Thursday, September 01, 2005

Creationism 101: Grading on the Curve

A new national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life highlights the country's religious and political divide over evolution.

Overall, about half the public (48%) says that humans and other living things have evolved over time, while 42% say that living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. Fully 70% of white evangelical Protestants say that life has existed in its present form since the beginning of time; fewer than half as many white mainline Protestants (32%) and white Catholics (31%) agree.

Despite these fundamental differences, most Americans (64%) say they are open to the idea of teaching creationism along with evolution in the public schools, and a substantial minority (38%) favors replacing evolution with creationism in public school curricula. While much of this support comes from religious conservatives, these ideas particularly the idea of teaching both perspectives have a broader appeal. Even many who are politically liberal and who believe in evolution favor expanding the scope of public school education to include teaching creationism. But an analysis of the poll also reveals that there are considerable inconsistencies between people's beliefs and what they want taught in the schools, suggesting some confusion about the meaning of terms such as "creationism" and "evolution."

One would expect some confusion. After all, understanding evolution is a bit more challenging an intellectual endeavor than studying creationism to confirm one's worldview. Compare "God created the world in six days" with following the progress of human genome study, just one tiny snippet of the body of research related to evolution. Read the story in the NYT that reports on this comparison:

Scientists have decoded the chimp genome and compared it with that of humans, a major step toward defining what makes people human and developing a deep insight into the evolution of human sexual behavior.

The comparison pinpoints the genetic differences that have arisen in the two species since they split from a common ancestor some six million years ago...

The scientists who have compared the whole genomes of the two species say they have found 35 million sites on the aligned genomes where there are different DNA units, and another five million where units have been added or deleted. Each genome is about three billion units in length.

Teaching creationism and evolution side-by-side, or in social science and science classes, may satisfy the American sense of fair play, but it is even more likely to further dumb down our schools. Here in Minnesota, critics have lambasted curricula they claimed were focused on building self-esteem rather than teaching "facts."

Creationism under any name would seem to qualify as the mother of all self-esteem builders, a subject that could only be graded on the curve.


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