Wednesday, August 12, 2009


A word about evolution

I’ve mostly stayed out of the evolution vs creation wars. It’s not that I don’t care — it’s appalling to me that 84 years after the Scopes trial, we’re still embroiled in this mess, still dealing with people who want to teach superstition in science class. It’s appalling to me that...

  1. ...31% of American adults think “the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally word for word,” according to a 2007 Gallup poll. A further 47% think it’s “inspired by the word of God,” and only 19% consider it “ancient fables, history, and legends.” I guess I’m among the elite.
  2. ...44% of American adults think that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so,” according to a 2008 Gallup Poll. 36% think “human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process,” and only 14% think that God had nothing to do with it. These numbers have been fairly stable and consistent over the last 25 years.
  3. ...evolution is less accepted in the U.S. than in other western countries, according to a 2006 study at the University of Michigan. Around 80% of adults accept evolution in Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, France, and Japan, while just 40% do in the U.S. Of the 34 countries studied, the U.S. is 33rd — the only one that comes in lower than the U.S. is Turkey.
  4.’s not just random adults; 16% of U.S. biology teachers are creationists, according to a 2007 survey. This is exactly what John Scopes was bucking 84 years ago.

[It’s also interesting to note other bits of the evolution/creation/intelligent-design poll (number 2 above). 15%, for instance, would be more likely to vote for a presidential candidate because he said he did not accept evolution, and more than 50% said it wouldn’t make a difference. It’s too bad they didn’t ask the same question about a candidate who thinks the Earth is flat, the Sun revolves around the Earth, the Moon is made of green cheese, or we should have our naval submarines out there looking for the lost continent of Atlantis.]

So it’s not that I don’t care. It’s that there are lots of people out there with more energy to spend on this, and who also have more academic credentials for it and far more readership. I fervently believe in adding my voice to things; in this case, I don’t think it’s needed.

And so we get to the recent mass visit of non-creationists, led by biology professor PZ Myers, to the fantasy park that creator Ken Ham[1] calls the “Creation Museum”. The mainstream news media picked up the story, and Ham appears to have made himself unavailable to them. That meant that the media didn’t include his spin on things in their reports, leaving their reports unusually sensible, avoiding the inclusion of nonsense that often comes from trying to be “balanced” when no balance is reasonable.

Professor Myers regularly calls Ken Ham a “fraud” and worse, and Ham responds on his own blog (quoted here by PZ Myers; I won’t link to it) with the complaint that “this professor seems to have a fixation on me”. Well, he does, and with good reason:

Ken Ham is actively trying to make our children scientifically stupid. He goes out of his way to teach our children superstitious nonsense. He’s spent millions of dollars creating a building full of exhibits that flout science while looking — falsely — academic, and wants children to go away from it with the idea that their science teachers (at least, 84% of them) are wrong. He’s one of those who specifically teaches children how to argue with their teachers in class on this matter.

I’ll point out, here, that if a science teacher were trying to teach that, as I mentioned above, the Earth is flat, the Sun revolves around the Earth, the Moon is made of green cheese, or we should be looking for the lost continent of Atlantis, he wouldn’t be allowed to teach science. If someone tried to open a “museum” teaching such things, no one would accept it as anything but silliness. This should be no different.

And he has the money and backing to be influential, funded by the fat donations of many, many gullible people who think he’s helping their children, not understanding the damage he’s doing.

So, yes, Professor Myers — funded by an associate professor’s salary — has it in for him. Getting the public to see the danger of the direction Ken Ham and others like him are trying to take science education is a terribly important step in making sure the next generation is properly educated.

Maybe if we can do that, those numbers in the surveys above will shift over the next 25 years.

[1] Hm. Can I call Ken Ham a “creator”? Oh, my.


Sue VanHattum said...

and a good thing you have comment moderation on. i used to read, and once in a while check it out again. i've watched sensible discussions get completely sidetracked on this.

thanks for the info.

Dawn said...

I pray the numbers become more sensible in the future... it is appalling.

be well...

Laurie said...

Being a biologist, most of the time I'm up in arms about this, but sometimes I just get depressed. It doesn't seem to be getting better, it seems that we've taken steps backward since the Monkey trial instead of forward. This must be one of my "down" days.