More than one-third of the states (19) do an “unsatisfactory to dreadful job” of including evolution in public school science standards, including 12 states that shun the “E-word” and four that avoid the subject, says a study out Tuesday.
The rest do “at least a satisfactory job,” says the study, “Good Science, Bad Science: Teaching Evolution in the States,” published by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and presented at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
In some cases, weak treatment of evolution reflects poor science standards overall, the study says. But author Lawrence Lerner, professor emeritus at California State University at Long Beach, says states with large populations of Protestant evangelicals are most likely to “find it necessary to wrestle with the teaching of evolution.”
While critics of evolution are diverse, many of the weakest state standards, he says, reflect the views of creationists, who argue that God created humans whole.
But some skeptics of evolution say Lerner and other supporters of evolution oversimplify the debate.
“They like to define the debate in a way that favors their position, so any critic of Darwinism is called a creationist,” says Jonathan Wells, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle non-profit group that supports research critical of Charles Darwin’s theories.
In his book Icons of Evolution, to be published in October by Regnery Publishing, Wells evaluates 10 biology textbooks used in U.S. schools and finds all of them biased. “Even worse than not teaching evolution is teaching them falsehoods masquerading as evidence,” he says.
In a statement, the Discovery Institute says the Fordham study “encourages precisely the sort of bad science it pretends to criticize.”
Kansas, which made national news last fall when the state school board removed references to evolution from state standards proposed by a group of scientists, fared the worst in the Fordham study, earning an F-minus. Lerner calls the standards there “a disgraceful paean to antiscience.”
That could change. Voters in August ousted some of the board’s anti-evolutionists in a Republican primary, and new candidates are promising to change the standards.
Lerner graded state standards in 49 states and the District of Columbia (Iowa does not write statewide academic standards in any subjects). His grades were based on nine criteria, including whether the term evolution is used; how biological, human and geological forms of evolution are treated; whether creationist language is used; and whether teachers are required to issue a disclaimer when they discuss evolution in class.
Aside from Kansas, his state grades, with sample comments:
* A. California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana (“exemplary and straightforward”), New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina.
* B. Arizona, Colorado, District of Columbia, Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington.
* C. Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska (“decent treatment of evolution marred by the incursion of creationist notions”), Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Texas.
* D. Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Virginia, Wisconsin.
* F. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wyoming.