Shame on our country: the complete answers to the Miss USA evolution question

Watch and weep; and you should watch the entire 14.5-minute clip.  For the record, I present a video of all 51 Miss USA contestants answering the question, “Should evolution be taught in schools?”  They’re in alphabetical order by state, and, as I noted before, Miss California, Alyssa Campanella, was the winner.  Below the video I’ve listed all the contestants who espoused at least a moderate pro-evolution stance, as well as some of the denialists and the funny waffles and hedges.

Clearly the frightened women had talked to each other before the question, for their answers are simply too similar to be independent.  By far the most common was “We should teach different points of view” (a funny variant of this was “We should teach everything“), which of course is a non-answer because it doesn’t require sticking up for evolution in particular. (See Miss Wyoming for a specimen.)  This is the safest answer, carefully designed to offend nobody.  Equally clear is that the question was tricky only because of religion.  Some contestants used the phrase “teach both sides,” and of course the other side is religiously-based creationism.  Only a few contestants (Miss Alabama, for instance) said simply “no”.  Endorsement of evolution as a viable school subject was, however, far more prevalent than reported in the press.

Apparently ignorant of the First Amendment, a few of the contestants said that if evolution were taught in the schools, religion should be too.

Now these ladies are not raving rednecks—most of them, I think, are in college or have graduated—and yet all of the “nos” and most of the hedges are certainly based on considerations of religion: it’s obvious from their answers.   Does anyone really think that if we convince these women that evolution and religion are compatible, all their “nos” and hedges will instantly change to an enthusiastic “Yes, teach evolution and not creationism”?  No way!  In their attempts to nab the Miss USA crown, they’re catering to the extreme religiosity of our country. The way to change things is to get rid of religion’s grip on America, which, of course, has all those other benefits.   But I fulminate here.  Just watch, laugh, and, with Ben Goldacre, mourn the backwardness of America:

But it’s interesting that they asked the question, and I think I’d forgotten the extent to which the acceptable range of mainstream, commercially desirable, conventional views on evolution in the US is incredibly strange. This is a bizarre window onto that strangeness.

My pick for the best answer: Miss Vermont, Lauren Carter (13:01):

I evolution should be taught in schools because not everybody necessarily has the same religious background and it’s important to have scientific facts about the world. And we do know that evolution exists, even on a small scale, like with people and with bacteria that are becoming resistant to drugs and what not—so might as well learn about it.

Highlights (and times):

Miss Alaska (0:50):  Thinks evolution should be taught in the schools because it’s part of our “belief system” and “history,” but she personally believes in creationism rather than evolution.

Miss Arkansas (1:30):  “To each his own” (i.e., if a school thinks they need to teach it, they should teach it; otherwise not).

Miss California (1:54): Evolution accepter and the pageant winner.

Miss Delaware (2:31): Emphatic pro-evolution.

Miss District of Columbia (2:50): Pro-evolution

Miss Florida (3:00): Pro-evolution but “we really don’t know where the first person came from.”

Miss Georgia (3:10): Evolution should be taught, but “maybe the Biblical stuff should be taught as well” (does she know that that is illegal?).

Miss Idaho (3:51): “I believe that evolution should be mentioned in schools.  The thing is that it’s all about what you believe in, and it shouldn’t be pushed on you, but again you should be knowledged [LOL] about it, I guess, just different options, because growing up in a family you learn to live off of those values and morals and if you don’t have other options to believe in then that’s what you’re gonna go by for the rest of your life.”

Miss Illinois (4:15) : Unqualified pro-evolution. Yay!

Miss Indiana (4:26): The funniest waffle! Great gesticulations.

Miss Kansas (4:57):  Pro-evolution but hedges a bit.

Miss Louisiana (5:49):  Funny!  “That’s a tough one [gestures]. Yeah. . . I think so.”

Miss Maine (6;00): Pro-evolution but they should also teach “a belief in faith.”

Miss Maryland (6:15):  Thinks that everything should be taught in schools! Because that’s what’s great about America! (See also Miss New Jersey, who has the “teach-‘em-everything” view.)

