A recent poll found that a majority of teachers in the U.S. are avoiding teaching evolution as a fundamental tenant of biology in the science classroom. We talked to science proponent and television star Bill Nye (the science guy) about what this means for U.S. education.
In a recent survey of 926 public high school biology teachers across the nation, only 28 percent of teachers taught evolution as a well-supported fundamental idea of science. Meanwhile, 13 percent openly supported "intelligent design" in the classroom, and 60 percent fell somewhere in-between. This majority presented evolution cautiously—by including non-scientific viewpoints, by limiting discussion to genetics, or by saying that students only needed to learn the material to pass exams.
What do you think about this?
It's horrible. Science is the key to our future, and if you don't believe in science, then you're holding everybody back. And it's fine if you as an adult want to run around pretending or claiming that you don't believe in evolution, but if we educate a generation of people who don't believe in science, that's a recipe for disaster. We talk about the Internet. That comes from science. Weather forecasting. That comes from science. The main idea in all of biology is evolution. To not teach it to our young people is wrong.
Why is there resistance to teaching evolution in schools?
It's reluctance to change. It's wanting the world to be different than it is. And if you don't want the world to be different you are an unusual human being. We all want the world to be different. But to deny evolution is in no one's best interest.
Do you think there's anything that can be done about it?
Well the longest journey starts with just a single step. Science education: We should support it. Especially elementary school science. Nearly every rocket scientist got interested in it before they were 10. Everybody who's a physician, who makes vaccines, who wants to find the cure for cancer. Everybody who wants to do any medical good for humankind got the passion for that before he or she was 10. So we want to excite a new generation of kids—every generation—about the passion, beauty and joy—the PB&J—of science. These anti-evolution people are frustrating in two ways. The first way is, almost certainly they know better. Those people really do believe in flu shots. They really do understand that when you find fossil bones of ancient dinosaurs, you are looking at deep time, not just 5000 years. And secondly, and much more importantly, having raised a generation of kids who don't understand science is bad for everyone. And with the United States having a leadership role in science and technology, having a generation of kids not believing in science is bad for the world.
Is there a funding issue? Is that why the teachers aren't teaching it correctly?
Oh the teachers get pulled every which way. People get on school boards just with this agenda of not teaching evolution. The school board comes running in and beats them over the head. But denying the facts does not make them not true. And in science we're always looking for the truth, it's what we do. Does this work? Does this solve the problem? Can you do the same experiment and get the same results?
Should teachers be mandated to teach evolution as fact?
What other fundamental theory in all of biology is there? Intelligent design, as the judge in Dover, Penn., said, is "breathtaking inanity." It was so stupid it took his breath away. I agree with him. It's great to teach in history class, though. People believed the earth was the center of the universe. People believed the earth was flat. It was reasonable at the time, but we don't learn about those ideas in science class.
So do you think those biology teachers are simply teaching their own beliefs, or are they under outside pressure?
They're doing their job but they're under tremendous pressure. The 60 percent who are cautious—those are the people who are really up against it. They want to keep their job, and they love teaching science, and their children are really excited about it, and yet they've got some people insisting they can't teach the most fundamental idea in all of biology. There's the phrase "just a theory." Which shows you that I have failed. I'm a failure. When we have a theory in science, it's the greatest thing you can have. Relativity is a theory, and people test it every which way. They test it and test it and test it. Gravity is a theory. People have landed spacecraft on the moon within a few feet of accuracy because we understand gravity so well. People make flu vaccinations that stop people from getting sick. Farmers raise crops with science; they hybridize them and make them better with every generation. That's all evolution. Evolution is a theory, and it's a theory that you can test. We've tested evolution in many ways. You can't present good evidence that says evolution is not a fact.
A couple days old but still relevant. Listen to the science guy, Creationists!
(Also, icon edit because I don't know the next time I'll be able to use this in such a relative context;