Most teachers lukewarm at best on evolution


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Two political science professors claim a strong majority of US biology teachers either don’t advocate the theory of evolution, or flat out promote either creationism or intelligent design.

The research came from Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer of Penn State. They looked through the results of a wider survey of 926 biology teachers in public schools who’d been picked as a representative sample. The survey included statistical questions about the time spent on particular subjects, and open-ended questions about the teachers’ views on evolution.

The pair then divided the respondents into three groups:

28% structure their classes to include evidence that evolution occurred, and use it as a unifying theme (the approach recommended by the National Research Council and National Academy of Sciences)

13% “explicitly advocate creationism or intelligent design by spending at least one hour of class time presenting it in a positive light” (which largely crosses over with the 14% of teachers who personally believe God created humans)

60% do not strongly endorse either evolution or alternative explanations

The researchers noted that those in the last category adopt one of three main approaches: only referring to evolution in molecular biology terms; telling students that personal belief doesn’t matter as long as they answer test questions correctly; and presenting a range of explanations and leaving it up to students to decide.

Although the last of those options may come across as more open-minded, Berkman and Plutzer reject the approach, arguing that it wrongly presents evolution as a matter of opinion rather than fact.

The report, published in Science magazine, comes a week after the release of a national testing program’s results shows 40% of twelfth-graders failed to reach what was deemed a “basic” level of scientific knowledge for their age.







56 Responses to Most teachers lukewarm at best on evolution

  1. So 13% of science teachers need to be fired outright, while 60% need to go back and get re-educated in their chosen field.

    A sad state of affairs for our education system, and once again the culprit is religion. Great job on dumbing everything down, believers.

  2. I don't understand why they don't just demonstrate evolution right there in the classroom. Oh wait, they can't…

    • actually evolution can be seen at the microscopic level with bacteria and other small organizes that reproduce quickly and have short life spawns.
      If you knew anything about biology you would be able to demonstrate this theory in class.
      and obviously, tom doesn't know jack about biology.

    • Actually they can, captain creation. It just requires expensive equipment reserved for college and professional laboratories. Here's a fun word: genetics… look it up.

  3. Here's the problem, You can't PROVE either way. While I agree that many times the better animal wins over the one with weaker genes, it cannot be proven that intelligent design didn't happen at some point. No one was there. Fossils etc simply prove existence of species, not how (or realistically when) they were created.

    • Evolution makes no claim to an original mover. That's a red herring and a straw man in any discussion on the validity of the theory, preying on the ignorance of the audience. In other words, you are making claims about what evolution says to happen that is not actually found anywhere in theory.

      However, we can fairly reliably date when a particular species appears and disappears in the fossil record.

      Meanwhile, Intelligent design predicts… nothing, cannot be tested, and cannot be falsified. It's pure creationist reasoning (which has no place in a science classroom).

    • I can PROVE there is no intelligent design.
      You can dissect a giraffe, and look at a nerve that comes from the ear to the brain. That nerve goes from the ear, down the neck, around the collarbone, back up the neck, and into the brain. That is a meters long travel, when the ear is 10 cms from the brain.
      Why? Cause in fish, that is a direct route. As animals evolved a neck, the nerve was hooked around the collerbone. In the strange case of the giraffe, it then got streched quite a lot.

      If that's "intelligent design", god is STUPID.

  4. Evolution and intelligent design are not mutually exclusive.

    Evolution should be taught as fact, because the available evidence supports it. That doesn't mean that Intelligent design should not be taught or is wrong, it's just that it is lacking in supporting evidence (but also in evidence to discredit it).

    The process of evolution itself could well be the result of intelligent design.

    • Intelligent design should NOT be taught in any science classroom for two reasons.

      1) there is no evidence for it.
      2) Intelligent design is nothing more than creationism/religion dressed in a lab coat. In this country teaching religion in public classrooms is illegal, as it violates the constitution.

    • Except for the small fact that Intelligent Design relies on supernatural intervention which is antithetical to any sort of scientific inquiry, putting it outside of observable or testable methodologies.

      As such, you might as well say evolution is the result of unicorns, leprechauns, or noodley appendages. In other words, ID is bunk, and was ONLY brought about to push religious agendas.

