By Julia Duin
Washington, DC – March, 15: A The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History Hall of Human Origins display of relatively recent human skulls, collected from various locations around the world, to demonstrate the similarities between modern man. (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)
Can you maintain a traditional Judeo-Christian view of how the Earth was created and still remain a science teacher in public schools?
About one in eight high school biology teachers do, according to a new article in the magazine Science.
The study, which came out last week, says 13 percent of 900 high school biology teachers polled by two Pennsylvania State University professors believe Earth was created by God instead of evolving over a 3.7-billion-year time span. Then there is the 28 percent who take the opposite tack in their classrooms; teaching that evolution is a given. The rest – roughly 60 percent – don’t take a position at all for fear of starting controversy; a stance that Scientific American thought was cowardly at best.
Other science publications seemed surprised to find that 13 percent of the respondents defy the evolution mandate, in that these teachers consider evolution a belief system similar to creationism.
Authors of the study suggested that either a principal or school board send a letter to biology teachers, encouraging them to teach evolution, suggesting the main problem is the teachers’ lack of confidence in teaching what could be a touchy topic. It was not clear what form would such a letter would take. Would it be a suggestion? A threat?
Evolution runs directly counter to most major world religions, which teach that God created the world in some form or another. Teachers have lost their jobs for not adhering to strictly teaching evolution, most notably Carolyn Crocker, a whose 2010 book “Free to Think” says she was forced out of teaching biology classes at Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University. The problem: She believes in Intelligent Design; that is, a Creator designed the cosmos. A retelling of her story and a view of both sides of the issue appeared Feb. 6, 2006, in the Washington Post Sunday magazine.
A site that disagrees with Mrs. Crocker nevertheless ran this quote: “…both Intelligent Design advocates and their critics would agree on this: nobody who uses the biology classroom to advance views that reject evolutionary common descent, is going to be in the classroom for long at a major university.”
With a more conservative Congress in place, the issue is not going to go away. In 2001, the US Senate adopted a “Sense of the Senate” amendment proposed by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania) as part of the “No Child Left Behind” bill which included the phrase, “where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why the subject generates so much continuing controversy…” Opponents said Santorum’s language could be used to undercut the teaching of evolution and made sure amendment did not become law.
However, the new House Majority Speaker, John Boehner (R-Ohio), has supported teaching creationism in public schools, making it hard to argue that creationism is the work of a demented few.
Should high school and college teachers be mandated to teach evolution even if it’s against their religious beliefs?