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By Kenneth Chang
The decision of the Kansas Board of Education to drop evolution as a necessary topic in the states science classes has raised loud protests from scientists and science educators. But if the curriculum were put to a popular vote, perhaps Darwins ideas would be in danger of being dropped in some places.
In views that diverge widely from those in other developed nations, about 45 percent of American adults take the Bibles story of creation literally.
Only about one in 10 subscribe to a purely scientific explanation of evolution.
Scientists Call to Action
The controversy has also spurred some to call for scientists to get more involved in education issues.
Creationists won in Kansas, and they are likely to win elsewhere, simply because they care enough to get elected to school boards, said Fred Spilhaus, executive director of the American Geophysical Union, in a statement released last week. Once again, those who value science and support the teaching of evolution but were too busy to participate in local politics lost, and science education will suffer as a result, as will science itself.
Creation a Mainstream View
That could be an uphill battle.
In a November 1997 poll by the Gallup Organization that quizzed people about their views on the origin of humans, 44 percent agreed with the statement, God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.
Thats a lot of people, Bishop says. Thats not like its some small minority position.
Another 39 percent subscribed to a theistic evolution view, that humans did develop over millions of years from lower life forms, but God guided the process. Only 10 percent said they believe in evolution with no participation from God. Seven percent had no opinion.
The views have not changed much in recent years. A 1982 Gallup poll, asking the same question, found a virtually identical distribution of opinion.
Among scientists, only 5 percent hold the literal Bible view, 40 percent believe in theistic evolution and a majority, 55 percent, believe in evolution without help from God.
More Likely to Read Bible Literally
Creation is not the only area where many Americans take the Bible at its word.
In a Gallup poll last June, one-third of American adults surveyed agreed that The Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.
That was the 10th time since 1976 Gallup had asked this question, and the percentage interpreting the Bible literally has fluctuated only slightly, between between 32 and 40 percent.
A 1991 survey asking the exact same question in 17 countries found adults elsewhere were much less likely to take the literal view.
In Great Britain, for instance, the percentage was 7 percent.
You would think they [the United States and England] would not be very different as nations, Bishop says. And here, Americans are almost five times as likely to take the Bible literally than people in England.
Germany, Norway, Russia and the Netherlands were also among the nations where a smaller percentage of adults believed in taking the Bible literally. This situation in Kansas, it just wouldnt arise in Western Europe, Bishop says.
More Religious Freedom a Factor?
According to Bishop, religious freedom in the United States may be one reason for peoples more conservative religious views. Think of it as a market, he says. You have many different denominations competing for customers. Because of that competition, theres more active recruiting, proselytizing and other forms of bringing people into their particular fold. Thats one notion why this society is more religious than most developed nations.
Spilhaus said the American Geophysical Union was preparing a call to arms to its members to get involved in local school boards. Scientists would be well-advised to run for school boards or, at the very least, to actively support well-informed candidates, he says. If scientists want to see good science taught in the schools, they cant just participate as teachers. They have to get out and get into the policy making aspect of it.
Spilhaus was dismayed that the Kansas science standards diluted not only evolution but also left out any mention of the Earths age. Boy, if you start talking about the age of the Earth, youre talking about going away from something that science considers pretty solid ground, Spilhaus says. Theres very little doubt in our minds that the Earth is 4½ billion years old. There is no credible evidence that supports a young Earth or that supports the so-called creationist science.
But Spilhaus may not want to take a vote on that.
S U M M A R Y|
In polls, nearly half of American adults say they believe in a biblical interpretation of creation, and only one in 10 believes in a purely scientific explanation of evolution.