Teachers Torn Over Religion, Evolution


Writing in the February 2, 2005, issue of Education Week, Sean Cavanagh discusses "Teachers Torn Over Religion, Evolution" (registration required). Beginning with the teachers in Dover, Pennsylvania, who recently refused to read the antievolution disclaimer mandated by the school board there, Cavanagh remarks that their position was "in line with two of the country’s largest groups for science teachers -- and the vast majority of leading scientists." But not all biology teachers accept evolution: the article cites survey results indicating that from 20% to 30% of high school biology classes in fact include creationist content, despite the Supreme Court's ruling in the 1987 case Edwards v. Aguillard that teaching creationism in the public schools is a form of religious advocacy forbidden by the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. "This is not a phenomenon that's restricted to the Bible Belt, or the South, or any of the stereotypes out there," Randy Moore, a biology professor at the University of Minnesota and the past editor of The American Biology Teacher, told Education Week, adding that even teachers who don't accept creationism feel pressure to include it in their classroom discussions.

Cavanagh devoted a few paragraphs to discussing attempts to teach "intelligent design" creationism in public school classrooms, quoting John Calvert of the Intelligent Design Network as saying "We want a teacher to decide they are going to do this [introduce "intelligent design"] with the comfort that they're not going to get a pink slip," relating a controversy in a Washington school district over a teacher who sought to teach "intelligent design," and mentioning the pending lawsuit in Dover, Pennsylvania, over the policy mandating the antievolution disclaimer. Creationism and "intelligent design" are described by the National Academy of Science as ideas that "subordinate data to statements based on authority, revelation, or religious belief," Cavanagh notes, but not all religious people are troubled by evolution: "A 2000 survey ... found that among people familiar with the term 'evolution,' 68 percent said an individual can believe in that theory and still believe that God created humans and guided their development. Twenty-eight percent disagreed, and 4 percent expressed uncertainty." And "many religious faiths and philosophical movements have allowed a role for both a supreme being and evolution."