RNCSE 24 (5)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2004
Date: 
September–October
Articles available online are listed below.

Design on Trial in Dover, Pennsylvania

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Design on Trial in Dover, Pennsylvania
Author(s): 
Nicholas J Matzke
NCSE Public Information Project Specialist
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2004
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
4–9
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
On December 14, 2004, eleven parents from Dover, Pennsylvania, filed suit against the Dover Area School District in federal court. The matter at issue is a policy introducing "intelligent design" into the biology curriculum. Although such policies have been proposed several times around the country, none was passed until the decision by the Dover Area School Board (there are, of course, several cases where ID policies "evolved" into milder policies advocating that "alternative theories of origins" or the "strengths and weaknesses of evolution" be taught). The case — Kitzmiller et al v Dover Area School District — has attracted national and international media attention, and may help determine the fate of "intelligent design" in the public schools.

The plaintiffs are represented pro bono by a team of attorneys from the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Philadelphia-based law firm Pepper Hamilton LLP. NCSE is formally consulting, also free of charge, for the plaintiffs' attorneys on the science and science education aspects of the case.

The Evolution of "Intelligent Design"

Creationism watchers know well that "intelligent design" has been primarily a legal strategy from the very beginning. It emerged shortly after the catastrophic defeats of "scientific creationism" in the courts during the 1980s, particularly the 1987 Supreme Court decision in Edwards v Aguillard. Even according to pro-ID histories of the ID movement (Woodward 2003), the 1989 book Of Pandas and People, intended as a supplementary biology textbook for usage in public schools, was the first publication advocating "intelligent design" in its modern form. Frank Sonleitner (a longtime NCSE member and board member) reports that he first heard of Pandas at a Bible Science Studies meeting on September 18, 1989, held at the Scopes Ministries in Oklahoma City. Creationist Don Patton was attempting to get Pandas adopted as a supplementary biology textbook in Texas, and stated that an advantage of Pandas was that it discussed "intelligent design" rather than creationism. Patton held up Pandas and said, "Now we're not going to get scientific creationism in the textbooks; that has been ruled religious. We must avoid that term like the plague!" (Sonleitner 1991).

Of Pandas and People is not read often enough by ID skeptics. Virtually all of the arguments later advanced by Discovery Institute Fellows (critique of methodological naturalism, "specified complexity", inadequacies of homology, gaps in the fossil record, "where does new information come from", and so on) are present in essentially modern form in the 1989 edition. Even Michael Behe's "irreducible complexity" argument (though not the signature phrase) appears in print for the first time in the second edition of Pandas (Davis and Kenyon 1993), in a new section devoted to blood-clotting. According to Woodward, "Michael Behe assisted in the rewriting of a chapter on biochemistry in a revised edition of Pandas. The book stands as one of the milestones in the infancy of Design." And indeed, pages 141–6 of the revised Pandas are about the blood clotting cascade, reaching the conclusion, "all of the proteins had to be present simultaneously for the blood clotting system to function" (Davis and Kenyon 1993: 146, emphasis in original). The Discovery Institute portrays ID as a vigorous young movement of scientific rebels, but the actual history is that Pandas, a textbook, came first, and the "scientific discoveries" (of Behe, Dembski, and the rest) followed in its wake. This situation is ludicrous from a scientific and educational point of view, but it makes a great deal of sense if Pandas and the ID movement generally are simply one extended reaction to the Edwards decision.

The problems with Pandas, and the history of attempts to sneak Pandas into public school classrooms, were documented in the pages of RNCSE during the early 1990s. All relevant articles and reviews of Pandas have been made available at a new Resources page on the NCSE website (http://www.ncseweb.org/article.asp?category=21). The second (and last) edition of Pandas came out in 1993, and most of the major Pandas battles occurred from 1989 through 1995. (In 1995, an effort to adopt Pandas in Plano, Texas, was defeated when a large number of citizens turned out in opposition wearing buttons containing a cute panda picture with red slash through it.)

The beginning

Because of this inauspicious history, it was quite surprising when, in the summer of 2004, Pandas resurfaced in news stories from Dover, Pennsylvania. Dover is a small town (population 1800) on the outskirts of York, in south-central Pennsylvania. The Dover Area School District (DASD) is a rural district with about 40 000 residents. Dover Senior High School has about 1000 students.

The controversy started when the Dover Area School Board (DASB) began consideration of a new biology textbook. The teachers recommended Biology: The Living Science, by Kenneth Miller and Joseph Levine (coincidentally, this is the same text that was challenged in Cobb County, Georgia; see RNCSE 2002 May/Jun; 22 [3]: 9–12). According to local newspapers, at a June 7, 2004, board meeting, the chair of the DASB Curriculum Committee, William Buckingham, objected to the textbook on the grounds that the textbook was "laced with Darwinism," and stated that he was looking for a textbook that gave a balanced view between creationism and evolution. He added, "This country wasn't founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution. ...This country was founded on Christianity, and our students should be taught as such." At the next meeting, on June 14, 2004, Buckingham is reported to have stated, "Two thousand years ago, someone died on a cross. Can't someone take a stand for him?" (York Daily Record 2005 Jan 16).

Although criticized by some on the board, the compromise was that the board majority would not approve the Miller and Levine textbook until it was "balanced" with an alternative view. Buckingham soon settled on Of Pandas and People as the desired alternative book and argued that both books be adopted, or none at all. He said, "If we don't get our book, you don't get yours." Motions to approve just the mainstream textbook failed on 4–4 votes. However, on August 2, after acrimonious debate and public comment, one board member, Angie Yingling, changed her vote, saying to Buckingham, "I feel you were blackmailing them. I just want the kids to have their books." The mainstream book passed, without Pandas (York Daily Record 2004 Aug 4).

If previous Pandas battles were any guide, this would have been the end of the controversy in Dover, and everyone could happily move on with their lives. However, Buckingham and his supporters did not give up. They arranged for 50 copies of Pandas to donated, anonymously, to the school district. The superintendent, Richard Nilsen, accepted the donations on the understanding that these would be optional reference materials. Buckingham announced at an October 4 school board meeting that, since no school district funds were used to buy the books, the decision to accept them was administrative and required no vote. This situation was disagreeable from an educator's point of view — chaos would result if anyone with a fringe scientific view were allowed to stuff the shelves of the public school classrooms — but in Dover, the donation of Pandas books seemed to be perceived as a reasonable compromise that brought a merciful end to the controversy. The York Daily Record even awarded "roses" to the DASB for reaching this " reasonable compromise" (2004 Oct 9).

All this time, the science teachers at Dover Senior High School had mostly stayed out of the public fray. The primary public voices of the opposition at school board meetings were retired school teachers and former school board members, and only members of this latter group replied to NCSE inquiries about the situation. However, from speaking with several Dover residents, I got the impression that the science teachers, once they took a look at Pandas, did not like it one bit and had no intention of using it in class.

"Intelligent Design" voted in

The anti-Pandas sentiment of Dover teachers seems to be the most likely explanation of why, on October 18, 2004, the Dover Area School Board surprised everyone by passing the following addition to the official curriculum:
Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design. Note: Origins of life will not be taught.
Of Pandas and People was listed in the curriculum as a reference text. At the October 18 meeting, the reference to "intelligent design" was opposed by the school administration, the head of the science department at Dover Senior High, and 11 of the 12 citizens testifying at the meeting. For months, representatives from Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) had been quoted in the press stating that the DASB was moving in an unconstitutional direction, so the possibility of a lawsuit was a major topic of discussion at the meeting. However, Buckingham stated that a law firm, later revealed to be the Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor, Michigan, would represent the district pro bono in any lawsuit. After the 6–3 vote approving the ID policy, Jeff and Carol "Casey" Brown, a husband-and-wife pair that had been on the school board for five and ten years, respectively, resigned in protest. The same month, two other school board members, including Noel Wenrich, the third vote opposing the ID policy, also resigned because of impending moves outside of the school district. (Several weeks later, the DASB appointed four new members to the school board to fill the vacancies, and ensured that all four supported the ID policy.)

The next day, the headline across the front page of the York Daily Record was "'Intelligent design' voted in" (2004 Oct 19). A photocopy of the front page was faxed to NCSE's office, and the national media started calling NCSE about Dover. Another wave of letters flooded the paper, and the York Daily Record editors asked, "Why couldn't they just leave well enough alone?" (2004 Oct 27).

For the following month, talk of lawsuits was continuous, with AU and the Pennsylvania ACLU putting out word that they were interviewing potential plaintiffs. On November 19, the school district administration issued a press release on the Dover Area School District website describing how the policy was going to be implemented (DASD 2004). Parts of the press release were clearly aimed at avoiding a lawsuit, but the statement also included the following four-paragraph verbal disclaimer that biology teachers would be required to read at the beginning of the evolution unit in January:
The state standards require students to learn about Darwin's Theory of Evolution and to eventually take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students to see if they would like to explore this view in an effort to gain an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves. As is true with any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind.

The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life up to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses on the standards and preparing students to be successful on standards-based assessments.
In one of several puzzling inconsistencies in the school district press release, the school district also stated, "The Superintendent, Dr Richard Nilsen, is on record stating that no teacher will teach 'Intelligent design', Creationism, or present his/her or the board's religious beliefs." This seemed to contradict the DASB's curriculum change and the verbal disclaimer. Regardless, civil rights groups were unimpressed by the school district's press release. Vic Walczak, the legal director for the Pennsylvania ACLU, told the press, "The school board's clarification confirms that the district will be presenting a religious view as an alternative to the scientifically accepted theory of evolution. ... This is not going to make us go away" (Associated Press 2004 Nov 19).

