undermining biology, one class at a time

A new study confirms what science advocates have long suspected. Creationism in the classroom undermines the quality of student's education.
teach the controversy atlantis
Illustration by Amorphia Apparel

We know full well that teachers bring their personal opinions into the classroom even though they’re not really supposed to do that. In some cases, that doesn’t matter. Your beliefs about today’s politics in the Middle East won’t suddenly change the rules of math. However, when it comes to important events in history or disciplines like biology and astronomy, teachers can and will skew how they explain the basic tenants of cosmology and evolution. So if you’re a devoted creationist who just can’t resist the chance to proselytize to students and save their souls from the neo-Darwinian path to Hell, chances are that you’re going to do it, damn the laws and the guidelines which demand that you teach the subject on the basis of facts. But the big question is whether this breach will have any lasting effects on those students when they enter college. The short answer? Yes, it will.

Two biology professors at the University of Minnesota surveyed a thousand freshmen taking biology classes to find out what sort of biology education they received and how it shaped their opinions. Their answers were then further divided into those who would be majoring in biology and those who had other plans. The results showed that a majority of students were sympathetic to creationist views if they were exposed to them. Oddly though, while as many as 78% of students who were educated in the basics of evolutionary theory without a creationist intervention thought it was a scientifically valid concept, the numbers fell to 57% for those given an unwarranted dose of religion in their science classes. The difference between biology major and non-majors on the lower bound? Just 2% fewer majors expressed doubt on the scientific merits of evolution. To put that in proper perspective, as many as 41% of biology majors had doubts about the scientific merit of a theory which underpins their future field of study and has the support of 99% of experts who study it.

In their explanations for why almost a third of high school classes are teaching creationism, the authors note that almost 25% don’t know that it’s unconstitutional to teach religious ideas in the classroom since it would be a violation of the establishment clause. And of course the buzzards at the Discovery Institute were all over this with their Wedge Doctrine tactic of pretending they have something legitimate to teach students…

While these statements are legally correct, they leave out a crucial point of law that the NCSE may not wish to publicize: “scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories [may] be taught provided that such curricula are enacted with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of [the existing] science instruction.”

Memo to the genius who wrote this. Creationism is about as far from secularism as you could possibly get in any context, whether scientific or rhetorical. And don’t give me the nonsense about intelligent design being its own, secular thing because we all know full well that it’s Christian apologetics drowned in technobabble and advanced by incompetent, self-aggrandizing cranks and an egomaniacal, dishonest scientist along with a whiny lawyer who never stops complaining. Need a court ruling on the subject? How does Kitzmiller v. Dover fit? You know, the court ruling which found that ID is just a fancy name for creationism? I noticed for some odd reason, the brilliant mind behind this loophole forgot to mention this case in his list of surveyed legal material for the article. But hey, if you pretend that transitional fossils don’t exist even though they pack museums all over the world, how hard can it be to forget a four year old trial that shows your loophole as nothing more than smoke and mirrors on feet of clay?

You can crow all you want about teaching controversies and enhancing education but in the end of the day, if you’re teaching religious doctrines that will retard the progress of an entire scientific field, you deserve a swift and merciless reprisal. And if you’re smugly proud of yourself as you teach the equivalent of putting a square peg in round holes, not only are you a failure as a teacher, you’re a proselytizing hack who took advantage of a trusting audience. If you’re wondering why the U.S. is starting to lose ground in scientific advancements, just take a look in the nearest mirror. Good job. Proud of yourself now?

Survey data: Moore, R., & Cotner, S. (2009). The Creationist Down the Hall: Does It Matter When Teachers Teach Creationism? BioScience, 59 (5), 429–435 DOI: 10.1525/bio.2009.59.5.10

# evolution // biology / creationism / creationists / education / evolution


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