    • The claim isn't necessarily that it shouldn't be taught anywhere — I personally have no problem with it appearing in a comparative religion or literature/creative writing class — but there's no way it belongs in a biology classroom. The scientific method requires, by definition, falsifiability of claims. ID's claims are not falsifiable. Therefore, they are not science, and have no place in a science classroom. QED.

    • i agree, if it is to be taught in any such ways leave it to a theology course. It has no real place in science as it can't be tested upon in a scientific manner.

  5. My high school biology teacher, who was a devout Christian, nevertheless plainly told us that evolution is clearly demonstrated in nature. Why do some Christians find this idea so threatening? is it because it undermines a literal interpretation of a book that was composed by people who had never heard of and never cared for scientific or historical accuracy? Or because it removes one more requirement for the existence of a God? Perhaps both.

    • Why do most evolutionists disagree that evolution requires a great deal of faith and not science? You cannot prove anything is a million years old. You cannot prove a past occurrence. You cannot prove something that happened beyond all observation happened like you say. At best, you can suggest a possible way. But even then, you cannot demonstrate that something that took millions of years to happen.

      Besides, my biggest problem with evolution is 'What good is it?' What use does it hold today, other than something to argue religion about? Show me how knowledge of a process that takes millions of years to happen (except when it wants to skip intermediate steps) has any relevance. What device, process, or invention has made use of this information?

      • Well, evolutionism, unlike ID/creationism, has at its disposal vast amounts of physical evidence that clearly shows that it's nearer to the truth than any other competing theories; christianity, on the other hand, only has an old book that is, essentially, a compilation of judaic mythology, at its disposal.

        About making use of this information, well, it's an irrelevant question: what really matters, it's that it's true. Anyway, the understanding of this million-year process can is what allows us to actually do genetic manipulation, not to mention it's also very useful on the AI field (google for "genetic algorithms" and/or "genetic programming" to know what I'm talking about).

      • Faith is belief in the absence of evidence.

        Evolution has mounds of evidence to support the theory. There is hands-on research, repeatable experiments, predictions and hypothesis that have turned out to be true. As such, no faith needed here.

        Radiometric dating allows us to prove something is millions of years old.

        However, what readily shows you know nothing about evolution is when you say, "What good is it?"

        All of modern biology, much of modern chemistry and medicine has its underpinnings based on the theory of evolution. Those are just a few of the branches of science that evolution has helped move forward, expanded our understanding of how the world works, and made our quality of life better today.

        You need to go educate yourself before you continue to spout nonsense.

      • You cannot prove anything is a million years old.
        . yes you can. Carbon 14 dating, among other things.
        It just isnt straightforward. To prove that, you gotta use carbon-14 dating. To prove that carbon 14 dating is correct, you gotta prove a couple other things(radioactivity among them). To prove those, you gotta prove a few others… BUT they HAVE been proven. Many times.

        You cannot prove a past occurrence.
        (See above)
        You cannot prove something that happened beyond all observation happened like you say. At best, you can suggest a possible way. But even then, you cannot demonstrate that something that took millions of years to happen.
        You can only prove one part of what happened millions of years ago. And from that, you can suggest a possible way. FROM THAT WHICH WAS PROVEN.

        Besides, my biggest problem with evolution is 'What good is it?' What use does it hold today, other than something to argue religion about? Show me how knowledge of a process that takes millions of years to happen (except when it wants to skip intermediate steps) has any relevance. What device, process, or invention has made use of this information?

        Genetics.
        Greater understanding of ecosystems. Learning that letting the great white shark go extinct is a BAD idea, for example.
        Knowing where to drill for oil / coal. (oil is 300 Million years old fish, coal is 350million years old trees).

        • "You cannot prove anything is a million years old.
          . yes you can. Carbon 14 dating, among other things."

          Constructive criticism here: better to write "radiometric dating techniques." You can't carbon date something if there's no carbon in it. After +- 40K years, the fossilization of a formerly living organism has mineralized it enough that there's no carbon left in it. We have lots of other techniques based on radioactivity, calibrated in part by carbon dating and tree ring dating. Potassium-Argon, Argon-Argon, Uranium-lead dating and others allow us to go back millions of years. But not so with carbon dating.