In early December, the press reported that the Pennsylvania ACLU, Americans United, and Pepper Hamilton LLP had signed up plaintiffs and were preparing a lawsuit. On December 7, DASB member Angie Yingling stated that, in light of the lawsuit, she now disagreed with the ID policy and that she would resign unless the DASB reconsidered. The York Daily Record editors stated, "Everyone who might help stop the 'Intelligent design' express is jumping off ...Watching what's going on in the Dover Area School District is like watching a train wreck in slow motion" (2004 Dec 9). Many in the community asked Yingling to remain on the board as a voice of opposition, and confusion about whether or not Yingling would actually resign remained a continuing subplot throughout December. Yingling finally resigned on February 7, 2005, telling the DASB, "your appearances in court are an embarrassment to Dover. You people appear to be ... religious zealots preaching from the shadows" (York Dispatch 2005 Feb 8).

Ratcheting up the pressure, on December 6, most of the faculty at York College's biology department sent an open letter to the Dover Area School Board, stating in part, "The inclusion of intelligent design in its curriculum as an 'alternative' evolutionary theory reflects a genuine lack of knowledge about the data supporting evolution by natural selection. It also reflects a profound misunderstanding of the scientific process and an equally profound disregard for the science educators and students in the Dover Area School District" (York Daily Record 2004 Dec 8). In the following weeks this act drew both compliments and criticism from the community, including suggestions like, "Love God or leave America, professors" (York Daily Record 2004 Dec 12).

On December 12, Phillip Johnson was interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle. Commenting on the Dover situation, he said, "What the Dover board did is not what I'd recommend. [...] Just teach evolution with a recognition that it's controversial. A huge percentage of the American public is skeptical of it. This is a problem that education ought to address." This echoed public statements from others associated with the Discovery Institute (such as those expressed in the York Daily Record, 2004 Dec 19).

Lawsuit filed

To the surprise of no one, on December 14, 11 Dover parents, the Pennsylvania ACLU, Americans United, and Pepper Hamilton LLP filed suit in Federal District Court against the ID policy of the Dover Area School District (ACLU 2004). A press conference was held at the courthouse in Harrisburg (the Pennsylvania capital, about 20 miles north of Dover). Tammy Kitzmiller, the mother of a ninth grader in the biology class and the lead plaintiff in the case, spoke to the press, as did Vic Walczak of the Pennsylvania ACLU, the Reverend Barry Lynn of Americans United, and Robert Eckhardt, a prominent paleoanthropologist at Penn State. Two protesters with yellow signs reading "ACLU CENSORS TRUTH" were also present. The text of the complaint filed on behalf of the parents, a press release, and a "FAQ" sheet on "intelligent design" were distributed at the press conference and online at the websites of the ACLU, AU, and Pepper Hamilton.

On December 20, the Dover Area School Board voted 7–0 to retain the services of the Thomas More Law Center, which offered to represent the school district pro bono. On its website, the TMLC states,
Our purpose is to be the sword and shield for people of faith, providing legal representation without charge to defend and protect Christians and their religious beliefs in the public square. [...] Our ministry was inspired by the recognition that the issues of the cultural war being waged across America, issues such as abortion, pornography, school prayer, and the removal of the Ten Commandments from municipal and school buildings, are not being decided by elected legislatures, but by the courts (TMLC nd, emphasis in original)
United States Senator Rick Santorum (R–PA), who has spoken out in support of the Dover Area School Board on several occasions, is on the TMLC Advisory Board. The President and Chief Counsel of the TMLC is Richard Thompson, who has vigorously assumed the role of spokesperson for the DASB's ID policy and ID in general.

The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, the chief institution promoting ID from the mid-1990s to the present, has apparently been observing the goings-on in Dover with dread, despite numerous articles and books by its fellows promoting ID as good science and legal to teach in public schools. For example, in 1999, DI CSC Senior Fellow David DeWolf, DI CSC Program Director Stephen Meyer, and Mark DeForrest coauthored Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula: A Legal Guidebook, a 40-page booklet published by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics. Therein they wrote,
In 1987, the US Supreme Court ruled in Edwards v Aguillard that "teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to school children might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction." As this guidebook will show, teachers and school boards who choose to tell students about the evidence and arguments for intelligent design actually fulfill this Supreme Court mandate. (DeWolf and others 1999)
Nevertheless, on the day the lawsuit was announced, the DI disregarded its past rhetoric and issued a press release, "Discovery calls Dover evolution policy misguided, calls for its withdrawal," which quoted DI CSC Associate Director John West as saying:
While the Dover board is to be commended for trying to teach Darwinian theory in a more open-minded manner, this is the wrong way to go about it. [...] Dover's current policy has a number of problems, not the least of which is its lack of clarity. At one point, it appears to prohibit Dover schools from teaching anything about "the origins of life." At another point, it appears to both mandate as well as prohibit the teaching of the scientific theory of intelligent design. The policy's incoherence raises serious problems from the standpoint of constitutional law. Thus, the policy should be withdrawn and rewritten. (DI 2004)
Interestingly, during depositions in early January, it was revealed that two DI representatives, attorney Seth Cooper and an unnamed companion, flew to Pennsylvania in December and spoke with Superintendent Nilsen and the DASB, offering Discovery Institute representation to the school board. The depositions do not reveal anything about the substance of the conversations. However, given the DI's public statements and the fact that the DASB did not retain the DI, I speculate that the DI offered to represent the school board, but only on the condition that the board drop its current policy and adopt a DI-written "teach the controversy" policy.

Opening moves

After the complaint was filed and the TMLC had been retained to represent the district, the first issue before the plaintiffs' attorneys was whether or not to apply for a restraining order to delay the DASB's implementation of the ID policy. According to the curriculum schedule, the ID disclaimer would be read on January 13, at the beginning of the unit on evolution. The plaintiffs' team therefore sought permission from the judge to depose key witnesses in an attempt to clarify the purpose and effect of the policy. On January 3, depositions were taken for Superintendent Nilsen, Curriculum Chair William Buckingham, School Board Chair Alan Bonsell, and board member Sheila Harkins. During the deposition, the witnesses either denied or professed not to remember making various remarks, such as Buckingham's statement, "This country wasn't founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution," reported independently in the York Daily Record and the York Dispatch back in June. Strangely, none of the board members seemed to have much familiarity at all with ID, and none gave anything resembling a direct, coherent answer about what they thought ID meant. For example, Buckingham was asked:
Q: I'm just trying to understand so we can have a working understanding here of what intelligent design is if we can. Do you have an understanding in very simple terms of what "Intelligent design" stands for? What does it teach? A: Other than what I expressed, that's — Scientists, a lot of scientists — Don't ask me the names. I can't tell you where it came from. A lot of scientists believe that back through time, something, molecules, amoeba, whatever, evolved into the complexities of life we have now. Q: That's the theory of "intelligent design"? A: You asked me my understanding of it. I'm not a scientist. I can't go into detail and debate you on it. (Buckingham deposition, January 3, 2005)
When asked about the "master intellect" suggested on pages 58 and 85 of Pandas (the "master intellect" passage is essentially identical on these two pages, in a strange case of internal text duplication in Pandas), Superintendent Nilsen was somewhat more clear:
Q: Do you have any explanation for what a master intellect could be referring to in terms of the creation or development of species other than to God?

A: Yes.

Q: What?

A: Aliens.

Q: Can you think of anything else?

A: No.

Q: Using master intellect in that context, it must mean God or aliens?

A: In this context, yes. (Nilsen deposition, January 3, 2005)
Statements such as these made a splash in the media (for example, ABC's Nightline 2005 Jan 19). However, the school board members denied religious motivations and claimed not to remember the various statements about religion and creationism that had been quoted in The York Dispatch and the York Daily Record. The York media took special notice of the DASB's "memory woes" and stood by their reporting from June. But because the depositions contradicted the press accounts, the plaintiffs' legal team decided that it would take more research, witnesses, and time to document what actually occurred during the decision-making process that led to Dover's ID policy. They therefore declined to file a preliminary injunction. The Thomas More Law Center saw this as a victory, trumpeting, "ACLU abandons early effort to stop school district from making students aware of controversy surrounding evolution" in a press release (TMLC 2005a). One Christian news service even took the TMLC's declaration of victory seriously and wrote an entire news story based on the inaccurate notion that "the ACLU" had given up the case completely (Christian Post 2005 Jan 12).

In another twist, as soon as the news got out that the Kitzmiller legal team was not going to file for a preliminary injunction, the Pennsylvania State Educators Association, in consultation with the science teachers at Dover Senior High School, declared that the teachers would refuse to read the ID disclaimer, on the grounds that ID was not science, and therefore their reading the disclaimer would abrogate their professional responsibilities and violate the state professional standards for teachers. Seven science teachers from Dover Senior High School wrote a powerful letter to Superintendent Nilsen, declaring in part:
"INTELLIGENT DESIGN" IS NOT SCIENCE. INTELLIGENT DESIGN IS NOT BIOLOGY. "INTELLIGENT" DESIGN IS NOT AN ACCEPTED SCIENTIFIC THEORY. (emphasis in original)
The letter demanded that the teachers be allowed to "opt-out" of reading the disclaimer, just as the students were allowed to "opt-out" of hearing it. If the request was denied by the Dover School District administration, the teachers' union was prepared to appeal the decision to Pennsylvania's Professional Standards and Practices Commission, and then to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Surprisingly, however, the school district blinked, and the administration agreed to read the disclaimer instead of requiring the teachers to do so (York Dispatch, 2005 Jan 10). On January 7, the TMLC's Richard Thompson, speaking for the school district, said, "The Dover faculty have no right to opt out of a legal directive. ... Having said that, because there is pending litigation ... we are going to accommodate their request" (Associated Press 2005 Jan 7). The Dover teachers' successful defiance of the ID policy was widely noticed, including in the pages of Science (Mervis 2005).

