Friday, January 28, 2011

60% of Science Teachers Are Afraid to Teach Evolution

Did you know that sixty percent of science teachers in America don't teach evolution? And it's not because they don't believe in evolution. It's because they're afraid.

The theory of evolution, the very foundation of modern biology and the best-proved theory in the history of the world, is being censored because the right-wing Christian campaign of fear is working. Teachers are afraid that teaching the truth will cost them their jobs.

If any of my readers think it's time to be optimistic, think again. I'm one of the most optimistic of the atheist bloggers (see my Is Christianity Dying series), but my optimism was seriously tempered this morning. According to International Business Times:
The crux of the [national Center for Education Statistics] study is what the authors call the "cautious 60 percent" who neither advocate for the science of evolution nor push creationism, but simply avoid the issue altogether. Teachers may want to avoid controversy, but [doing so] undermines science as a mode of thought and means of finding out about the world.
Why does this matter? Because it affects you and me and our children and grandchildren. Our society is incredibly ignorant about the day-to-day implications of evolution, and it's causing great harm.
  • A decade or so ago, I heard a public-health official scoff at the importance of drug-resistant tuberculosis. "We're only seeing 2% of TB cases that are drug resistant, so there's no cause for alarm." I was horrified when I heard that. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of evolution would have known that the drug-resistant TB would (and did) rapidly expand. Today we have terms like MDR-TB (multi drug resistant) and XDR-TB (extensively drug resistant). This official's ignorance of evolution helped cause this problem.
  • Over 80% of all antibiotics in the USA are given in low doses to cattle, sheep, chickens and other animals because it increases weight gain and overall productivity. The result is that just about every pathogen that might infect a farm animal (or human) has developed drug resistance. Evolutionary ignorance at the FDA and among ranchers is making modern antibiotics useless.
  • Alien plants and animals are escaping from one continent to another and causing ecological disasters. Customs agents face a hostile traveling public that doesn't understand why they should throw out perfectly good fruit and other produce. Politicians' evolutionary ignorance makes them unconcerned. Anyone who understands evolution knows why alien species are almost certain to be calamitous.
The list goes on and on, with example after example of evolutionary ignorance harming us, our nation and our environment.

And saddest of all, America's students are being denied one of the greatest pleasures that science can offer: an introduction to the Theory of Evolution, the most fascinating science of all. I've rarely met a person who studied evolution and didn't find it fascinating. Biology without evolution is nothing more than boring facts. But with evolution, it's a wondrous world that all makes sense.

What a tragedy that sixty percent of our science teachers don't feel safe teaching the most important science of all. Why are we allowing these right-wing Christians to hold an entire country hostage?


  1. Very disappointing. The peek inside the concepts behind evolution that your book presented are absolutely fascinating, and denying our children this interesting and applicable science is reprehensible. The bottom line is that science class should teach science, not religion/mythology. Leave that to church and mythology classes. And evolution is not only a core of biological science, but as you've proven, has applications beyond the normal "rabbits and wolves and Darwin" arguments.

  2. I know we love our Kudzu here in the South!

    I can also attest to Biology being boring without the evolution element. One of the only classes I got a "C" in, and only because I couldn't care less at the time.

  3. The thing that always blows my mind about young earth literalist Christians is the flaws in the story of Noah. The man supposedly built an ark that could fit two of every animal. Many arguments have been made to explain how this is possible, and my favorite argument is that Noah didn't have to take every "species," just every "kind" of animal. Then later on, from these "kinds" came all the species. Yet somehow the same people who've made this argument cannot accept evolution? If there's no such thing as evolution, then Noah would have had to take two of EVERY species, and since we have proof that some species have become extinct, wouldn't that mean that there were even more kinds of animals on the ark than there are today?

    Also, since they don't believe in Pangea because the earth is only 6,000 years old, that must mean that Noah made special stops in Australia to drop off the marsupials.

    I don't think that just because somebody's a Christian it means they should discount science. I know Christians who accept evolution. They just believe that God set the rules for it and let it happen accordingly. Of course these Christians aren't literalists.

  4. Like Jerry mentioned, I'm one of the Christians that accept and evolution, especially microevolution. Of course evolution as a whole is only a (very well-structured) theory, and there's no way to confirm the veracity of the entire history of the world with absolution. However, I still think the subject of evolution should be taught because there are so many things within the theory that have been proven right with strong evidence behind it.

  5. @Peter – I just started reading "Why Evolution Is True" by Jerry Coyne, and highly recommend it. I know most of the material in the book, but Professor Coyne does a masterful job of presenting it. The introductory chapter is slightly slow, but once I got into the science I found it hard to put down.

    Just half way into the first explanation about fossils, I thought, "There is no way anyone who reads this can doubt that evolution occurred." It's an amazing book, and I hope you read it.

    (And at the risk of sounding self-serving, my book will help you understand why the forces of cultural evolution created the religion you call Christianity, and why you find it so appealing.)

  6. Without comprehensive study of evolution in middle and high school biology, there's no real flavor to the class for students, and they don't go any further. P.Z.Myers has written about new students fresh from high school biology, and how much ground he has to cover bringing them up to speed. I never got much evolution in high school,not even in Bio 1. It took a reading of Dawkin's The Blind Watchmaker to whet my appetite. If science classes in schools had good material and no fear of teaching it, so many young minds would be captivated and attracted to science. We need a T.V. series like Cosmos to do what it did for astronomy and physics on evolution to excite people today.

    LOL, I have Coyne's book on my Kindle right with yours, and it's on my reading list after I finish Harris's End Of Faith. Probably will be getting a tree-meat version of your book to loan out, as no one gets my kindle. I think The religion Virus is a good introduction for the theists around me (maybe leave a copy in the breakroom?)

  7. I am a high school math teacher and the science teacher I coteach a STEM course with says she teaches evolution at the cellular level, but does not cover the "controversial" stuff. I can't stand this shit. Its the parents who ranted about me showing Carl Sagan videos on his day that are the reason for this. I personally don't give a shit. I will call students out on their belief system if they are the ones to bring up the topic. I start by saying I am not telling them what to believe. I ask if they believe evolution is truth. Some say no. Then the fun starts.

  8. @DiBattista – this sort of thing saddens me.

    What would really turn things around is if school administrators would back up teachers. It's easy to stand up to the parents if you know you'll get support, but this country has no backbone when it comes to evolution.

    What's really needed is for someone like the President to stand up for evolution in a major nationally televised speech, and say it's time to put an end to this nonsense. It would change the whole tenor of the debate.

    You should read what PZ Meyer said he does when he's challenged. He replies (paraphrasing), "You don't have to believe this stuff, but you DO have to learn it. That's what college is about. Then you can decide for yourself." And most students seem to find that a reasonable proposition.

  9. If there is evil and I think there is it is the god of Abraham and his vile followers.

    Science simply means knowledge and if you go back the the forbidden fruit thing the forbidden friut was knowledge.

    If God made himself human I would steal his power and torture him for eternity so that he could feel the agony he put on the human race and all the animals.

  10. FB, you're totally right. Ignorance was the gift God gave Adam and Eve. Knowledge was what cursed them.

    What a benevolent creator!

  11. Great point, FB. Just a few pages into the bible and the first important lesson seems to be: "If you seek knowledge, you will be punished".

  12. God is very much an ego maniac. He even says his name is Jealousy. shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God... or he will kill you. Grow up God!
    -Exo 34:14

  13. this is...incredibly depressing.

    thankfully I know a couple who do, even in environments where their students have never encountered the concept before!


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