Creationism in the Biology Classroom: What Do Teachers Teach & How Do They Teach It?

Article excerpt

Despite decades of science education reform, a long string of legal defeats for creationists, the incorporation of evolution-based standards into states' science education requirements, and the repeated emphasis of evolution by scientific professional societies (National Association of Biology Teachers, 2002; Moore, 2002a-c, 2004, a-b), creationism remains overwhelmingly popular with the public (i.e., with our former students). For example, 45% of participants in a 1982 Gallup poll agreed with the statement that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so;" 40% agreed with "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process;" and 9% agreed with "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but god had no part in this process" (Scott, 1999). In an identical Gallup poll conducted in 2004, the responses were similar (Newport, 2004), and a study published in 2006 found that the acceptance of evolution is lower in the United States than virtually anywhere else in the world (Miller, Scott & Okamoto, 2006). As biology teacher John Scopes noted in 1966, "I don't think the world changes very rapidly" (Anonymous, 1966).

Creationism also remains surprisingly popular among high school biology teachers throughout the United States (Eve & Harrold, 1991; Moore, 2004a-b; Riddle, 1941). For example, a variety of studies have shown that 15-30% of biology teachers in public schools teach creationism (Eve & Harrold, 1991; Trani, 2004; Zimmerman, 1987, and references therein). Although the teaching of creationism (including "intelligent design") in public school biology classes is clearly unlawful (Edwards v. Aguillard; Moore 2002a, 2004a, 2007), these teachers' actions are consistent with the public's desire to include creationism in science classrooms (Bergman, 1999). Confrontations of some of these teachers have produced lawsuits, all of which have been lost by creationists (Moore, 2002a, 2004a, 2007).

Although the various studies of the teaching of creationism in biology classrooms have been informative, they have often involved political problems, small sample sizes, and limited responses (e.g., participants' responses were restricted to only the Christian stories of creation; Aguillard, 1999; Bergman, 1999; McKeachie, Lin & Strayer, 2002). Moreover, they have not addressed several important questions that I have tried to answer with this study. For example,

* What version(s) of creationism do teachers teach? There are many different creation stories and, even within Christianity, many different types of creationism (Leeming & Leeming, 1994; Scott, 2004). Do biology teachers who include creationism in their courses teach several generic stories or a variety of specific stories? Or only one story? If teachers teach only one story, which story do they teach?

* How do teachers present creationism? For example, do teachers present creationism as a religious idea? Or as a philosophical idea? Or as a scientific alternative to evolution (i.e., "creation science")?

What I Did

This study was conducted from fall, 2001 through fall, 2005 in a large, introductory non-majors biology course at the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota. Students in the study came from throughout the United States, and particularly from Minnesota, and had an average ACT score of 22, an average age of 19, and an average high school graduation percentile of 54%. There were approximately equal percentages of male and female students having the following ethnic diversity: 51% Caucasian, 20% African American, 2% American Indian, 20% Asian American, 4% Chicano/Latina, and 3% undecided.

To avoid the low return rates and other problems associated with direct surveys of teachers (e.g., a 29% return rate in Ohio; Zimmerman, 1987), I surveyed 1,465 freshmen who had taken high school biology in public schools. …