At the same time, on January 6, over 30 members of the faculty of the biology and philosophy departments at the University of Pennsylvania issued an open letter to the DASB expressing opinions similar to those of the biology department at York College. Richard Thompson responded with alacrity, replying on January 7, "If the level of inquiry supporting your letter is an example of the type of inquiry you make before arriving at scientific conclusions, I suggest that at the very least, your students should get their tuition money back, and more appropriately, the University should fire you as a scientist." Thompson chided the Penn faculty for complaining about ID's appearance in the DASB policy by selectively citing the part indicating that "Origins of life will not be taught." Thompson also criticized the signatories for including philosophers, writing:
What does philosophy have to do with this issue? This issue is not about science versus philosophy; it is about two different interpretations of the same scientific data by scientists. I assume you would agree that the metaphysical implication of Darwin's theory of evolution has no place in the science classroom. Or perhaps it is for this very reason that you so staunchly and dogmatically defend Darwin and place his theory above all criticism. (York Daily Record 2005 Jan 9)
Thompson concluded by citing the so-called Santorum Amendment, present in modified form in the report language of the No Child Left Behind Act but not in the law itself. The Santorum Amendment is a running theme throughout all the TMLC's press releases on Dover and ID (see Branch and Scott 2003 for a discussion of its status).

Finally, it appeared that all short-term barriers to the implementation of the ID policy had been breached. However, one more question remained: the classroom schedule. Teachers reported that their classes had not quite reached the evolution unit yet, and so the disclaimer was delayed from Thursday, January 13, to the following week. Because there were no classes on Monday, January 17, due to Martin Luther King Day, the disclaimer was finally read on Tuesday, January 18. The assistant superintendent entered each biology class and read the disclaimer. About 15 students and all of the teachers walked out. The Thomas More Law Center declared in a press release, "A revolution in evolution is underway." In the press release, Richard Thompson stated:
Biology students in this small town received perhaps the most balanced science education regarding Darwin's theory of evolution than any other public school student in the nation. This is not a case of science versus religion, but science versus science, with credible scientists now determining that based upon scientific data, the theory of evolution cannot explain the complexity of living cells. (TMLC 2005b)

See you in court

Richard Thompson sounds confident at the moment, but he seems not to realize the legal jeopardy that "intelligent design" is in. Comments from across the community of creationism watchers indicate a virtually unanimous opinion that Kitzmiller represents about the best imaginable court case on which to challenge the constitutionality of ID. Even if the early comments of the DASB remain in dispute, the district's recommendation of Pandas provides ample material for the expert examination of ID in its original, unabashed form (rather than the rather sly versions of ID that the Discovery Institute has been promoting the last few years).

Despite the Discovery Institute's qualms about the Dover policy, the TMLC's Richard Thompson has definitely been using the DI's game plan — ID is legitimate science, 300 scientists doubt Darwin, it's only fair to give the alternate view, and so on. If Thompson wants to base his defense on "the science of ID," so much the better. It will be time for ID advocates to "put up or shut up" about the "scientific theory" of ID. We know that there is no science of ID, and we suspect this will become readily apparent to the court if expert witnesses testify.

In addition to the history and motivations of the Discovery Institute — as evidenced in the infamous "Wedge Document" and elsewhere — the roots of ID and Pandas in 1980s creationism may also become relevant in the case. Of Pandas and People was the first book to collect a wide range of creationist material and put it under the "intelligent design" label, and via Pandas, it was the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, not the Discovery Institute, that was the original architect of "intelligent design." NCSE has a small, but very interesting, collection of documents on FTE and Pandas and on the development of ID in the 1980s. However, any veteran creationism watchers reading this piece should take a look through their old files, and contact NCSE if they find something that might be relevant.

Even though Kitzmiller is only at the trial court stage, the implications could be widespread. Buckingham has already stated that he wants to take ID to the Supreme Court, and it seems as though the TMLC will have the temerity to back him. One school district, in Blount County, Tennessee, appears to have already followed in the footsteps of Dover and passed its own ID policy.

NCSE has just learned that the trial will commence in September 2005. As consultants for the plaintiffs' team, NCSE will leave the legal decisions to the legal experts, but will give advice to help them get the science right. That is, after all, what this is all about.

References

[ACLU] American Civil Liberties Union. 2004 Dec 14. Pennsylvania parents file first-ever challenge to "intelligent design" instruction in public schools [press release]. Available on-line at http:// www.aclu.org/ReligiousLiberty/ReligiousLiberty.cfm?ID=17207&c=139.

Branch G, Scott EC. 2003. The anti-evolution law that wasn't. The American Biology Teacher 65 (3): 165–6.

[DASD] Dover Area School District. 2004 Nov 19. Board press release for biology curriculum. Available on-line at http://www.dover.k12.pa.us/doversd/cwp/view.asp?A=3&Q=261852

Davis P, Kenyon D. 1989. Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins. First edition. Dallas: Haughton Publishing Company.

Davis P, Kenyon D. 1993. Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins. Second edition. Dallas: Haughton Publishing Company.

DeWolf DK, Meyer SC, DeForrest ME. 1999. Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula: A Legal Guidebook. Richardson TX: Foundation for Thought and Ethics. Available on-line at http://arn.org/docs/dewolf/guidebook.htm.

[DI] Discovery Institute. 2004 Dec 14. Discovery calls Dover evolution policy misguided, calls for its withdrawal [press release]. Available on-line at http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?%20command=view&id=2341.

Mervis J. 2005 Jan 28. Dover teachers want no part of intelligent-design statement. Science 307 (5709): 505.

Sonleitner F. 1991. What's wrong with Pandas? A closeup look at creationist scholarship. Available on-line via NCSE's Resources Page on Of Pandas and People: http://www.ncseweb.org/article.asp?category=21.

[TMLC] Thomas More Law Center. nd. About us. Available on-line at http://www.thomasmore.org/about.html.

[TMLC] Thomas More Law Center. 2005a Jan 6. ACLU abandons early effort to stop school district from making students aware of controversy surrounding evolution [press release]. Available on-line at http://www.thomasmore.org/news.html?NewsID=275.

[TMLC] Thomas More Law Center. 2005b Jan 18. A revolution in evolution Is underway [press release]. Available on-line at http://www.thomasmore.org/news.html?NewsID=281.

Woodward T. 2003. Doubts About Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design. Grand Rapids (MI): Baker Books.

About the Author(s): 
Nicholas J Matzke
Public Information Project Specialist
National Center for Science Education
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland CA 94609-2509
matzke@ncseweb.org

Impressions of the Claremont Conference & Ernst Mayr

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Impressions of the Claremont Conference & Ernst Mayr
Author(s): 
John C Greene
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2004
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
34–37
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
[After attending a conference October 21–24, 2005, in Claremont, California, entitled "Religious Interpretations of Evolutionary Biology", John C Greene reflects on the conference in light of his recent study of work by Ernst Mayr on evolutionary biology. Greene responds to the events and presentations at the Claremont conference in terms of Mayr's perspective on the main themes in the program.]

The participants invited to the conference included eminent biologists, philosophers, and theologians and one physicist–astronomer as well. I had corresponded with a few of these participants but had never met any of them before. Since the conference was organized by two devotees of the "process philosophy" of Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947), David Ray Griffin and John Cobb, it seems best to begin with Griffin's lengthy paper expounding Whitehead's philosophy as a corrective to the "neo-Darwinism" of the 1930s–40s as modified and amplified by the DNA revolution, gene sequencing, and the like. In Griffin's view, "process philosophy provides a version of scientific naturalism that allows for a theory of evolution that is more adequate for science and is supportive of a religious world view supportive of morality." Here Griffin touches on the apprehensions that fuel the "scientific creationism" crusade (including "intelligent design"). "Those who wish to bring about a change in the way that evolution is taught in schools and presented ... to the public need to confront this thing called neo-Darwinism," Griffin concludes.

Griffin describes the "metaphysical doctrines" he sees as underlying neo-Darwinian biology and thereby generating the anxieties just mentioned. They are (1) the "undirectedness" of evolution, ruling out any form of theism; (2) positivistic materialism — the idea that all causes of evolution must be potentially verifiable through sensory observations; (3) predictive determinism, hence the absence of free will; and (4) nominalism, that is, a rejection of Platonic realism, according to which forms, archetypes, and ideas "are inherent in the nature of things." From these metaphysical assumptions and various neo-Darwinian scientific doctrines such as step-by-step gradualism and antiprogressionism, Griffin argues, various philosophical implications — atheism, meaninglessness, amoralism — follow. These doctrines and their implications have been spelled out, Griffin explains, in order to show that evangelical and fundamentalist objections to neo-Darwinism are not without some justification. Neo-Darwinian scientific naturalism — sensationist, atheistic, materialist — needs to be replaced by the theistic scientific naturalism of process philosophy, Griffin argues.

