I am dispirited. I’ve just returned from a two-hour lecture and Q&A session at the Woodlawn Charter School, a public school run by the University of Chicago on the South Side of the city. Some of the high-school biology students are reading Why Evolution is True, and I gave a presentation on the evidence for evolution—with a tiny bit about why religion prevents Americans from accepting evolution, for I was asked to mention that topic—followed by an hour of questions.
Some of the questions were good, and some of the students really interested, but there was also a lot of religious pushback. One student, I was told, sat through the entire lecture muttering about how she shouldn’t be forced to listen to this stuff since it went against her faith. Another student’s “question” was to inform me that she was offended that I said that Adam and Eve never existed (I talked about the human bottleneck of 1200 people), and asked me how I knew that.
And the teacher who invited me told me she encountered stiff resistance from many of her kids about evolution—resistance based solely on their religious upbringing.
It’s all a bit depressing. These kids are not southern fundamentalist Bible-thumpers: they are disadvantaged black kids who were simply brought up in religious homes or among religious peers. And there’s no doubt that that upbringing is rendering many of them resistant to the idea of evolution. I spent an hour showing them the evidence for evolution, and some of them were simply impervious.
The problem with America and evolution is not the lack of instruction. We have more evolution education than ever (after all, these kids are reading my book), and we tons of books and eminent scientists lecturing about evolution. We have Dawkins, and the works of Sagan and Gould, the shows of Attenborough, and high-school textbooks that deal in depth with evolution. But statistics show that acceptance of evolution in America has hardly changed since 1982.
The problem is religion. Until America becomes less religious, we have no hope of educating people about the wonders of evolution. Remember this from the Pew Forum website:
When asked what they [Americans] would do if scientists were to disprove a particular religious belief, nearly two-thirds (64%) of people say they would continue to hold to what their religion teaches rather than accept the contrary scientific finding, according to the results of an October 2006 Time magazine poll. Indeed, in a May 2007 Gallup poll, only 14% of those who say they do not believe in evolution cite lack of evidence as the main reason underpinning their views; more people cite their belief in Jesus (19%), God (16%) or religion generally (16%) as their reason for rejecting Darwin’s theory.
Religion poisons everything. The National Center for Science Education can put out the fires in school boards and courtrooms, and the rest of us can teach ourselves silly, but not much will change until we weaken religion’s death grip on America.