      • What good is it? Are you seriously retarded? What good is researching anything then with that logic. Lets all just mindlessly believe a fiction book created by MAN when no science was available. People also used to truly believe the world was flat

        • Modern medical microbiology (bacteriology) and antibiotic pharmacology are based on the theory of evolution. If you reject evolutionary theory, you are also denying the eficacy of antibiotics, which are developed and perscribed according to evolutionary theory.

  6. I find that I agree with the 60%. I believe, personally, that children should be taught the theories and facts of many different approaches–and I'm speaking of both religious and scientific teachings–so that when they are old enough to think for themselves, they may choose what they believe without having been brainwashed or told to think in a specific way.

    • Except The religion based theories belong only in a religious setting. i.e. in the home or in Sunday school. As someone else mentioned, it is ILLEGAL to teach religion in American public schools. ID has no place there. I also feel the two ideas don't need to be mutually exclusive, but the religion needs to be kept as religion, not science.

      • Correction: "religion based hypotheses". They have no theory since their bunk can't be tested, makes no predictions, and explains nothing.

    • The problem is in teaching a child something that is unfalsifiable, has no evidence and supports a religious institution and calling it a competing theory. Firstly it doesn't teach that child what a Theory is and that it is the pinnacle of a scientific thought. To be called a Theory something must be so perfect that it is supported by ALL the evidence and does not have one single instance of a falsifying condition. To think that this label has been applied to a biological idea and yet there may still be a controversy among real scientists is pure ignorance. I do not advocate having my children taught ignorance. Belief is the thing that has zero usefulness other than making you more comfortable with your blatant lack of knowledge about the universe around you and other things you will never know like what happens after death. It does not matter if you can only be comfortable in that belief by indoctrinating the next generation too. It is not the place of the public schools to protect you from fear produced by ignorance but to protect you from fear by removing ignorance from your mind with verifiable knowledge.

  7. double checked this one on my calculator just to be sure, 13, 28, and 60 make 101… Or did I miss something?

  8. @Ren (since the reply button doesn't seem to be working)

    You couldn't be more wrong.

    First, there are no theories or facts to be found in Intelligent Design. There is NOTHING to teach.

    Shall we teach astrology alongside astronomy? Alchemy alongside chemistry? How about the four elements alongside the periodic table? How about demons cause sickness instead of germ theory?

    I know, how about we educate our kids with real science of filling their heads with bullshit like you suggest?

    • I think YOU need to educate YOURSELF.

      You could start here with a 20 page list of people who do not agree with the current Darwin's theory of evolution: http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/filesDB-d

      Why do you make such a big deal about teaching evolution? I teach chemistry. In chemistry you often teach things that may not be 100% true, like assuming an atom has a spherical shape. Or leaving out entire branches of advanced molecular physics. Evolution has NOTHING to do with chemistry, or physics, or any math, or world history, or most anything else a high school student learns. So why care if they learn it at all? In fact, it is pretty useless in Biology as well. Nothing that happened a billion years ago matters to any doctor, any patient, or any pharmacologist.

      • Wow, Tom, you teach chemistry and you think evolution has nothing to do with chemistry, or physics, or mathematics, or world history. Amazing self delusion, or outright stupidity. I pity your students.

      • Ah, OK Tom, you just tipped your hand.

        You should have started off with The List and "Evolution has nothing to do with blah…blah…blah.." and you would have had a fantastic Poe going.

        You have to start off out of the gate carnked to 11 with the nonsense to pull off the Poe, otherwise the slow build is just a bad troll.

        I suggest go practice on Fark to build your skills. It's a good training ground!

      • I think one of your problems as a teacher is not knowing the difference between something that is "not 100% true" and something that represents our best explanation for the evidence. If you prefer to use the former, I really think you should step out of the classroom. Now.

      • I teach both high school biology and AP chemistry and I don't understand how you can claim that evolution has nothing to do with chemistry. 1) chemistry makes drugs and pesticides. 2) humans use those drugs and pesticides to kill bacteria and insects. 3) bacteria and insects become resistant to these chemicals after several generations. 4) the surviving populations of bacteria and insects are different genetically than previous generations (they have evolved). 5) Therefore, chemistry can cause evolution.