In Whitehead's philosophy, Griffin explains, we start from our own experience, of which we have direct knowledge, and move backward in time to envisage the actual entities with which science deals. From a panexperiential viewpoint we see them not as enduring individuals but as momentary events or happenings, as occasions of experience exercising both final and efficient causation. Thus the human brain is a society of billions of cellular experiences; the human psyche is "the unification of these experiences into an ordered society of dominant occasions of experience," resulting in the capacity for self-determination we share with all other compound individuals.

As a mathematician and logician, Whitehead, after having long been agnostic or atheistic, came to believe in the existence of ideal forms (his "eternal objects") which must have a home somewhere, namely, as components of the primordial nature of God, conceived as "the active entertainment of ideals, with the urge to their finite realization, each in its due season." Thus, like the Demiurge of Plato, Whitehead's God is not omnipotent — "there are principles which the divine being cannot violate" — but acts in the world by persuasion.

The average American on first becoming acquainted with Whitehead's idea of God and his influence in nature might wonder whether this philosophy would relieve the apprehensions and anxieties of evangelicals and fundamentalists about evolutionary theory. But this did happen to one of the conference participants, Howard J Van Till, who was reared in conservative Dutch Calvinism and subsequently became professor of physics and astronomy at Calvin College in Michigan. Devoted to science, he tried various ways of reconciling it with his religious faith in his discussions with his colleagues, fending off charges of deism and materialism until David Griffin's book Religion and Scientific Naturalism came to the rescue with Whitehead's idea of non-coercive, persuasive divine influence in nature. Griffin, Van Till concludes, has identified "broad metaphysical weaknesses" in the neo-Darwinian world view, especially with regard to life, evolution, consciousness, moral and aesthetic values, and "our sense of living in the presence of the Sacred," but has identified no scientific problems that in principle might not be solved by additional research.

RNCSE readers will be especially interested in Van Till's characterization of Phillip Johnson's blurring of the distinction between maximal naturalism and minimal naturalism as "intellectually irresponsible" and his scathing attack on William Dembski's idea of "specified complexity" and the related argument from probability theory in his No Free Lunch.

Three Main Points of View Expressed at the Conference

The criticisms of neo-Darwinism by Griffin and Van Till are mild compared to the onslaught mounted by Lynn Margulis, a microbiologists, and her co-author Dorion Sagan, champions of Gaia, the science of the earth and its atmosphere proposed by the English geochemist James Lovelock. Neo-Darwinism, says Margulis, is not so much wrong as it is "intellectually anachronistic," useful only in "tracing gene flow in Holocene mammalian, avian, and tracheophyte populations" but ignoring the tendency of the earth's lower atmosphere to regulate its oxygen concentration, temperature, and alkalinity by means of the self-maintaining properties of living organisms, all of which, says Margulis, emerges from Darwin's original legacy but disappears from view in its "bastard know–all offspring" neo-Darwinism.

Far from seeking to win over apprehensive "scientific creationists" with a theistic naturalism, as Griffin hopes to do, Margulis rejects Judaeo-Christian monotheism because it identifies paternal family control with nationhood and regards the earth as made for human exploitation. To the contrary, Gaia teaches that humanity is made for the earth and is dispensable if it does not act accordingly by adopting "healthier ways of relating to our home without denial of modern scientific thought," which, in turn, like art and technology, is only "a tiny part of nature's greater whole."

At this point Margulis, borrowing Richard Dawkins's idea of the "extended phenotype" (for example, a beaver dam), launches into a discussion of the evolution of man-made machines described as "machinate extrasomatic structures" and conceived of as "one of DNA's strategies for continuation and expansion of the ancient autopoiesis (self-maintaining and self-regulating systems) of which Gaia herself is the supreme example. Machines, says Margulis, are more evolutionarily advanced than people in their rate of change, their ability to survive extreme environments, and their penetration of space and deep seas. As Darwin's critic Samuel Butler said in 1863: "… machines will treat us kindly, for their existence is as dependent on ours as ours is on the lower animals." Some of them, Margulis adds, may become our descendants.

For Margulis's co-author Dorion Sagan, energy flow dominated by the laws of thermodynamics is the key to understanding evolution. As thermodynamically open systems organisms "may merge bodies, cells, and genes in sexual, parasexual, symbiotic mixtures." They also act as complex agents of energy transformation involving selection for energy use, efficiency, entropy production, the breaking down of gradients, and the generation of flow patterns which, says Sagan, "may provide the non-genetic mechanism Samuel Butler intuited as missing from Darwin's account." With respect to God, Sagan concludes: "God as a capricious humanlike entity is dead. God as a lawful eternal being of which we are a part is still consonant with science."

The presentation by Ursula Goodenough, a molecular geneticist and cell biologist, addressed the question that John Cobb, one of the organizers of the conference, had formulated in a letter sent to her before the conference convened: "Is it possible to show that neo-Darwinism does not affirm the mechanistic world view, that it provides for the causal efficacy of free and purposive action?" In an essay entitled "Reductionism and holism, chance and selection, mechanism and mind," Goodenough rejects the term "neo-Darwinism" as obsolete and historically confusing, and endeavors to dispel the apprehensions of materialism, mechanism, and atheism Griffin outlined in his analysis of the concept. As a "bench scientist" experimenting on a type of green alga, she explains, her experiments are reductionistic with respect to higher levels of biological complexity, but they are holistic with respect to lower levels: "… the specifics reside in wholes, where wholes are emergent from parts and hence have different properties from individual parts."

As a member and a leader in the United Church of Christ and a participant in an internet listserv exploring the idea of religious naturalism, Goodenough finds that her fellow participants are looking for truth, values, and meaning beyond chance. But Goodenough finds in Darwinism a natural world "brimming with meaning" and generating "countless emergent properties that build on themselves." What more meaning could one want than "the astonishing FACT of it all?"

But what about the accusation that Darwinism is mechanistic and devoid of purpose? Here Goodenough answers that all machines, whether built by humans, like a car, or resulting from mutation and natural selection, like the bacterial flagellum, have a purpose: "organisms, like machines, are nothing if not purposive." Free will emerges from a co-evolutionary dynamic of language, mind, and cultural transmission of ideas" giving rise to the sense that we can make choices, a sense that is as natural, real, and true as the neural mechanisms that make it possible. Evolution, Goodenough concludes, has endowed humans with the "experience of experience ... apparently rooted in our unique capacity for language," a capacity as yet inexplicable in Darwinian terms.

With due respect to Ursula Goodenough's sense of "the sacred depths of nature," it seems unlikely that her answers to the questions raised by John Cobb will satisfy the Whiteheadians, much less the apprehensions of the "scientific creationists," who are looking for intelligent direction or (in the case of Whiteheadians) influence in biological evolution and are not content with anthropocentric metaphors such as "opportunistic" and "tinkerer" to describe the process of "natural selection."

The other conference champion of "mainstream" Darwinism (he, too, rejects the term "neo-Darwinism") was the eminent population geneticist Francisco Ayala. Linking the Darwinian revolution in biology to the Copernican revolution in astronomy, Ayala proclaimed that "science encompasses all of reality and ... we owe this universality to Charles Darwin." Somewhat later, after reiterating that "nothing in the world of nature escapes the scientific mode of knowing," Ayala concedes that the scientific view of the world is "hopelessly incomplete," having nothing to say about "matters of value and meaning that are all-important for understanding human nature and our place in the universe, and for conducting a meaningful life." On these subjects, says Ayala, philosophical inquiry, theological reflection, literature, and the plastic arts have "illuminated human nature and its relationships to the world beyond." These latter statements seem to this reviewer to be in open contradiction to Ayala's earlier dictum that "science encompasses all of reality."

Dismissing the evolutionary theories of Lamarck and Bergson as "metaphysical," an objection that presumably applies to Whitehead's process philosophy, Ayala argues that Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species chiefly to refute William Paley's Natural Theology (1802), a book that Ayala, like Darwin before him, finds admirable for its close reasoning and command of biological facts, but subject to the same flaws as Michael Behe's argument from "irreducible complexity". The chief flaw is failure of this view to account for superfluous, defective, and dysfunctional organs and its attempt to explain them away by invoking the inscrutability of the Creator's thoughts and purposes, whereas Darwin's natural selection "can account for design and functionality but does not achieve any sort of perfection." Here Ayala overlooks Darwin's statement that "as natural selection works only by and for the good of each being, all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress towards perfection" — a result brought about by "the laws imposed on matter by the Creator." Also missing is any reference to The Descent of Man and to Darwin's gradual transformation from a relatively optimistic deist into an unhappy agnostic assailed by the "horrid doubt" (as he described it in a letter to William Graham in 1881) that his "inward conviction" that the universe and the wonderful nature of man could not be the result of "mere chance" could not be trusted, nor could the deliberations of his own reason be trusted in view of the evidence that human mental faculties had developed from "a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal."

In Ayala's view, natural selection, formulated as "a statistical bias in the relative rate of reproduction of alternative genetic units," is a creative process because it generates otherwise extremely improbable genetic combinations and their phenotypes such as "humans who think and love, endowed with free will and creative powers, and able to analyze the process of evolution itself that brought them into existence." Extremely improbable indeed!