Miss Massachusetts (6:37):  Pro-evolution, but implies that other stuff might be taught.

Miss Michigan (7:08): Pro-evolution, so we should know both sides.

Miss Minnesota (7:19): Pro-evolution, a Catholic who says that evolution is endorsed by the Church.

Miss Mississippi (7:41):  Evolution should be taught as “what it is”: a theory. It shouldn’t be taught as a fact.

Miss Montana (8:15): Evolution should be presented “as an option” and that “both sides should be presented.”

Miss Nevada (8:36):  Pro-evolution, but confuses biological evolution with social evolution, like cities changing in Nevada!

Miss New Mexico (9:46): Unreservedly pro-evolution because it’s “based on science.” Yay!

Miss New York (9:56): Evolution and religion should be taught in the schools; in fact, everything should be taught in schools.

Miss North Dakota (10:42): Evolution should be taught so people can get “both sides of the story.”

Miss Ohio (10:50): “You know what? I think, why not, because I think it just gives young—the youth right now in America—why not keep their options open. You don’t necessarily have to agree with it, but I’m not opposed to it.”

Miss Oklahoma (11:07): Yes, but it’s important to teach “every version of everything.”

Miss Rhode Island (11:44):  Should be taught because kids need to know “all different perspectives on how the world came to be.”

Miss South Dakota (12:04): Evolution should be taught but “teachers should not step on the toes of Biblical values.”

Miss Vermont (13:01):  Unreservedly pro-evolution; uses example of drug-resistant bacteria.  No qualifications, and I regard this as the strongest answer of all the contestants.

Miss Virginia (13:24): OMG. “I think that little bits and pieces of evolution should be taught in school.”

Miss Washington (13:35):  Pro-evolution, but with a really hilarious qualification.  A must-hear.

Miss Wisconsin (14:23): Should be taught because “it’s a great subject to touch base on.”

59 Comments

  1. Posted June 24, 2011 at 5:03 am | Permalink

    Interesting that they didn’t ask the question the other way round, “Should creationism be taught in schools”.

    • Michael
      Posted June 27, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      Asking if creationism should be taught in schools would give credit to it as if it were a viable possibility, which it isn’t. If they were to ask if creationism should be taught in schools, they may as well ask if schools should teach absolutely any possible evolution “alternative”.

      The point of the question is to ask if should be taught in schools, so that anyone who does not agree, is now exposed as uneducated in that regard.

      Creationism has as much credibility to our origin as any other made up story (none), all religions included.

  2. Woof
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    We’re doomed.

  3. Posted June 24, 2011 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    I don’t think Miss Washington is pro-evolution at all! It sounded to me like she was saying “evolution is a theory, not a fact, and we don’t really wanna teach those.” Her response struck me as very Palin-esque, in the way she disparaged something important so *sweetly.*

    • Posted June 24, 2011 at 7:06 am | Permalink

      I agree. If she meant otherwise, she was very unclear.

      • randyextry
        Posted June 24, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

        I think Jerry meant that what she said was actually pro-evolution, but she didn’t realize it. Her only concrete answer was basically that she believes “facts, not theories, should be taught…the truth and truth only.” So if she believes that, she’s actually in favor of teaching evolution, even if she doesn’t realize it.

        • rcs
          Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

          I get the impression that she has bought into the usage of the word theory as the creationists promote it, not the scientific usage. So somehow she believes in the fact evolution, but not the theory of evolution?

          This may be irrelevant, but she is a recently naturalized citizen. She immigrated from the Ukraine in 2002.

    • Jeff Alexander
      Posted June 28, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      Miss Washington states it’s a fact that the world evolved. I could be rationalizing here, but my take on it is that she was more concerned with pandering to the judges than being rational and wishy-washed herself out of an uncomfortably definitive answer.

  4. Don
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    It’s worth noting that Miss Vermont, Lauren Carter, is a 2007 graduate of St. Thomas Aquinas High School, a highly regarded private (Catholic) institution in Dover, New Hampshire. She is pursuing her BS in Nursing now at the U. of Vermont.

    • Posted June 24, 2011 at 7:07 am | Permalink

      Miss Vermont’s answer would have been my top pick if she had left out religion. Any relation to religion when discussing evolution just implies that evolution is a belief system.

