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.”