Responding to the presentations, conference organizer John Cobb commends Margulis for broadening the study of evolution to include symbiogenesis and the concept of earth and its lower atmosphere as a self-maintaining and self-regulating system made possible by the activities of microbes and other life forms. But Cobb draws the line at the implication that this system (called Gaia) is a living organism and "somehow divine". Cobb also regrets Margulis's "belittling" of humans as exploiters of nature doomed to a brief tenure on earth. Humans may be a liability to Gaia, Cobb concedes, but they are at the same time its greatest achievement in richness of experience and in power to mold their own future. The evolution of the cosmos from the Big Bang to the appearance of purposeful human beings implies, says Cobb, a "powerful cosmic intelligence" as a plausible explanation providing a solid basis for human freedom and responsibility and "the call to realize such values as we can" — a much firmer basis, Cobb adds, than the neo-Darwinian view that these values are "by-products of materialistically determined processes." Thus we return to the apprehensions and anxieties about "neo-Darwinism" outlined by David Griffin in his essay.

A Perspective from the Work of Ernst Mayr

Considering the three main points of view discussed by the participants at the conference, I find myself wondering what centenarian Ernst Mayr, whose recently published book What Makes Biology Unique? I had just finished reading before attending the conference, might have had to say had he been there. One thing can be said for certain. Mayr would have aligned himself with the defenders of the evolutionary synthesis of the 1930s and 1940s. Born in Germany in 1904, Mayr abandoned Christianity and theism generally in his mid-teens. He began as a medical student but was soon drawn by his love of ornithology to the University of Berlin. Examined on positivism for his PhD, he was then sent off to explore the natural history of New Guinea, taking with him Hans Driesch's Philosophie der Organischen and Henri Bergson's L'Evolution Creatrice, both of which he rejected as being "vitalistic". In the 1930s he was invited to come to the American Museum of Natural History in New York to write up and publish the Museum's burgeoning ornithological collections. In 1942 he capped his growing reputation as a systematist with the publication of his Systematics and the Origin of Species, one of the founding treatises of the new evolutionary synthesis sometimes called "neo-Darwinism" although Mayr prefers plain "Darwinism". Called to Harvard in 1953, he became a champion of the new synthesis and began to study the history and philosophy of science in reaction to the domination of those disciplines by scholars trained in the physical sciences. His The Growth of Biological Thought appeared in 1982, his Toward a New Philosophy of Biology in 1988.

Taking a leaf from an earlier essay by Francisco Ayala, Mayr sets out to show that biology is an autonomous science deserving an autonomous philosophy of biology quite different in important respects from the philosophy of the physical sciences. Physics and chemistry, Mayr says, are addicted to mathematics, universal natural laws, determinism, reductionism and typological thinking, which cannot account for variation and which breeds racism. Functional biology, Mayr continues, shares many of these characteristics of physical science, but evolutionary biology is a historical science based on concepts and historical narratives that are tested, not by experiments, but by observations confirming their predicted consequences. Evolution is controlled, not by universal laws, but by genetic programs generating emergent properties. Thus biological phenomena have "dual causation," the law-bound proximate causes of functional biology and the evolutionary ultimate causes regulated by genetic programs.

Two basic ontological principles, vitalism and cosmic teleology, says Mayr, have prevented the acceptance of biology as an autonomous science. Vitalism died slowly from lack of experimental confirmation and because of progress in genetics and molecular biology. Darwin exploded cosmic teleology with his theory of natural selection. By the 1930s–40s, "no competent biologist believed in any causation of evolution or of the world as a whole," but belief in this sort of causation lingered on among philosophers like Whitehead, Bergson, and Polanyi. Evolution, says Mayr, is not teleological, although it does lead to "progress and improvement" through "emergent properties" that are empirically observable, not the result of a metaphysical principle such as Bergson's élan vital.

In Mayr's view, the basic structure of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection has emerged victorious in the battles surrounding it, "though with some modifications." Some of these modifications, it should be noted, are quite substantial. Darwin, says Mayr, never explained the origin of species because he rejected Moritz Wagner's emphasis on the importance of geographic and reproductive isolation in the production of new species. Worse yet, he failed to note that animal breeders improved their stock not so much by selecting and breeding the best animals but by culling out the worst individuals. By doing this, says Mayr, they preserved a large gene pool capable of producing evolutionary novelties, including the possibility of "a single individual that is the progenitor of a new species or higher taxon." From Mayr's argument one might conclude that Darwin should have entitled his earth-shaking treatise On the Origin of Varieties, Or the Elimination of Inferior Individuals in the Struggle for Life.

From this account, it should be apparent that Mayr's participation in the Claremont conference, had it occurred, would have lent support to the so-called "neo-Darwinian" synthesis and done little or nothing to assuage the apprehensions and anxieties of the organizers of the conference or those of the supporters of "creation science" and "intelligent design". For my own part as an unofficial participant in the proceedings, I would have been troubled by Mayr's deep antipathy to theism and "the ideology of natural theology," leading him to ignore John Ray's role as one of the founders of systematic natural history and classify him simply as a natural theologian because of one book he wrote in that vein. This perspective perhaps arises from Mayr's assertion that "a literal interpretation of every word of the Bible was the standard view of every orthodox Christian in the early nineteenth century." This would be laughable news to the majority of scientists and clergy in Britain and the United States during that time who were busy accommodating their interpretations of Scripture to the findings of geology, paleontology, and other sciences.

Finally, as a lifetime member of the National Center for Science Education I am led to wonder whether the struggle to turn back creationist efforts to inhibit the teaching of evolution in the public schools is doomed to have only limited success unless "evolution" is given some kind of religious meaning and students are given a chance to discuss the question freely. The organizers of the Claremont conference are to be commended for presenting Alfred North Whitehead's process philosophy as one way of giving evolution religious significance and for submitting the question to open discussion. There may be other ways more accessible to the average American's understanding, as, for example, Rebuilding the Matrix: Science and Faith in the 21st Century, by Denis Alexander, a molecular immunologist — both an ardent Christian and an ardent Darwinian — who is a Fellow of St Edmund's College, Cambridge University. Alexander finds the biblically-based critical realism of the Bible a solid, intellectually coherent, and morally inspiring framework for both science and religion.

A world of possible interpretations lies open for discussion. Bring the students into the discussion, if not in biology classes then in special classes taught by open-minded teachers familiar with the issues and skilled in drawing out student opinions on controversial subjects. Let the experiment be tried!

About the Author(s): 
John C Greene
651 Sinex Ave B215
Pacific Grove CA 93950
johngreeneca@infostation.com

Otis Dudley Duncan Dies

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Otis Dudley Duncan Dies
Author(s): 
Otis Dudley Duncan (adapted)
Volume: 
24
Year: 
2004
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
26–27
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
The eminent sociologist and long-time NCSE member Otis Dudley Duncan died on November 16, 2004, after struggling with advanced prostate cancer for two years. His article "The creationists: How many, who, where?" (p 26), coauthored with Claudia Geist, is his last contribution to the literature of quantitative sociology.

Born on December 2, 1921, in Nocona, Texas, Duncan completed a BA degree at Louisiana State University in 1941 and an MA at the University of Minnesota in 1942 before serving three years in the United States Army during World War II. After the war, he completed his studies for the PhD in sociology at the University of Chicago in 1949. He began his career of teaching and research in quantitative sociology at Pennsylvania State University and continued at the universities of Wisconsin, Chicago, Michigan, Arizona, and California. He was a professor on the University of California at Santa Barbara faculty for three and a half years, retiring in 1987.

He was author (often with coauthors) of several major books and numerous professional articles. Best known is The American Occupational Structure (New York: The Free Press, 1967), with Peter M Blau, which was awarded the Sorokin prize of the American Sociological Association. In his own estimation, his best book, the only one likely to be of enduring and not merely historical value, was Notes on Social Measurement (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1984). He was also proud of his most fully developed mathematical–theoretical article, published in Synthese, which presented a solution of a problem that had vexed some of the leading social scientists of the time (1986): Why do people’s verbally expressed attitudes so often seem unrelated to their actions?

Among other awards and honors, Duncan was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1973. He served on a wide variety of committees involving social science expertise. He was a member of the Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, chaired by John D Rockefeller III, and was president of the Population Association of America in 1969. He was awarded honorary doctoral degrees by the universities of Chicago, Arizona, and Wisconsin. But of all his achievements, he was most proud of the record of outstanding achievement in quantitative sociology racked up by so many of his former students.

In retirement, Duncan spent his time in researching and performing music, working with computer graphics, and writing articles on such topics as the prevalence of creationism, the rising public toleration of atheists, the increasing number who specify "none" as their religion, the increasing public approval of euthanasia and suicide for terminally ill persons experiencing great pain, the inefficacy of prayer for political undertakings, and the irrationality of laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. Along with his wife Beatrice Farwell, he was a loyal and active member of the Humanist Society of Santa Barbara, to which memorial donations may be made: PO Box 30232, Santa Barbara CA 93130.

[Adapted from the obituary — written by Duncan himself — in the Santa-Barbara News-Press (2004 Nov 20). See also the obituary in The New York Times (2004 Nov 28).]

Polling the Creationism/Evolution Controversy

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Polling the Creationism/Evolution Controversy
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2004
Date: 
September-October
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Roland Mushat Frye Dies

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Roland Mushat Frye Dies
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2004
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
25
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
The eminent scholar Roland Mushat Frye died on January 20, 2005, at the age of 83, in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1922, Frye earned three degrees, including his PhD, from Princeton University. He served in the United States Army during World War II and was awarded the Bronze Star. After the war, he taught at Emory University and was a research professor in residence at the Folger Shakespeare Library before settling at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the Felix E Schelling Professor of English Literature until retiring in 1983. A devout Presbyterian, Frye was professionally trained in theology as well as in the humanities, and his books, including God, Man, and Satan (1960) and Shakespeare and Christian Doctrine (1963), reflected his interest in the interplay of religion with literary and cultural history.