      • Don
        Posted June 24, 2011 at 7:49 am | Permalink

        Maybe so, but to me she seems to be giving a nod of recognition to those systems of belief that may decry such teaching, while asserting that “scientific facts about the world”–in implicit distinction from religious beliefs–are “important” for everyone to know.

    • Posted June 29, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      I don’t… I don’t think you entirely understood what she was saying…. or the question in general then. The question is “creationism vs evolution” and she was saying “if for no better reason, teach something that EVERYONE can share in learning as creationism does not pander to every world religious belief” and then she followed by launching into her sentence about how comprehension of how small creatures evolve is life saving.. etc. It was a good answer that hit all the bases of what was implied in the question.

      No offense but it’s almost like you heard a certain word and reacted immediately. Which is.. again no offense.. religious in nature. THINK about what she was saying. It was reasonable for her to say it, given the half-baked implications of the question itself.

      • Posted June 29, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        Sorry don was not addressing this at you but rather the original poster. The reply links are placed ambiguously :)

  5. Gerda
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    These are all very ‘politically correct’ answers. Pretty clear that most of them wouldn’t even dare to not mention ‘the other side’.

  6. latsot
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    For those of you who can see it, this is how the Irish do beauty competitions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrMA6Cl-xgE

  7. Posted June 24, 2011 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    You know…I found the women in Matthew’s Scientists Know Nothing! post to be far more attractive than any of the contestants.

    And I’m still stumped as to the intended porpoise of these sorts of exercises. The best I can come up with is that a bunch of old men are trying to create a socially-acceptable context for them to leer over infantilized breeding stock.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Dominic
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      The idea of the beauty contest does seem very 1970s.

  8. Aaron Novick
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    West Virginia almost, *almost* sounded like she could be advocating teaching evolution as science and having courses about various religions (i.e. history courses). Almost, but I think that’s stretching the principle of charity too far.

  9. Posted June 24, 2011 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    Miss Virginia (13:24): OMG. “I think that little bits and pieces of evolution should be taught in school.

    Who knew? Miss Virginia is a provisional paleontologist.

  10. daveau
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Miss Florida (3:00): Pro-evolution but “we really don’t know where the first person came from.”*

    That is so fucking painful. I’d rather hear “God did it.”

    I guess we know what JC did on his flight home.

    *disclaimer: no audio at work, can’t watch.

  11. Posted June 24, 2011 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    Only a couple of these women said that evolution should be taught because it’s good science, Miss New Mexico did it best.

    Miss South Carolina did surprisingly well, but added “if the parents are OK with it”.

    I was embarrassed with Miss North Carolina, “You can’t push opinions or beliefs on children”.

  12. Posted June 24, 2011 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    Okay, here’s a challenge for all y’all.

    The question to the contestants was, “Should evolution be taught in schools?”

    Can any of you come up with a better answer than this?

    “Evolution” refers both to a set of scientific facts and to a theory explaining such facts. “Evolution” refers to the scientific fact that biological organisms have changed through time, and that all life, including humanity, has descended with modification from common ancestors. Evolution is as well documented as are other currently accepted scientific facts. The theory of evolution is a comprehensive and well-established scientific explanation, based on natural processes, of the fact of biological evolution.

    Evolutionary theory should be taught in public schools because it is one of the most important scientific theories ever generated, and because it is the accepted scientific explanation for the diversity of life. As a scientific theory, it is testable and has been extensively tested. As stated by the great geneticist and evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” The theory of evolution is subject to refinements and revisions, but this is no different from any other major scientific theory, such as the those providing the explanatory frameworks of geology, physics, or chemistry. There is no pedogogical or scientific reason to treat evolutionary theory any differently than any other well-accepted scientific theory, and it should be taught in public schools as the firmly established, accepted unifying scientific principle that it is.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Posted June 24, 2011 at 7:21 am | Permalink

      This is awesome, and, as SSE President, I’m really proud that this is our official statement on evolution.

