Tuesday, February 01, 2005

How to Lose Your Country - Part II

Today's NYT Science section reports on the creeping specter of creationism in the nation's biology classrooms:

There is no credible scientific challenge to the idea that all living things evolved from common ancestors, that evolution on earth has been going on for billions of years and that evolution can be and has been tested and confirmed by the methods of science. But in a 2001 survey, the National Science Foundation found that only 53 percent of Americans agreed with the statement "human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals."

And this was good news to the foundation. It was the first time one of its regular surveys showed a majority of Americans had accepted the idea. According to the foundation report, polls consistently show that a plurality of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago, and about two-thirds believe that this belief should be taught along with evolution in public schools.

These findings set the United States apart from all other industrialized nations, said Dr. Jon Miller, director of the Center for Biomedical Communications at Northwestern University, who has studied public attitudes toward science. Americans, he said, have been evenly divided for years on the question of evolution, with about 45 percent accepting it, 45 percent rejecting it and the rest undecided.

In other industrialized countries, Dr. Miller said, 80 percent or more typically accept evolution, most of the others say they are not sure and very few people reject the idea outright.

"In Japan, something like 96 percent accept evolution," he said. Even in socially conservative, predominantly Catholic countries like Poland, perhaps 75 percent of people surveyed accept evolution, he said. "It has not been a Catholic issue or an Asian issue," he said.

Indeed, two popes, Pius XII in 1950 and John Paul II in 1996, have endorsed the idea that evolution and religion can coexist. "I have yet to meet a Catholic school teacher who skips evolution," Dr. Scott said.

Still, why cram those little minds full of useless trivia like natural history, mathematics, civics, literature, and rational thought? Given the widely-publicized survey of high school students released yesterday, I'm sure that most of them will think that natural selection is an "overblown" theory, much like what they already think about the First Amendment and the right of dissent. The adults aren't much better either - the NSF survey shows just how little the national gray matter is being used and, not surprisingly, also provides for an explanation of prime-time network television.

Postscript: The AA went to a Catholic high school and was taught biology by religious brothers, none of whom gave any credence whatsoever to creationist theories.

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