Frye was also the editor of Is God a Creationist? The Religious Case Against Creation-Science (1983; now out of print), a collection of essays that together (as Frye wrote in his prefatory overview) "present a comprehensive picture of central religious responses to, and rejections of, the oversimplified and misapplied literalism of modern creationism and creation-science"; the authors include Langdon Gilkey, Davis A Young, Conrad Hyers, Owen Gingerich, Pope John Paul II, and Frye himself, who contributed a prefatory overview and a concluding epilogue on "The two faces of God." Is God a Creationist? was recommended by James S Trefil "even to those who, like myself, prefer to conduct this particular battle solely on scientific grounds. It is immensely heartening to learn that creationists, if anything, are farther from the religious mainstream than they are from the scientific."

See also the obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer (2005 Jan 20).

The Creationists: How Many, Who, and Where?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Creationists: How Many, Who, and Where?
Author(s): 
Otis Dudley Duncan, University of California at Santa Barbara and Claudia Geist, Indiana University
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2004
Date: 
September-October
Page(s): 
26–33
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
This is a report on an epidemiological inquiry. The morbid condition — so to speak — under study could be variously characterized as a deficit of knowledge or a disease of the intellect, one that involves accepting a theological answer to a historical question. Present means of identifying those afflicted do not provide a clear distinction between these two disabilities or mixtures of them. But of the two most useful bodies of data now available — the Gallup Poll and the General Social Survey (GSS) — one puts the emphasis on theology, the other on knowledge of science.

On 6 occasions, the first in 1982 and the others between 1991 and 2001, the Gallup Poll asked respondents to choose among three statements: "God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10 000 years (46%). Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. God had no part in this process (10%). Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process, including man's creation (38%)." ("Other" or "Don't know" responses accounted for the remaining 6%.) The numbers in parentheses are the averages of the 6 poll results. Averaging is justified because there is no indication of an upward or downward trend, and changes from one poll to the next are insignificant (see p 19).

The GSS question, asked in 1993, 1994, and 2000, "was conceived as part of a short science test" and presented as though it were a multiple choice question with 5 alternative answers in a school examination. Respondents could evaluate the statement, "Human beings developed from earlier species of animals," as Definitely true (14%), Probably true (29%), Probably not true (15%), Definitely not true (33%), Don't know (9%). Again, aggregating the data from the 3 surveys is justified by the absence of a trend.

There is no easy way to reconcile the percentage distributions from the two polls. An important project for the future is to ask the same people both questions in different sections of one survey, randomizing the order in which they are asked (Duncan and Schuman 1980; Duncan 1984). Such a design could help in deciding whether the two questions are isotopes, so to speak, of the same elemental reaction to evolutionary biology. What we can do in the meantime is compare the two sources with regard to how the responses vary by selected characteristics of the respondents or their other attitudes and beliefs.

How Many?

But first, it is important to note that there can be no unique answer to the "How many?" question until a great deal of further research convinces the science community that some one question is unequivocally preferable to any other as a single indicator of a complex, multidimensional phenomenon. We are here referring to the "Definitely not true" response in GSS as the "creationist" answer. Some might prefer to label it the "evolution denial" answer. But our labeling is only a matter of convenience and does not presuppose any theoretical justification. We make no pretense that this working definition, adopted for lack of a better alternative, resolves the essentially meaningless question of how a true "creationist" is to be recognized. It is, however, in accord with the dictum of the Institute for Creation Research that creation and evolution are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive of the basic explanations of the evidence (Marsden 1991: 154). ICR may be well advised. The several varieties of "old-earth creationism" (Scott 1999) have neither scriptural nor scientific support, although they might invoke the authority of Augustine. Preliminary analyses indicate that "Probably not true" is more closely akin to "Don't know" than to "Definitely not true." Hence we estimate that only one third of adult Americans are creationists in the strict sense of "evolution denial" whereas the Gallup question yields an estimate of 46% who implicitly rely solely on Genesis.

If this is confusing, consider the responses to the question asked in the Fox News/Opinion Dynamics Poll in August 1999: "Which do you think is more likely to actually be the explanation for the origin of human life on earth: the theory of evolution as outlined by Darwin and other scientists (15%), the biblical account of creation as told in the Bible (50%), or are both true? (26%)?" (Not sure responses accounted for the remaining 9%.) If forced to choose among these alternatives, many respondents find the task too difficult. In February 2001, the Gallup Poll asked, "Would you say that you believe more the theory of evolution (28%) or the theory of creationism (48%) to explain the origin of human beings, or are you unsure (14%)?" (The remaining 10% of responses were Don't know.) The high proportion who are unsure or do not know is consistent with other poll data showing that many people do not claim to know very much about the evolution/creationism debate. The evidence does not justify the assumption that respondents will always be logically consistent in their responses to different questions. (Why should that be a surprise?)

Who?

Turning to the "Who" question: Bishop (1998) provides a useful compilation of the Gallup data on factors related to creationism ("created man … within the last 10 000 years") which can be compared with similar data from GSS. In both data sets, women are somewhat more likely than men to be creationists, the elderly more so than the young, African-Americans more than whites, those who attend religious services often more than those who attend seldom or never, political conservatives more than liberals, and those agreeing with the pro-life position than those classified as pro-choice on abortion. The similarity of the patterns is not quite so unequivocal for rates of creationism in relation to political party identification and religious denominational preference. Both GSS and Gallup, however, do show relatively high rates for Baptists, much lower rates for Catholics, and the lowest rates for those with no religion.

The most interesting failure to replicate a relationship pertains to education. Table 1 shows the percentages of creationists in the two data sets:

Table 1. Educational level of creationists
EducationGallupGSS
Less than high school64%36%
High school graduate57%37%
Some college44%36%
College graduate31%22%


The GSS pattern will be seen below (Figure 1) to be a rather misleading average of quite different relationships observed within categories defined by religion variables.



On the other hand, the association of creationism with beliefs about the Bible is somewhat the same in the two data sets, albeit stronger in the Gallup data. See Figure 1 for the wording of the Bible question, which is the standard wording in Gallup as well as GSS polls, and in the responses. The heights of the dark bars show the percentages of creationists among the biblical skeptics, the liberals who think the Bible is inspired but not to be taken literally, and the literalists: 7%, 28%, and 53% respectively. The corresponding rates of creationism in the Gallup data are 16%, 39%, and 77%. The width of the bars represents the relative popularity of the 3 Bible responses. About one-third of Americans are literalists, a half are rather more liberal, and one-sixth are outright skeptics. (These fractions agree approximately with the Gallup data as well.)

Apart from the differential rates of creationism that turn up in the cross-classification of creationism by response to the Bible question, it is important to analyze the makeup of the 33% of all people who are creationists (GSS definition). This information is conveyed by the areas of the dark bars, that is, their width multiplied by their height. We see that 18% are both literalists and creationists, 14% are creationists who take a more liberal view of the Bible, and 1% are creationists who are outright biblical skeptics. Thus, even though biblical literalism and creationism are clearly associated, only a little more than half of all creationists (18/33 = 55%) are literalists. The sum of the 6 percentages given inside the bars is 100%, the area of the entire square.

A puzzled reader, inspecting these results, remarked, "It is not clear how one can really be a biblical literalist and not be a creationist." The source of his perplexity is the commonsense resort to typological thinking rather than population thinking. In sociology, typology is deplored in discussions of the "stereotyping" of minority populations by ordinary people but approved when the same logic is used by sophisticated theorists and researchers. Emphasis on the importance of this distinction is especially strong in the writing of Ernst Mayr, who has frequently discoursed (1963, 2000, 2001) on the mischief typology has done in biology. One might as well wonder how a "real" fish can have legs, a reptile can have feathers, or a man can have nipples. When we encounter the word "really" used in this way, it is a reflection of Platonic essentialism in the speaker's thinking about the domain of human belief systems, although he would not make such a mistake when speaking of biological variation among organisms.

One way we — all of us — can easily get trapped in essentialism is by relying on summaries of poll results that show only one variable at a time instead of cross-classifications like the simple one in Figure 1 or the more complicated ones examined later herein. To be sure, about one-third of Americans are "literalists" and one-third are "creationists," understanding these terms as mere labels. But the two are not synonymous, and looking at the two figures separately gives no clue as to what proportion are both literalists and creationists, except that it must fall within the limits of 0 to 33%. The lesson for those who would improve science education is to avoid the oversimplification of thinking of the challenge as pertaining solely to creationist/literalists. There are many non-literalists out there who likewise need to be better informed about evolution; because they are not strict literalists, it may be easier to communicate with them. Our point is not new; compare Cole (1987–1988: 7): "Scientifically, theologically, and politically, people seem to be much more confused or heterogeneous than narrow-issue partisans claim." Partisans (a typological concept itself) are especially prone to the use of typologies.

Just as the proportion of creationists depends on what question is asked, the proportion that could reasonably be labeled literalist varies from one question to another. In a Gallup/Newsweek poll of December 1988, respondents were asked only to agree or disagree with the statement that "the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word"; no alternative responses were suggested. The literalist proportion was 54%, and the same result, 53%, was obtained in a CBS News/New York Times poll in July 1994, well above the 34% identified as literalists by the standard question. It must also be acknowledged that even when the same wording is used for the question, the proportion of literalists may differ among polling organizations, for reasons that are, at this point, far from clear (Duncan 2003). In paleostatistics, as in paleontology, we can only work from what has been preserved from the past for our inspection and study in the present. The evidence is always incomplete and is often equivocal.

Where?

Inasmuch as biblical literalism and creationism are usually and stereotypically linked to the so-called Bible Belt, we now take a first look at the "Where" question. There is indeed a strong geographic correlation between the percent taking a literalist view of the Bible in response to the question on feelings about the Bible in GSS and the percent who respond "definitely false" to the proposition that humans developed from earlier species of animals. Figure 2 brings out the differential prevalence of biblical literalism in regions of the United States and contrasts the proportion of literalists with the proportion of creationists in the regions. In both displays, the Bible Belt is the focus. But there are some anomalies. In the Bible Belt narrowly defined, there are quite a few more biblical literalists than creationists, whereas in the two western regions creationists considerably outnumber literalists. This is another telling bit of evidence warning against presupposing too tight a relationship between literalism and creationism. One could suggest that the questions eliciting the creationist and literalist responses do not have quite the same meaning in California and Tennessee. But the methodological issues raised by such a suggestion are formidable (Duncan 1986). We return to the regional differences after examining some additional religious variables related to the prevalence of creationism.

Arrow points from higher to lower percentage; dotted arrow shows pattern inversion between upper and lower plots. Region abbreviations stand for Pacific, Mountain, West North Central, East North Central, Middle Atlantic, New England, South Atlantic, East South Central, West South Central
Figure 2. Bad News from the Bible Belt: Geographical Correlation of Biblical Literalism and Creationism, 1993, 1994, 2000 (Source: General Social Survey)

Beyond Typologies

In Figure 3, we summarize the information in the 5-way cross-classification of creationism by belief in God (G), denominational preference (R), and frequency of attendance at religious services (A), as well as feelings about the Bible (B). With a sample of only 2426 respondents, we must resort to drastic simplifications. For example, the question on belief in God as presented in the interviews had 6 response categories, one for the modal category — the category with the most cases — which we term "firm believer" (G2), and five for the several responses indicating belief but with doubts, wavering belief, belief in a higher power but not a personal God, profession of the impossibility of knowing anything about God, and denial that there is a God. (For full details, see the GSS codebook: Davis and others 2000). Fundamentalist and Moderate Protestants (R3) comprise a large number of separately identified denominations. Please note that "Fundamentalist" here is not a label vouchsafed or approved by the respondent but a grouping of denominations developed by Smith (1990) for GSS on the basis of historical origins and statements of doctrine by the various denominations. In particular, a person can prefer one of the denominations classified as Fundamentalist without personally affirming all or any of the "five tenets" historically presented and advocated since early in the past century by some as "The Fundamentals". Marsden (1991) is a basic source on this matter as well as the complex evolution of fundamentalism. Especially interesting to NCSE readers is Marsden's testimony in the historic case of McLean v Arkansas (now available on-line at http://www.antievolution.org/projects/mclean/new_site/pf_trans/mva_tt_p_marsden.html) in which, among other things, he emphasizes the heterogeneity of fundamentalists; some have five, others different numbers of precepts. Here is another place where typological thinking can do great mischief. Not all Fundamentalists are fundamentalists and vice versa. Some fish do have legs.



The tree diagram (Figure 3) is intended to convey information about both the heterogeneity of the American population with respect to religious commitments and the variation in prevalence of creationism among the subpopulations that can be identified with the variables at our disposal. There are 54 logically possible subpopulations in the 4-way cross-classification of G ¥ B ¥ R ¥ A with the categories defined in Figure 3. Many of them are thinly populated, to be sure, but all of them would be encountered in significant numbers in the American population. It would be interesting to study the variation in creation prevalence across these 54 subpopulations. But because of the small sample size, the estimates of percentage creationist for most of them would be statistically meaningless. Hence we resort to a grouping of the 54 into 12 combinations that are produced as one variable after another is introduced to create cross-classifications. Even with this drastic compression of the data, several of these 12 occur so infrequently that the prevalence estimates, shown on the right-hand scale of Figure 3, are not highly reliable. What we have here can be likened to a small-scale highway map of a large state as contrasted with a detailed road map of a single county. We must ignore interesting interactions that might be reliably estimated with much larger samples. Sample size is a pervasive problem in analyzing data from surveys of religious behavior, which are not supported by funding from such major government programs as is space exploration.

Let us indicate explicitly how to read the figure. Taking "ALL" the population as 100%, the relative widths of the two arrows leading to G2 and G1 indicate that about two-thirds of the sample are Firm Believers (G2), one third being "All Other" (ignoring the heterogeneity of this residual category). When G2 respondents are classified according to feelings about the Bible, we find that about 31% of them are Firm Believers who take the Bible literally (G2 B3) and nearly the same percentage regard it as an inspired book but not necessarily to be understood literally (G2 B2), while only 4% are Firm Believers but biblical skeptics (G2 B1). Reading horizontally to the scale on the right, we find the contrasting percentages of these groups who are creationists to be 56, 38, and 23%, respectively. To identify a subpopulation with a higher prevalence of creationists, we need the further subdivision labeled by G2 B3 R3, who comprise 21% of the sample with a prevalence of 64% creationists. And to isolate a subpopulation with more than a two-thirds majority of creationists, we must isolate the G2 B3 R3 A3 sector that accounts for only 98 respondents (4% of the sample), where there is anything near unanimity — 82% prevalence of creationists — as to the falsity of human evolution. The estimate of 82% prevalence is of course subject to a large margin of sampling error. But the contrasts among the three subcategories of G2 B3 R3 defined by A3, A2, and A1 levels of attendance are unmistakably significant. Leaving other interesting comparisons to the reader, we simply note that the variation in prevalence of creationism among the 12 subpopulations dramatically illustrates the extreme heterogeneity of the religious sectors of the American public with respect to acceptance or rejection of evolution. Any one of the four variables by itself can give only an inkling of that heterogeneity.

The most startling finding of our study, one not hitherto anticipated by earlier research as far as we know, turns up when we look at the religion variables and education simultaneously. In Figure 4, we compare groups of adults of all ages with differing levels of educational attainment. Hence, the data for older people generally pertain to educational experiences undergone at more or less distant times in the past, not to the current output of the educational system. The interaction of education and religion is highlighted when we reduce the 12 combinations of religion indicators in Figure 3 to just 5, by grouping those with similar prevalence rates of creationism. In the sector defined by firm belief in God in combination with biblical literalism and medium to high frequency of attendance at religious services (top curve in Figure 4), persons with more advanced schooling actually are more likely to be creationists than those with lesser amounts of education. Pennock (2000: 37) observes that proponents of creationism have been successful in seeing to it that "many students of [fundamentalist and evangelical] religious backgrounds now enter university primed to resist evolution." And nowadays there is no shortage of institutions similar to Bob Jones University whose programs in biology are specifically intended to convert simple ignorance of evolution into terminologically sophisticated evolution denial. The positive relationship of creationism to education among the very religious may become even stronger in the future.



To find the expected negative relationship of education to creationism which we see in the Gallup data, we have to look at the one-eighth of the population who are not firm believers (including explicit non-believers) and who are skeptics in regard to the Bible (bottom curve). The three intermediate curves track the distortion of that relationship as more serious religious commitments of one kind or another are specified in identifying the groupings. Here and throughout the inquiry we must be wary of assuming well-defined causal chains. People who come to doubt the dogma of creationism upon learning about evolution in school may revise their religious beliefs and commitments accordingly. Or, to the contrary, those who maintain their creationist stance all the way through graduate school may use their education only as a means of defining more clearly what it is that they are against. Others — those experiencing early indoctrination in creationism and growing up in the religious environment in which this is likely to occur — may be less likely to pursue advanced education. And we cannot distinguish between the people who completed college without ever having a decent course in biology from those who followed the preacher's advice to college students heard in Oklahoma in the 1930s: answer the biology quizzes in such a way as to satisfy the teacher while maintaining faith in the Bible as the only infallible authority.



Such uncertainties notwithstanding, it seems reasonable to suggest that religion defeats education, or has done so in the past, in the United States in a way or to an extent that is not observed in other countries comparable to the United States in regard to political maturation, economic development, and history of religious commitments. We have data from the International Social Survey Program for seven such countries. We calculated the percentage of creationists that would be observed in each of these historically Protestant countries, given their actual distributions of responses to the four religion variables and assuming the rates of creationism associated with combinations of those variables to be the same as those in the United States. In Figure 5, we treat the nine geographic regions as if they were so many additional countries.

If in all cases the percentage of creationists observed in each country or region were to be identical to the percentage expected on the basis of the kind and degree of commitment to religion in these areas, all the data points would lie on the diagonal of the chart. That is very nearly true. The plotted line that best fits the data is very close to that diagonal. Hence the striking result that most of the variation in the proportion of creationists among regions and countries is explained by the varying grades of religiosity measured by our indicators.

