Tuesday, February 01, 2005

MANY TEACHERS ARE AFRAID TO TEACH EVOLUTION, even when it's in the official curriculum, even when the assigned textbooks and teaching guides include it, and write about it accurately. In some cases, school authorities warn teachers not to discuss it in class. Often teachers omit it from classrom discussion on their own, fearful of being reprimanded or fired, or just having the wrath of the school district and community come down on them.

Their fears are well-founded. The results of a 2001 National Science Foundation survey revealed that "only 53 percent of Americans agreed with the statement 'human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals.'" Even though "[t]here is no credible scientific challenge to the idea that all living things evolved from common ancestors, that evolution on earth has been going on for billions of years and that evolution can be and has been tested and confirmed by the methods of science," the NSF survey reported that "polls consistently show that a plurality of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago, and about two-thirds believe that this belief should be taught along with evolution in public schools."

These findings set the United States apart from all other industrialized nations, said Dr. Jon Miller, director of the Center for Biomedical Communications at Northwestern University, who has studied public attitudes toward science. Americans, he said, have been evenly divided for years on the question of evolution, with about 45 percent accepting it, 45 percent rejecting it and the rest undecided.

In other industrialized countries, Dr. Miller said, 80 percent or more typically accept evolution, most of the others say they are not sure and very few people reject the idea outright.

"In Japan, something like 96 percent accept evolution," he said. Even in socially conservative, predominantly Catholic countries like Poland, perhaps 75 percent of people surveyed accept evolution, he said. "It has not been a Catholic issue or an Asian issue," he said.

Indeed, two popes, Pius XII in 1950 and John Paul II in 1996, have endorsed the idea that evolution and religion can coexist. "I have yet to meet a Catholic school teacher who skips evolution," Dr. Scott said.

No comments: