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EVOLUTION, CREATIONISM & PUBLIC SCHOOLS:

Surveying What Texas Scientists Think about Educating Our Kids in the 21st Century 

 


The debate over curriculum standards for science education at the Texas State Board of Education in 2008-09 was the major front in the running battle over evolution in this country. Creationism and intelligent design advocates have made it clear that Texas is a focal point in their attempt to undermine the mainstream scientific consensus on evolution. In 2008, the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund surveyed those who are best qualified to evaluate the claims of evolution opponents -- scientists at Texas’ colleges and universities. A lengthy survey was sent to individual biology and biological anthropology faculty members from all 35 public universities plus the 15 largest private institutions in Texas. The response rate was extremely high, with more than 45% of faculty returning a completed survey.

This report detailing the results of this survey reveals that the Texas science community strongly rejects intelligent design and the so-called “weaknesses” of evolution. Further, a majority of Texas science faculty worry that dumbing down science curriculum is harmful to students’ future prospects for college and 21st-century jobs. Click the link below to read the full report, or an executive summary appears below.

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Executive Summary

The debate over curriculum standards for science education at the Texas State Board of Education in 2008-09 is the latest front in a running battle over evolution in this country. Creationism and intelligent design advocates have made clear that Texas is a focal point in their attempt to undermine the mainstream scientific consensus on evolution. The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund surveyed those who are best qualified to evaluate the claims of evolution opponents - scientists at Texas’ colleges and universities. A lengthy survey was sent to individual biology and biological anthropology faculty members from all 35 public universities plus the 15 largest private institutions in Texas. The response rate was extremely high, with more than 45% of faculty returning a completed survey.

The new report detailing the results of this survey reveals that the Texas science community strongly rejects intelligent design and the so-called “weaknesses” of evolution. Further, a majority of Texas science faculty worry that dumbing down science curriculum is harmful to students’ future prospects for college and 21st-century jobs.

Findings
The survey findings can be grouped into five broad categories. 

Texas Scientists Overwhelmingly Reject Intelligent Design as Valid Science
Proponents of intelligent design regularly assert that a vigorous controversy over the validity of evolution exists among scientists who study human origins. However, the responses to this survey unequivocally establish that nearly all qualified scientists in Texas colleges and universities firmly support the current mainstream consensus on the validity of evolutionary processes and reject intelligent design as representing a scientifically credible alternative. Only about 2% of Texas science faculty can be said to express any degree of sympathy for creationism or intelligent design. Further, not a single scientist in the subsample of those supporting intelligent design reported teaching graduate students about human evolution within the past five years. Support for intelligent design vanishes to essentially zero when looking at established Texas biology and biological anthropology faculty who teach at the graduate level.

Texas Science Faculty Insist That Neither Intelligent Design Nor Creationism Be Taught in Science Classes
The “teach both sides” or “teach the controversy” argument, appealing to the public’s sense of fairness, has been a key political and public relations talking point for intelligent design supporters. But this argument is soundly rejected by Texas scientists. About 92% agreed that the Texas State Board of Education should not allow intelligent design to be presented in public school science classrooms as scientifically credible. Additionally, a solid 95% of respondents said that they would prefer to teach “just evolution as a valid account of origins,” leaving a mere 5% who believed that both evolution and intelligent design should be taught. This should prove discouraging to the promoters of intelligent design because it exposes the “controversy” as a political fiction. The “controversy” is strictly a creation of intelligent design backers. There is, in fact, essentially no controversy in the mainstream science community.

Scientists Reject Teaching the So-Called ‘Weaknesses’ of Evolution
Opponents of evolution have targeted the Texas science curriculum standards as a test case for their newest strategy forcing public school students to learn about so-called “weaknesses” of evolutionary theory. This survey of Texas scientists roundly rejects this strategy: 94% of Texas scientists indicated that claimed "weaknesses" are not valid scientific objections to evolution (with 87% saying that they “strongly disagree” that such weaknesses should be considered valid). Clearly, the latest shift in strategy from promoting intelligent design to pushing “weaknesses” of evolution has not made any significant inroads into the science community. Just as with intelligent design, the vast majority of relevant university and college faculty in Texas do not buy into the “teach the weaknesses” concept now favored by supporters of creationism.

Texas Science Faculty Believe that Emphasizing ‘Weaknesses’ of Evolution Would Substantially Harm Students’ College Readiness and Prospects for 21st-Century Jobs
Science faculty at institutions of higher education are uniquely positioned to fairly assess students’ readiness for college, and the results of our survey indicate a significant concern among Texas scientists about how changes to the science curriculum standards will affect prospects for their students. Nearly 80% of the respondents either agreed that presentation of presumed “weaknesses” of evolution in a high school classroom will impair students’ readiness for college. Additionally, 72% of respondents said they agreed that teaching high school students about presumed “weaknesses” will impair their ability to compete for 21st century jobs. Parents who care about prospects for their children’s education and professional future might wish to take note of this concern among Texas scientists.

Texas Scientists Strongly Believe that Support for Evolution Is Compatible with Religious Faith
Many anti-evolution commentators argue that science is somehow intrinsically hostile to faith. Some opponents of evolution go even further and argue that scientists are committed to an agenda intended to destroy faith. However, the results of this survey make clear that Texas science faculty members do not fit this stereotype. When asked if it is “possible for someone who accepts evolutionary biology to have religious faith,” 74.4% strongly agreed, and 16.6% agreed somewhat, for a total of 91%. Although Americans have been repeatedly subjected to the claim that “you can’t be a Christian and believe in evolution,” this statement is soundly rejected by all but a very small number of the Texas scientists surveyed.

About the Survey

In late fall 2007 and early spring of 2008, a lengthy survey (59 questions some open-ended) was sent to 1,019 individual biology and biological anthropology faculty members from all 35 public universities plus the 15 largest private institutions in Texas. In the end 464 survey recipients submitted completed questionnaires. This represents better than a 45% response rate almost unheard of for the remote return of a lengthy questionnaire of this type. The diversity of the response was also robust, with respondents participating from 49 different institutions. All responses were analyzed using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS). Dr. Raymond Eve, professor of sociology and program director for sociology at the University of Texas at Arlington, designed and administered the survey and served as principal author of the report.