        Perhaps your misconceptions lies in the statement that "nothing that happened a billion year ago matters". Evolution in not something that only happened a long time ago, it is still occurring today. That is why farmers rotate what pesticides they use on their crops and doctors are concerned about the overuse of antibiotics.

      • So you are saying we should repress this information? I guess that would make it easier to spread creationist propaganda.

  9. How can ID be considered novel? It's creationism, pure religious drivel pushed to drive a wedge into the education system. Phillip Johnson's pet project gone mad.

    "how did this happen?" "Goddidit"

    Wooo that's an interesting philosophical conversation there. And how about Leprechauns created cancer so doctor's wouldn't get bored! Equally valid and believable as a god creating a vestigial structure so doctors could puzzle over that too.

    I swear, do people apply ANY critical thinking to this shit?

  10. Teach both as theory… with the caveat that one relies on a missing link to make it plausible and one relies on the existence of a supernatural being.

    The intelligent kids will get it and the stupid kids won't. As they say, there aint no fixin' stupid….

    Oh and fire those teachers. That's why I send my kids to a Catholic school where they DO teach evolution and not intelligent design.

  11. No wonder why we are losing the race in science to other countries. If we want to be serious about being the top scientific country in the world than we need to start acting like it in the classroom.
    Allowing personal beliefs and crazy pseudoscience to take precedence over unbiased, well supported and documented theories is just sickening.
    As Bill Mahr said religion is too easy because it sells you an invisible product. Even the pope has acknowledged that the church is wrong and that evolution "most likely" occurred. And if it were up to the church the world would be flat and the sun would revolve around around the earth. Surprise, surprise the church was wrong again. and they will continue to be wrong about things for the rest of eternity.
    ALSO just because you BELIEVE in something… doesn't make it true. I truly wonder how many people question their beliefs and think about things with a little logic.

  12. Still it seems many do not understand theories themselves and what the term means. A comment that includes "it is only a theory…" has automatically dismissed itself as serious. Darwin's Origin of Species is not "THE Theory of Evolution," i.e., Charles Darwin did not "discover" evolution. Darwin's book was his attempt to explain the processes behind the observed fact of evolution. The process of evolution had long been known of, Darwin's was just one of the first major attempts to explain it.

  13. Interesting info, but I guess the other possible summary for this article is, "88% of our biology teachers are teaching evolution like they're supposed to without engaging in the stupid religious and political battles. The other 13% live in bufu kansas, texas or alabama, and aren't accountable for being mildly retarded."

    In a country where most folks can't read and write above a 5th grade level, this isn't entirely bad news.

  14. I guess it is easier and that seems to be what many teachers are looking for… to teach fairy tales

  15. Whats to decide? Their ether teaching science or religion and if their teaching religion the schools funding should be cut.

  16. As a high school biology teacher, I find this article interesting, but misleading. I teach evolution as fact, but tell the religious kids that they are free to think what they want, but to "know it for the test". Is this taking the easy way out? Yes, but these students do have a right to their own beliefs, and I am covering my backside. No administrator I work with would back me up if a parent came after me for attacking their religion in my classroom. The authors of this study fail to appreciate the delicate situation that we public school teachers are in…

    • I fail to see what's misleading. In fact, you are a prime example of how stupid/infuriating the situation is. You should not have to implement CYA tactics for teaching science.

      That parents might view facts being taught as an attack on their misguided beliefs is their own problem. It's like a parent complaining about an English teacher teaching proper grammar and the parents getting pissed off because they themselves suck at grammar and want to argue where a comma should go in a sentence.

      That an administrator wouldn't back you up for teaching facts is horrifying. What a spineless, worthless sack of meat.

      Teaching proper science shouldn't be a battlefield. Teachers shouldn't have to fear for their job because parents believe in supernatural crap. It's fucking insane.

  17. every believer in creation that i've come across, i put it very simply. i ask them if they're a christian and of course they expectedly say yes. after that, i tell them to come back when they found someone who believes in creation who isn't judeo-christian, and i might give them a few minutes. if they want to debate beliefs, go argue with another religion like hinduism, shintoism, etc. why waste the time on debating with someone about evolution who is already biased. evolution is just simply the only explanation available that can be understood regardless of religious belief.