Forty percent of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago, according to a Gallup poll released late last week. In other words, they subscribe to creationism.
Believe it or not, that is a positive sign for American education. Just 11 years ago, the number of people touting an evolution-less worldview was 47 percent. The creationists' numbers are shrinking. They have either have joined the 38 percent who say that God guided evolution or the 16 percent who say evolution had nothing to do with a supreme being.
But the poll still offers some depressing news for K-12 educators. Among students with just a high school background, a much larger 47 percent still accept the creationist view. Meanwhile, the people most likely to accept evolution hold either college or postgraduate degrees.
We’re often asked how evolution is a subject for Teaching Tolerance. There are two answers.
First, the corruption of science education is like a regressive tax—everyone pays the price, but it weighs on the poor disproportionately. Statistics show that those students who get just a high school education are the most likely to wind up with low-income jobs. And as the Gallup poll shows, it is these people who are most likely to live in ignorance—or cling to ignorance—about their own biology, their own origins. There will be no college courses to undo this damage.
Second, the whole creationist movement is being promoted by appealing to Americans’ tolerant instincts. Creationist advocates say that they just want “equal time” for their point of view. Of course, in many cases they are trying to force this “tolerance” on others, as Texas’ recent textbook battle shows. And now in Kentucky they have managed to win tax breaks for a creationist theme park.
But here’s the harsh truth: There is no scientific evidence for creationism. None. It does not rival evolution scientifically in any way. Therefore, it does not belong in science classrooms.
And, no, it is not intolerant to say so—quite the opposite. There are many people who believe that the moon landings were faked. They have no good evidence for this, but they have a passionate belief. We would not expect a science teacher to report "both sides" of the moon landing "debate" just because one side feels strongly without evidence. And we would say that that the “moon-landing-is-faked” crowd was being unreasonable to expect equal time. They would be seen as completely intolerant if their protests shut down discussion of the topic.
Yet that is what’s happening with evolution. Textbooks and other materials are being dumbed down to omit or “soften the blow” of evolutionary ideas. The name Charles Darwin cannot even be mentioned in many classrooms for fear of creationist backlash.
Needless to say, these travesties have nothing to do with promoting “equal time.” They have everything to do with promoting a very narrow religious agenda. And there’s not one thing tolerant in that.
Price is managing editor at Teaching Tolerance.