Majority of Biology Teachers Hesitant About Evolution
Secular scientists are at a loss over how to get their favorite origins story, Darwinian evolution, a more confident presence in schools.
After nearly a century of one-sided control of education on origins, Darwinian scientists shouldn’t be faced with this dilemma. After all, their own theory presupposes that human beings are material entities that can be conditioned like other animals. And yet, despite a near total exposure to Darwinian evolution in textbooks, museums, educational TV – and often in the general culture, such as in many sci-fi movies – a substantial majority of the public doesn’t buy the completely materialistic evolution scenario. This includes biology teachers.
In Science Magazine on March 6, Jeffrey Mervis tries to understand “why many U.S. biology teachers are wishy-washy” about teaching evolution:
When two political scientists asked a group of U.S. college students preparing to become biology teachers about their views on evolution, they were shocked by the answers. “I’m, you know, pretty ignorant on this topic … is there enough of scientific evidence to say for sure?” one replied. “Evolution is one of those subjects that I’m still a bit shaky about,” answered another.
Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer of Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), University Park, knew from a previous study that more than half of the country’s high school biology teachers did a poor job in their classrooms with evolution. But they didn’t know why. Was the topic absent from the curriculum? Did the teachers fear a community backlash? Or were they simply choosing to avoid the subject?
The answer Berkman and Plutzer came up with was lack of confidence. Mervis seems to agree with their assessment of the problem: biology teachers take more education classes than biology classes. To the researchers, this is a red flag about educating biology teachers: “Young preservice teachers are already on a path that is likely to lead to evolution instruction that falls short of the expectations of leading scientific organizations.” The majority comprise a wishy-washy middle:
In their earlier study, in 2007, Berkman and Plutzer surveyed a national sample of 926 high school biology teachers to better understand teachers’ role in the country’s long-running battle over evolution. They found that 13% were openly sympathetic to creationism, while 28% provided students with a thorough understanding of evolution. The rest, which the researchers label “the cautious 60%,” spent as little time as possible teaching this most fundamental concept in modern biology.
Surprisingly, the more recent 2013 survey revealed that Catholic teachers, of all people, “were more comfortable discussing the potential conflict between evolution and religion than were their peers at secular institutions.” The reason? They probably thought about it a lot. Secular science teachers assume evolution so strongly, they’re not likely to feel any need to discuss it. “You’re not going to get a Penn State professor to talk about that with their students,” Berkman surmises.
What this implies is that religious faculty know and think a lot more about evolution and its implications than secular faculty do. Another evolutionary biologist, Mervis relates, “recently surveyed 3000 Alabama students on what they think and know about evolution and found their religious faith trumps any book learning.”
Not Republicans’ Fault
In a lengthier “Science Insider” piece on Feb. 26, Mervis included these findings with more general concerns about “Politics, science, and public attitudes.” Scientists are wanting to know “why people ignore solid scientific evidence in deciding what they think about all manner of science-based issues.”
And yet when it comes to scientific knowledge, Mervis admitted that science ignorance is non-partisan.
The U.S. research community has long lamented how often the public disregards—or distorts—scientific findings. Many media pundits point the finger at partisan politics, although they offer contrasting explanations: Liberals often assert that Republicans are simply antiscience, whereas conservatives often insist that Democrats tout scientific findings to justify giving government a larger and more intrusive role.
A leading social science journal, The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, takes a deep dive into the debate by devoting its March issue (subscription required) to “The Politics of Science.” The issue, edited by political scientists Elizabeth Suhay of American University in Washington, D.C., and James Druckman of Northwestern University, includes some 15 articles that explore “the production, communication, and reception of scientific knowledge.” And nobody gets a free pass.
“It’s an equal opportunity scold,” says the journal’s executive editor, Thomas Kecskemethy. “I was fascinated by how the knowledge elites are vulnerable to their own biases.“
The old stereotypes must yield to this evidence. There are no simple answers, Mervis says. One of the take-home messages of the special issue is, “Liberals are just as likely as conservatives to disagree with the prevailing scientific evidence.” The difference is only in the subject matter. If anything, the Republicans tend to be more skeptical of scientific consensus generally, while liberals are more liable to defer to it. But it’s not that simple; the results depend on the policy under consideration. Here was one party divide that the survey showed:
To Shaw, the biggest mystery is why Democrats put so much more faith in science to inform policy than do Republicans or independents. No other factor, such as education, income, or race, appears to explain that difference, he says.
This implies that Republicans are not ignorant of scientific positions. They know about evolution, climate science, and other hot-button issues. They just employ more critical thinking than Democrats who put “faith” in what science says (at least on those issues). Everyone, though, will disagree with a consensus if it opposes their values. An article on PhysOrg agrees that Republicans trust science except on four issues that contradict their values: global warming, evolution, gay adoption, and mandatory health insurance.
Speaking of Penn State, a press release takes a more biased view of these surveys. In “Understanding faith, teaching evolution not mutually exclusive,” Matt Swayne pictures “religious anxieties” among evolution doubters as the problem. Swayne fingers “critics of evolution” using doubt as a tactic. “Critics of evolution often take advantage of a teacher’s limited understanding of evolution to foster doubt in the science and make the science seem less settled than it actually is.” It’s just an anti-science strategy, according to Swayne: “Denying evolution could, then, lead not just to doubts about evolution, but also to a broader misunderstanding of science in general, according to the researchers.”
Swayne can’t say that about CEH. We consistently and constantly quote the best and brightest of the Darwinians themselves. We let you hear their best efforts to prop up their vacuous theory. And if you don’t believe us, you can click the links to their articles and read their words for yourself. This is not just sowing tares in the dead of night; it is fair and open discussion in sunshine, the best disinfectant. Darwinians and liberals need to stop stereotyping the debate as religion-vs-science and Republican-vs-science. They need to stop the Association game of calling Darwin skeptics “anti-science.”
The problem with those who are “wishy-washy” about evolution is that they don’t get both sides. They get whitewashed versions of the “fact of evolution” from teachers, textbooks and TV. For instance, you are likely to find a diagram of Darwin’s finches in your biology textbook at school, where you will be told it supplies powerful evidence for evolution. But here at CEH, we quote the original papers of Peter and Rosemary Grant, who spent 30 years studying the finches, and found the finches to be mostly interfertile, with the slight beak variations found to be reversible when the weather changes (e.g., 2/12/15). Who is getting the better information to you? Check all the other major Darwin skeptic organizations, from AiG to CRS to ICR to the Discovery Institute. They all consistently give both sides a fair and open hearing. It’s the Darwinians who want to silence all opposition, so that their genetically-modified version can be spoon-fed to the public. If they have such an intuitively-obvious view, why can’t it stand up to fair and open scrutiny?
Darwinism is not suffering because of wishy-washy teachers, religiously-biased students, or lack of sufficient information. It is collapsing by its own accord, unable to support the philosophical weight heaped on it by those who wish the universe to support their materialist ideology. Darwin’s “one long argument” was a tentative suggestion only. 156 subsequent years of evidence-hunting (exemplified by Darwin’s finches and other shady icons) has failed to justify it, while the evidence for intelligent design in cosmology, the earth, and life has been booming with strong evidential support. We think students and teachers deserve to know that.