The results of a new poll about the belief in evolution may hold some frightening implications for this country’s future, namely that only 8% of people identifying themselves as Republicans believe that evolution was a thoroughly natural process, free from the influence of God. Now, while those numbers are not good, the statistics for America as a whole are not much better, with only 16% of people polled saying that they believe evolution was a purely natural process. In contrast, 38% say they could believe in a God-driven evolution while, most frighteningly of all, the largest number of Americans, 40%, believe that humans were created by God exactly as we are today as described in the Bible.
And one wonders why the United States is falling behind other nations in relation to performance in the sciences.
This poll comes on the heels of another disturbing study, this one conducted by Pennsylvania State University, that found that the majority of high school science teachers still advocate creationism in the classroom. Why isn’t evolution being taught? Many teachers simply do not believe in evolution themselves. Another cited reason for lack of evolutionary education is that many teachers do not have the knowledge themselves to approach the touchy topic in their classrooms with enough confidence. How bad is the problem? The study found that only 28 percent of high-school biology teachers followed the National Research Counciland National Academy of Sciencesrecommendations for teaching evolution in the classroom
Thanks to federal guidelines, every state now has to follow rigid academic content standards in order to ensure that teachers are covering the same materials in every school at each grade level throughout the state. In Ohio, the state where I am from, by looking at the academic content standardsfor science, one sees no reference to creationism/intelligent design, only evolution, to which there are over a dozen in just the high school grades alone. Besides scientific facts, the Ohio standards also emphasize the scientific method, which makes no room for including one’s preconceived notions (including religious beliefs) in scientific research. For your standards in your individual state, visit your state department of education’s website. Needless to say, your state’s should be similar to Ohio’s.
When it comes to fixing the problem, this study recommends that all science teachers should be required to take at least one class dealing with evolution and natural selection with follow-up courses and classes emphasizing the scientific validity of evolution being offered, too. However, critics point to the fact that, if someone doesn’t believe in something, no amount of education may be possible to change that.
Unfortunately, in a time when the rest of the world is rapidly catching up to America in terms of scientific achievement, America will be forced to reap the consequences of this scientific ignorance being founded in the nation’s schools, which are designed to educate children, not suppress knowledge that teachers find it uncomfortable to deal with in an academic setting.
Now, one may be asking “what does all of this have to do with space science?” Answer: plenty.
Like biology, astronomy is a subject that has had a history of conflicting with religionand, even now, can shock the sensibilities of some, particularly religious fundamentalists, who continue to hold onto the belief that the world was created in a matter of days and that the age of the Earth can be determined by counting back the years as given in holy books. Just as anyone committed to the correct teaching of science would be appalled at the lack of evolutionin biology, a same revulsion would occur if the Big Bangalong with solar system formation were taught side by side with the account in Genesis, or skipped altogether. Needless to say, omitting these two most basic of processes would do as major a disservice to any astronomy student as glossing over evolution or teaching it in tandem with a most nonscientific idea as creationism would do to anyone learning biology.
Needless to say, if biology teachers are too afraid to teach evolution through either personal ignorance or risk of offending someone, what’s not to say that astronomy teachers will become the same way if the religious decide to get up in arms over the Big Bang or solar system formation? It’s a scary thought but, considering the social climate of the countrywe live in, it may not be an impossibility, especially considering that the U.S. is an anomaly in the Western world wherein belief in creationism far outweighsthat in evolution.
As a final thought, consider the following: in science, if there is any commandment, it is this: respect the facts. No matter what we want the world to be or what our preconceived notions are, the world is the way it is, inflexible to human will. If one truly wishes to assume a scientific mindset, he/she must have respect for facts, no matter how contrary to personal beliefs and disconcerting they are. In the case of both evolution and the Big Bang, all facts point towards the scientific theories, not the religious dogma, being the truth. Yes, there are many great things about religion, such as ethical principles, its function as a social bonding agent, influence on the arts, and many others. However, religion is not science and it should be kept out of the classroom and the government.
For more info:
Presidential candidates’ takes on evolution
Proof evolution is real
Life can originate from non-living matter
The above fact supported by experiment
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