Reader Hempenstein called my attention to a long piece in yesterday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by David Templeton (no relation, I suspect): “Is evolution missing link in some Pennsylvania high schools?” It’s good in not only laying out why evolution should be taught in public school science classrooms and why ID and creationism should not, but also in raising a red flag about how pervasive creationist teachings still are. Although the Dover case in 2005 should have stopped the teaching of religiously-based “science” in Pennsylvania public schools, if not in all U.S. public schools, it didn’t. Creationism and ID still sneak in under the radar, and that’s evident from the Post-Gazette‘s survey of science teachers.
The paper surveyed 106 science teachers in Pennsylvania high schools, asking them the two questions below. (Teachers could specify more than one answer, so they don’t add up to 100%. I suppose some teachers could, like Michael Behe, accept a limited amount of “microevolution” but still see ID or creationism as a supplementary process.) The article doesn’t state at which level the respondents actually taught, but I suspect they represent high-school teachers since evolution isn’t often taught below that level.
Note that although the sample is small, one would expect that the proportion of “creationist” answers would be underrepresented, simply because most teachers don’t want to go public (even in an anonymous survey) with their views.
Now acceptance of evolutionary theory has generally been flat over the past thirty years, with perhaps a very, very slight increase in acceptance of naturalistic (non-theistic) evolution, but the latest Gallup survey also shows an increase in straight young-earth creationism as well. More disturbing is the 32% of responses showing that some teachers adhere to a form of creationism. And although the survey doesn’t say what proportion of total teachers that represents, it’s clear that a sizable minority of teachers don’t accept the consensus view of the origin and diversity of life.
What’s even more surprising is that at least one of these teachers chose to go public in the paper, risking his school’s being slapped with a lawsuit. I’ve highlighted his names and school below.
“Sometimes students honestly look me in the eye and ask what do I think? I tell them that I personally hold the Bible as the source of truth,” said Joe Sohmer, who teaches chemistry at the Altoona Area High School. The topic arises, he said, when he teaches radiocarbon dating, with that method often concluding archeological finds to be older than 10,000 years, which he says is the Bible-based age of Earth. “I tell them that I don’t think [radiocarbon dating] is as valid as the textbook says it is, noting other scientific problems with the dating method.
“Kids ask all kinds of personal questions and that’s one I don’t shy away from,” he said. “It doesn’t in any way disrupt the educational process. I’m entitled to my beliefs as much as the evolutionist is.” [JAC: yeah, but he’s not entitled to foist them on credulous high-school students!]
Mr. Sohmer responded to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette questionnaire distributed this spring to school teachers statewide, and he agreed to discuss his teaching philosophy. He said school officials are comfortable with his methods.
Another teacher wisely chose to remain anonymous but was explicit about how he/she sneaks creationism in under the radar:
An Indiana County science teacher responded to the questionnaire more adamantly.
“Most parents and officials do not want evolution ‘crammed’ into their children. They have serious philosophical/religious issues with public schools dictating to their students how to interpret the origin of life,” stated the teacher, who did not respond to a request for an interview. His questionnaire says he teaches creationism for the equivalent of a class period, with five classes devoted to evolution.
“I have been questioned in the past about how I teach evolution principles, and [school officials] are satisfied with my approach,” he said. “My approach is to teach the textbook content of Darwinian evolution but modified to explain that data can be interpreted differently dependent upon one’s world view.”
Once again the schools are “satisfied” with that approach. Shame on them!
The Penn State survey said the teachers identifying themselves as creationists spend at least an hour of classroom time on creationism in a way suggesting it to be a valid scientific alternative. “Between 17 and 21 percent [of teachers in the survey] introduce creationism into the classroom,” he said. “Some are young-Earth creationist but not all of them are. Some aren’t even creationists.”
But Mr. Berkman said their most alarming finding was that teachers need not introduce creationism in class to undercut interest and belief in evolution.
“You just have to throw doubt and downplay evolution,” he said. “The idea that teachers are doing a really weak job — many a really weak job — of introducing evolution, we think, is because of reactions they get and maybe because of the lack of confidence in what they are teaching. That especially is the case with evolution, where many students have been primed by parents and youth groups to raise difficult and challenging questions.”
More than half of high-school students (at least those who go to Duquesne University, a good school, don’t get much evolution in high school:
Duquesne University biology professor David Lampe, who organizes the university’s Darwin Day celebration each February, asks freshman biology students to complete an informal questionnaire each year before his class on evolution begins. His results indicate that a quarter to a third of freshmen claim to have had no instruction in evolution, with another third saying that only two class days or fewer were devoted to the topic. Only a third received three days or more of instruction on the topic.
“I don’t think we’ll ever stop people from objecting to the teaching of evolution,” Mr. Lampe said. “It is not an issue of interpreting scientific data. No one in science seriously questions whether evolution is real. It is still a theological problem for people.”
Mr. Lampe also objects to the bill.
“Academic freedom? I’ll tell you what it’s not. It’s not freedom to say anything you want in the classroom. In the classroom, you are obligated to teach scientific facts and methods. It’s not a forum for teachers to go off and talk about whatever they want to.
Like one of Shakespeare’s tension-reducing clowns, I’ll throw in, at the end, this funny picture about a Pennsylvania reverend who has run a series of classes in his church touting creationism and attacking evolution. The articles quotes him:
“We totally lost our influence in the public schools, which have lost the calling,” he said. “I want to take our schools back and build a base of knowledge, because we have a battle ahead. We are not going to get mad. We are going to get busy.”
The first step, he announced, was passage of an academic freedom bill similar to what Tennessee passed last year and Louisiana passed in 2009.
At Cornerstone Church, the Rev. Donn Chapman, a creationist, delivers a lecture April 10 on what
he says are the “falsehoods” of evolutionary theory. Photo by Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette