in the distant past is a tough sell to others and to oneself. And here we get to the philosophical commitment of Plutzer–Evolution and Science are the same thing. He takes it for granted that evolution is true and then goes on to explain why seemingly intelligent high school biology teachers must have, you know, some other reason for not teaching evolution as concluded science, and being a political scientist the most natural reason is that they experience social pressures for what they teach. What else may be a reason that this phenomena occurs? Surely, in Plutzer’s mind, there has to be antecedent motives to deny the obvious teaching of evolution. So given that denying evolution is not really possible, these people must be deluded in some way, hmmm, might it be their religion?
What can be done to improve the situation? Some remedies can be applied outside the classroom. No more than 30 percent of Americans, in Plutzer and Berkman’s estimation, belong to religious traditions that demand a literalist reading of Genesis. Many American Christians may be surprised to learn that there is no necessary contradiction between what their religious tradition teaches and what science has discovered about human origins.
Remedies applied outside the classroom……Talk to your friends and neighbors, proselytize for evolution, change hearts and minds in the great war; teach them that their hearts and minds were changed once before, from that of a wombat over time, and before that from a fish. Explain to them that their hearts and minds will change inevitably, for it is the unbroken law of evolution that marches forward, sideways, backwards, and downwards with no direction in mind whatsoever. Explain that life is a series of accidents, of randomness, of happenstance, and that this is no necessary contradiction with non-accidents, non-randomness-and non-happenstance. Take it outside of the classroom, put it into the context of society, social norms and pressures, influence and propaganda.
“This study is very important because it provides us with facts about the teaching of evolution and creation in the classroom to help correct our easy assumptions and stereotypes,” says Paul Wason, the Foundation’s director of life sciences. “And any attempt to foster change will have much greater chance of success if it is based on the way things really are. The idea of engaging science and faith issues more deeply and clearly in the context of faith communities, for example, very wisely builds on the idea that local religious leaders are often at least as influential as teachers in the creation of community leanings.”
So the local folks don’t believe in evolution, and neither do some high school biology teachers, and the elite chosen few, the “elect” of the church of Darwin, need to do their due diligence if their proselytizing is going to be effective. Anything short of an all out campaign is to deny their holy and sacred sacrament of evolution, that is, the Great Commission. If evolution goes down, science and all advances whatsoever in any field goes down with it. Society may stop as a whole. All life as we know it may cease to exist.