      • Posted June 24, 2011 at 7:34 am | Permalink

        ‘Fess up: would you have even joined the Society in the first place unless it was the sort of organization that’s capable of that level of awesomeness?

        Cheers,

        b&

      • Don
        Posted June 24, 2011 at 7:55 am | Permalink

        It’s a fine statement for sure, but as *official* language, it really ought to read: “…to treat evolutionary theory any differently FROM any other well-accepted scientific theory…”

    • daveau
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      I hope that you have this memorized by your next pageant, Ben.

      • Posted June 24, 2011 at 7:43 am | Permalink

        What, pontificate pedagogical prose whilst prancing on pumps and parading proximally in a…bikini? Who’d want to watch me do that?

        Cheers,

        b&

        • daveau
          Posted June 24, 2011 at 7:58 am | Permalink

          …(crickets)…

        • Posted June 24, 2011 at 7:58 am | Permalink

          +1

        • sasqwatch
          Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:20 am | Permalink

          If you also had your trumpet with you – and occasionally punctuated your prancing with the patter of Art Pepper. I’d watch that.

          • Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

            Sorry, but Pepper’s a saxist….

            b&

            • sasqwatch
              Posted June 24, 2011 at 11:30 am | Permalink

              I know. I couldn’t locate a trumpeter with that many p’s in the name, so went with “bandleaders”. C’mon… work with me here… ;-)

        • Sastra
          Posted June 24, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

          Ben Goren wrote:

          What, pontificate pedagogical prose whilst prancing on pumps and parading proximally in a…bikini? Who’d want to watch me do that?

          Hell, I would! In fact, if we ever bet on anything, guess what you’re gonna have to do if you lose. You just handed all of us an evil idea, you know.

  13. Bela Palomo
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    Many of them say that they “took a course in Evolution in College”, and then they say things like “It´s something I believe in, or kids should decide what to believe….” WTH?? Evolution is NOT something you BELIEVE in!! LOL America is lost!!!

  14. Phere
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    Yeah..it’s easy to point and laugh at the vapid pretty girls…the sad thing is their answers are no different than our fucking politicians.

  15. Bela Palomo
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    You didn´t write about Iowa Jerry… she says she “took Evolution in College and it helped her gain perspective. (…) and it should be an elective”

    Hhahahahhahhahahaahha

    Really? you took a course in College? Because it doesn´t show in your answer…. what did you learn? did you pass the course??

  16. tomh
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    I think the answers, in total, are a pretty good reflection of the attitude of the American public towards the subject, where 40% of Americans believe humans were specially created in the last 10,000 years, and another 40% believe that if evolution happened God guided it every step of the way. Of course, that’s all the more reason to weep.

  17. Posted June 24, 2011 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    You know, I was just thinking – I wonder what the results of this would look like in a less religious country. Presumably contestants in, say, England would perform better. I’d love to see their actual responses would be like.

    • Dominic
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      I think it is just accepted by most (rational) people

      http://www.missengland.info/finalists

      Look at the profiles – the third on the list studied A-levels in Biology, Chemistry, and Philosophy with Middle Eastern Religion….
      Most seem to be at University or have been. There is a computer scince student, a dental nurse, Miss Norwich (hurrah!) is going to study Natural Science with Open University, another has a degree in counselling & social policy, others have studied art & design,fashion, Childhood Studies BA, Miss Bath will study Theology [ :( ], another did Politics with Media Studies, etc etc.

  18. Posted June 24, 2011 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    I just checked on who was named runner up, you know: “If Miss USA cannot fulfill her duties….”
    It is Miss Tennessee.

    “Personally that’s not my belief.”
    “All ideas should be put out there for people to decide for themselves.”

    She did say “Yes” though.

  19. Jon Hendry
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    You missed Miss Connecticut.

  20. Posted June 24, 2011 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    This would be less troubling if the contestants were competing in a beauty pageant.

    We need to remember it’s not a beauty pageant … it’s a scholarship program (hat tip to “Miss Congeniality”).

