Monday, July 11, 2005
The Numbers Paradox
Perhaps the most troubling thing about the survey was that when pollsters asked, "Do you think human beings developed from earlier species or not?" 54 percent of respondents said no. That's up from 46 percent in 1994.
The Kansas City Star also published the results of a poll on public attitudes toward teaching evolution, intelligent design, and creationism that showed when asked which best described their view on the origin of life, 39 percent said creationism; 26 percent said evolution; 16 percent said intelligent design; and 19 percent said other.
And yet, the numbers don't seem to tell the whole story. Consider, these recent, real world reversals for Christian fundamentalists, intelligent design, and creationism:
- In 1999 the conservative majority of the Kansas State Board of Education voted to gut science education, according to a Fordham Foundation Report, "removing almost every reference to the theoretical backbones of the sciences having historical content - astronomy, geology, and biology - and replacing some of the material with nonsense of a pseudoscientific bent." In the next election, Kansans elected a moderate board that promptly rejected the changes and reinstated real science standards.
- The Tulsa Parks and Recreation Board first voted in June to erect a Genesis display at the Tulsa Zoo at the urging of creationist Dan Hicks. Then, last week the board reversed its earlier vote and decided against putting up the display.
- A bill before the New York State Legislature to require "all pupils in grades kindergarten through twelve in all public schools in the state ... receive instruction in both theories of intelligent design and evolution" died in committee when the legislative session ended on June 24.
- The teaching of evolution in Alaska's schools was strengthened by the Alaska State Board of Education. On June 10, the Board voted 9-0 that students "should ... develop an understanding of how science explains changes in life forms over time, including genetics, heredity, the process of natural selection and biological evolution." In early drafts of the science standards, evolution had been omitted or mentioned only parenthetically.
- A committee composed of four teachers, middle and high school principals, and the superintendent of schools voted in the Gull Lake, Mich. school district to tell two teachers -- who were included on the committee -- to stop teaching intelligent design there. The school board subsequently voted to back the committee's decision.
- The Great Valley School District [nearPhiladelphiaa] voted unanimouslyy to retain a biology textbook that teaches evolution, upholding a recommendation from a committee made up of district educators, administrators, parents and students.
- On May 13, a bill to require that "[a]ll biology textbooks sold to the public schools of the state of Missouri shall have one or more chapters containing a critical analysis of origins. died in the Education Committee.
It seems that poll numbers don't tell the whole story. In many cases, when parents, students, teachers, administrators, school board members, and legislators are confronted with an actual challenge from intelligent design and creationist forces, they tend to unite behind science education.
This is not to ignore the counter-examples from Cobb County, Georgia; Dover, Penn.; and the expected vote to add pseudoscience to the Kansas science standards later this summer. But, even in those cases, the issue has galvanized people in those communities to step forward to defend science education. As in Kansas in 1999, we can expect that some of those decisions can and will be reversed.
It could be that people respond reflexively to pollsters questions -- it may seem more democratic to teach all the "theories" when first confronted by the question -- but when they begin to pay attention to the issue, are forced to think more deeply, or when they actually see the antiscience forces in action, they begin to change their minds.