This conclusion is not as robust as we would like. The preferred strategy would be to look at tree diagrams for each geographic entity in the fashion of Figure 3. But the sample sizes would not support such a detailed analysis. Moreover, for the foreign countries, the data on feelings about the Bible are available only for 1991 and cannot be cross-classified with creationism, which is available only for 1993. Hence we are limited to the indirect approach just described. But we can be sure that the summary results in Figure 5 average out some interesting interactions that occur in certain countries but not in others. Pending a more adequate database, it is not productive to speculate about reasons for the larger deviations from the diagonal — positive for the Netherlands, negative for Northern Ireland, for example. What is most striking in Figure 5 is the very slight overlap of the US regions and the foreign countries. It is as though only the northeastern states are in the same civilized universe as the countries while Northern Ireland might well be regarded as an overseas extension of the American Bible Belt.

Conclusions

The Bible Belt is bigger than readers may have thought, not only geographically but also metaphorically, in the sense that biblicism in the United States clearly affects the reaction to evolution on the part of persons who are not in any strict sense biblical literalists. Scholars in the humanities, accustomed to look at broad historical patterns rather than details of statistical analyses, may nonetheless come up with diagnoses that have the ring of truth. Thus, a remark of Sloan (2000), discoursing on the "Bible belting" of this country, is relevant in pondering the results laid out here, even if it goes beyond what can be rigorously demonstrated: "Ecclesiastical institutions … continue to implant powerful psychological deterrents to independent thought." To the institutions most likely to have influenced our older respondents may be added the burgeoning creationist web sites and the Discovery Institute — well known to readers of RNCSE — not to mention the legion of TV preachers and other sources of disinformation in various media and the clear willingness of some prominent legislators to destroy whatever science gets in the way of their program to make these United States into a Christian theocracy.

References

Bishop G. 1998. The religious worldview and American beliefs about human origins. Public Perspective 9 (5): 39–44.

Cole JR. 1987–1988. Creationism and the New Right agenda: An opinion survey. Creation/Evolution (1): 7–13.

Davis JA, Smith TW, Marsden PV. 2000. General Social Surveys, 1972–2000: Cumulative Codebook. Chicago: National Opinion Research Center. Available on-line at http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/GSS/. Last accessed January 6, 2004.

Duncan OD. 1984. Rasch measurement in survey research: Further examples and discussion. In: Turner CF, Martin E, eds. Surveying Subjective Phenomena, vol 2. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1984. p 367–403.

Duncan OD. 1986. Probability, disposition, and the inconsistency of attitudes and behavior. Synthese 68 (Jul): 65–98.

Duncan OD. 2003. Facile reporting: The supposed decline in biblical literalism. Public Perspective 14 (3): 40–3.

Duncan OD, Schuman H. 1980. Effects of question wording and context: An experiment with religious indicators. Journal of the American Statistical Association 75 (370): 269–75.

Marsden GM. 1991. Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids (MI): William B Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Mayr E. 1963. Animal Species and Evolution. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press.

Mayr E. 2000. Darwin's influence on modern thought. Scientific American 283 (1): 79–83.

Mayr E. 2001. The philosophical foundations of Darwinism. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 145 (4): 488–95.

[NCSE] National Center for Science Education. 1999. Science and religion in America (poll and survey data) [flyer].

Pennock RT. 1999. Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism. Cambridge (MA): MIT Press.

Scott EC. 1999. The creation/evolution continuum. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 19 (4): 16–23.

Sloan G. 2000. The Bible belting of America. Free Inquiry 20 (3): 22–3.

Smith TW. 1990 Classifying Protestant denominations. Review of Religion Research 31 (3): 225–45.

About the Author(s): 
Claudia Geist
Department of Sociology
Indiana University
Bloomington IN 47405-7103
cgeist@indiana.edu

The Latest Polls on Creationism and Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Latest Polls on Creationism and Evolution
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
NCSE Deputy Director
Volume: 
24
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2004
Date: 
September-October
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
There were few surprises in a trio of polls conducted in late 2004 about public opinion in the United States on issues associated with the creationism/evolution controversy.

A recent article from the Gallup News Service (2004 Nov 19) reports on the pollster's latest results concerning public opinion on the evidence for evolution, creationism, and biblical literalism. The poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1016 adults interviewed by telephone November 7-10, 2004, and its margin of error is +/- 3%. Because Gallup's polls on public opinion on creationism extend back to 1982, their data are particularly useful for longitudinal comparisons. The latest results are overall consistent with those from previous polls conducted by Gallup.

To assess public opinion on the evidence for evolution, Gallup asked, "Do you think that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is a scientific theory that has been well-supported by evidence, just one of many theories and one that has not been well-supported by evidence, or don't you know enough about it to say?" Thirty-five percent of the respondents said that evolution is well-supported by evidence, 35% said that it is not, 29% said that they didn't know enough about it to reply, and 1% expressed no opinion. These results are similar to those in 2001, the first year in which Gallup asked the question.

Demographically, the article reports, belief that evolution is well-supported by the evidence is strongest "among those with the most education, liberals, those living in the West, those who seldom attend church, and [...] Catholics," and weakest among "those with the least education, older Americans[...], frequent church attendees, conservatives, Protestants, those living in the middle of the country, and Republicans."

To assess public opinion on creationism, Gallup asked:
Which of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings?

Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process,

Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process,

God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10 000 years or so?
Thirty-eight percent of respondents chose (1), 13% chose (2), 45% chose (3), and 4% offered a different or no opinion. These results are also similar to those from previous Gallup polls, which extend back to 1982 (see p 19).

The article explains that the 10 000 year date was included in the 1982 poll question because "it roughly approximates the timeline used by biblical literalists who study the genealogy as laid out in the first books of the Old Testament." It is perhaps worth remarking that not all biblical literalists agree on interpreting the Bible as insisting on a young earth: there are old-earth creationists, for example, who accept the scientifically determined age of the earth and of the universe, but still accept a literal reading of the Bible and reject evolution in favor of special creation.

To assess public opinion on biblical literalism, Gallup asked, "Which of the following statements comes closest to describing your views about the Bible - the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word; the Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally; or the Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts recorded by man?" Polled in November 2004, 34% of respondents regarded the Bible as to be taken literally, 48% regarded it as divinely inspired but not always to be taken literally, 15% regarded it as a collection of fables, etc, and 3% expressed no opinion. Again, these results are similar to those from previous Gallup polls.

Following on the heels of Gallup's poll, CBS News conducted a poll of public opinion about evolution, creationism, and science education (2004 Nov 22; available on-line at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/11/22/opinion/polls/main657083.shtml). The poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 885 adults interviewed by telephone November 18-21, 2004, and its margin of error is +/- 3%.

One question (the exact wording of which was not given in the story) was apparently similar to Gallup's question about the origin and "development" of human beings. Compared to the Gallup poll, the results showed more support (55%, versus Gallup's 45%) for "God created humans in present form" and less support (27%, versus Gallup's 38%) for "humans evolved, God guided the process," with the same level of support (13%) for "humans evolved, God did not guide process." The results were also correlated with voting in the November 2004 presidential election: 47% of Kerry voters and 67% of Bush voters preferred "God created humans in present form"; 28% of Kerry voters and 22% of Bush voters preferred "humans evolved, God guided the process"; and 21% of Kerry votes and 6% of Bush voters preferred "humans evolved, God did not guide process."

The CBS News poll also asked respondents whether they favored the teaching of creationism alongside or instead of evolution in the public schools: 65% of the respondents said alongside; 37% said instead of. The results were again correlated with voting in the November 2004 presidential election: 56% of Kerry voters and 71% of Bush voters said alongside; 24% of Kerry voters and 45% of Bush voters said instead of. Moreover, 60% of respondents who characterized themselves as evangelical Christians said instead of.

Finally, a poll conducted for Newsweek "on beliefs about Jesus" included questions (the exact wording of which was not given in the story) about teaching "creation science" in the public schools. The poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 1009 adults interviewed by telephone December 2-3, 2004, and its margin of error is +/- 3%. According to the Newsweek story (2004 Dec 5; available on-line at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6650997/site/newsweek/), "Sixty percent say they favor teaching creation science in addition to evolution in public schools; 28 percent oppose such teaching, the poll shows. Forty percent favor teaching creation science instead of evolution in public schools; 44 percent oppose the idea." These results are comparable to those of the CBS News poll. (Although slighly more sympathy for creationism was displayed, it is possible that the characterization of creationism as "creation science" in the Newsweek poll's question contributed to its attractiveness.)

In a 2000 poll commissioned by People for the American Way and conducted by DYG Inc (available on-line at http://www.pfaw.org/pfaw/dfiles/file_36.pdf), however, only 16% of respondents said that creationism should be taught instead of evolution, and only 13% said that creationism should be taught as a "scientific theory" alongside evolution. Since the PFAW poll offered a finer-grained set of choices for its respondents, comparisons between the CBS News and Newsweek polls and the PFAW poll may not be entirely meaningful.

What exactly to make of these data is regrettably unclear. George Bishop argued in his "'Intelligent design': Illusions of an informed public" (RNCSE 2003 May-Aug; 23 [3-4]: 41-3) that such "direct to the media" polls are plagued by "chronic problems in the practice of asking survey questions: widespread public ignorance of public affairs, the inherent vagueness of the language used in most survey questions, and the unpredictable influence of variations in question form, wording, and context." And Otis Dudley Duncan and Claudia Geist illustrate in their "The creationists: How many, who, where?" (p 27) that interpreting the statistics generated by such polls is by no means a simple task. It is clear, at any rate, that as defenders of teaching evolution in the public schools, our work is cut out for us.

About the Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
branch@ncseweb.org