    :^)

  21. Brygida Berse
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Maybe I am being overly cynical here, but I think these answers are at least as much the measure of the contestants’ opportunism as they are the indicator of their understanding of science. These girls want to win, therefore the smart thing to do is to figure out what answer the committee wants to hear. The winner can then laugh all the way to the bank (or to the scholarship fund or whatever the prize was for this whole bizarre exercise).
    The fact that the actual winner gave a not-so-idiotic-answer after all could be seen as undermining my reasoning, but something tells me that her stand on evolution wasn’t the deciding factor…

    • Gavin's Pussycat
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      …or then, for some people winning doesn’t trump their integrity.

    • Felicia Marianadjá
      Posted June 25, 2011 at 2:41 am | Permalink

      I think it is frightening. Many of the girls are in college or grad school. “Of course” is simple and quick. Didn’t even need to flounder in all that religious, parental choice nonsense.

  22. MadScientist
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Why assume that the contestants must have discussed the answer amongst them? It is also likely that many give the same answer simply because the religious people who push that agenda only have a few variations on the same ridiculous answer.

  23. sasqwatch
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Next: beauty contestants are asked whether children should be taught a bunch of different random ways of throwing numbers around along with conventional arithmetic, and let them decide which one works for balancing one’s checkbook. Not a perfect analogy, but something like this seems to be the majority answer.

  24. saintstephen
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    All I got is from Captain Kirk:

    Must… not… give… up.

  25. John Weiss
    Posted June 25, 2011 at 2:44 am | Permalink

    Ms. Texas?

  26. daveau
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    I did not watch this until now. It took about 3-1/2 minutes before I began arguing with my computer. And about 5 minutes later, my head self-destructed.

  27. Philipp
    Posted June 30, 2011 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Here’s a question: Who thinks these people look pretty?

    Not that answering that would get us a bit closer to answering why we should care what they think about education.

  28. sue jones
    Posted July 2, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    They should be saying
    “Evolution must be taught in schools so kids can understand how Religion evolves over time to adapt to people’s needs for comfort, control and community.”

  29. Posted July 4, 2011 at 1:43 am | Permalink

    As a resident of Washington, I’m really saddened by my state’s representative here. I hope she gets knowledged about the reality of eveolution soon.

    Also, as a dude (and this may not be the most scientific analysis), I can honestly say that the women here who were the most pro-evolution were also the best looking! Vermont was numero uno, California was very close…and when you get to Arkansas…eek….she just looks like a blow-up doll (and with about as much brainpower).

  30. Posted July 4, 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    The comment that was most remarkable to me was from Miss Georgia who asserted that evolution should be taught, because “We are smarter than ever these days.”

    The truth is that the dumbing down of American students is more obvious than ever these days.

    Whether or not evolution should be taught in public schools is such a loaded question. Public schools are programming their minds, not educating them. The actual question being asked is, “Should the programming of public schools extend to the theory of evolution?”

    The correct answer is, of course, “No,” but then that begs the question, because the public schools should not be supporting the agenda to subvert the foundation of America’s strength.

    The question should have been, “Why not teach the theory of evolution in schools?” The answer I would have looked for is this: “The schools should not teach any theory, since in doing so it would be very difficult for teachers to avoid advocating its acceptance or rejection, depending on their personal prejudices. What should be taught in schools is the scientific method and the importance of understanding the role of epistemology in distinguishing the difference between views held by various stake holders in our modern society.”

    But that hope is beyond our reach at this point, I’m afraid.

  31. Posted June 4, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    A lot fo these girls must be kind of nervous so I do feel some sympathy for them. Kind of like the sympathy you have for a person with special needs. They were born that way, not much they can do about it… Ok joking. But seriously, some of these answers are retarded. It all goes back to Miss teen USA SC. “Because of and such, what have you and what not…” LOL give me a BREAK! Although some of these girls here do have half decent answers. A small percentage of course, but at least not %100 is a complete lost cause.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] (Although I wonder if that policy is a mistake.) But this morning I put up a link to a post at Jerry Coyne’s blog, and it was almost immediately deleted from Facebook. (The Twitter entry was fine, of course.) I […]

  2. […] piece, “Belief in evolution? It may be the wrong word” takes off from some of the answers given by Miss USA contestants when asked whether evolution should be taught in schools, especially the many responses that […]

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