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Creationism ‘alive and well’ in Minnesota biology classes

Monday’s New York Times carried a story about the number of high-school biology teachers who teach creationism. Apparently, just 28 percent consistently teach evolution, according to a new report.

Shocking though that figure was, it didn’t stun me nearly as much as the quote a little ways into the story from University of Minnesota biology professor Randy Moore, who among other things asserted that at least 25 percent of Minnesota high-school teachers teach creationism.

“These kinds of data have been reported regionally, and in some cases nationally, for decades. Creationists are in the classroom, and it’s not just the South,” Moore told the Times.

Multiple Minnesota surveys
Curious, I tracked the good professor down. Turns out he and a colleague at the U of M have conducted multiple surveys of both high-school teachers throughout the state and their own students for years, each time, he said, only to confirm that Minnesota is not so exceptional.

“The numbers we report are no different from anywhere,” he said. “Creationism is alive and well in biology classes in Minnesota.”

Moore’s surveys found 60-62 percent of teachers teach only evolution — which means two-thirds adhere to the standards. Possibly out of fear or political pressure from school board members or administrators, 10-15 percent simply teach neither. The remaining 20-25 percent explicitly teach creationism, albeit sometimes alongside evolution.

Creationism is not confined to small-town classrooms or parochial schools, according to Moore. In fact, the biology teachers least likely to teach creationism work in Catholic schools. 

‘They do it by choice’
And just to be clear, it’s not a matter of teacher training, as one of the other experts quoted by the Times suggested. “They do it by choice,” Moore added. “They’ve had evolution classes, they choose to reject it in favor of religion.”

If a fourth of our kids are being taught this, why isn’t it common knowledge? Because the creation story being told is the Christian one that’s prevalent in this country, Moore suggested, so lots of kids barely notice and lots of parents aren’t offended. Every civilization has a creation story, he hastened to add, and you can bet if kids came home talking about an unfamiliar one parents would sit up and take notice.

In the process of tracking down Moore, I tumbled onto the website of Minnesota Citizens for Science Education, of which he is a member. The group has posted an entertaining FAQ, a history of the issue in Minnesota and a compilation of relevant court rulings penned by Moore himself.

A few highlights:

Minnesota’s standards for science education require students to “understand the nature of scientific ways of thinking and that scientific knowledge changes and accumulates over time.”

‘The student will be able to explain …’
To that end, the rules state, “The student will be able to explain how scientific and technological innovations as well as new evidence can challenge portions of or entire accepted theories and models including but not limited to cell theory, atomic theory, theory of evolution, plate tectonic theory, germ theory of disease and big bang theory.”

And no, Intelligent Design does not qualify as a scientific theory. Nor do teachers have a First Amendment right to teach creationism in a public school. Schools can — and indeed must — direct teachers to “refrain from expressions of religious viewpoints in the classroom and like settings.”

Surf for yourself, but be forewarned: There’s about a week’s worth of fascinating background to be found there.

Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Joe Cap on 02/09/2011 - 10:44 am.

    I think young Earth creationism is wrong, and anything specifically invoking the supernatural should not be taught in science classes. With that said, this article shows the typical ignorance of Intelligent Design.

    Professor Randy Moore: “They’ve had evolution classes, they choose to reject it in favor of religion.”

    Three things are wrong with this statement.

    (1) It implies that there is only one kind of evolution, the neo-Darwinian synthesis based on methodological naturalism (the a priori assumption that nature is all that there is), and (2) that if you don’t believe the claims of this theory, the ONLY other choice is religion. I personally believe life evolved in a tree similar to what is taught in evolutionary biology classes, but could not have happened simply via random mutations and natural selection. Not nearly enough information search capability. This is not automatically imply that God or gods did it. Lastly, Mr. Moore implies (3) that those who choose evolution are not religious. I’m not even talking about theistic evolutionists (people who adhere to every inkling that evolutionary biology has to teach, and believe God did it). You’re trying to tell me Richard Dawkins is not religious about his worldview? Militant, atheist evolutionary biologists are every bit as religious as a sweating, hollering young Earth creationist preacher from south Alabama.

    Beth Hawkins: “And no, Intelligent Design does not qualify as a scientific theory.”

    I know this isn’t an article intended to debate this issue in depth, but this type of hand waving is boring. For anyone truly interested in Intelligent Design, from either side of the fence, I encourage you to check out the series of posts on uncommondescent.com titled “ID Foundations”. It is a fairly rigorous discussion of what ID is all about. Be sure to read the comments sections, too, as some very good discussion both both sides happens there.

    http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/id-foundations-the-design-inference-warrant-and-the-scientific-method/

    • Submitted by Ted McFlanders on 07/26/2012 - 06:04 pm.

      Intelligent Design doesn’t come close to a scientific theory. It literally does not meet the qualifications. It’s not hand waving when you’re stating a fact.

  2. Submitted by Greg Laden on 02/09/2011 - 10:53 am.

    Thanks for covering this. As Randy says, this has been known for decades, but for some reason every time it hits the news (because of a new study that shows the same thing again) everyone seems to have just heard it for the first time.

    I promise you: Creationist students (there are many) and/ore creationist parents of students (and no, parents and students are not always on the same page as each other) DO make themselves known the the teachers who are teaching evolution, sometimes quite aggressively. I have yet to hear of a parent (other than me) actively seeking out a biology student and explaining that the parent/child are interesting in an excellent science education, and in fact insisting on it.

    Here is a good template for parents to use when meeting the life science teacher.

    Parent: “Hi. I’m Mary Joe’s parent. I just want you to know that I fully support science education and I recognize that things like creationism, or so-called ‘teaching the controversy’ are never, ever appropriate in the science classroom.”

    Teacher: “Oh … ah … nice to meet you …”

    Parent: “Also, I want you to know that if you ever have any difficulties in this regard, you should let me know. I’m a member of the National Center for Science Education, a member of the Minnesota Citizens for Science Education, a widely read blogger and an activist in this area. If you ever get any trouble from anyone, including school administrators, call me or send me an email and I will directly support you and find others who will do so as well.”

    Teacher: “Oh, … well, … ah … ”

    Parent: “And one other thing. I just want you to know that if you do happen to be one of those biology teachers who does not teach evolution in the classroom, or who actually teaches creationism … I’ll be your worst nightmare.”

    Teacher: “Oh, …. ah … um…”

    Parent: “And, you should know, my child, who will be in your class, is totally on board with this and will be paying close attention.”

    … or words to that effect.

  3. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 02/09/2011 - 03:28 pm.

    Sorry Joe, but when Ms. Hawkins says “[a]nd no, Intelligent Design does not qualify as a scientific theory” she’s got it right. The discussion on the sites you linked to is psuedo-scientific garbage. Just because you dress something up in the language of science doesn’t make it science. Any “ignorance” of Intelligent Design in this article was simply the result of assuming that the reader has a basic understanding of science in the first place.

    Here’s a good link for you – its the decision from the intelligent design trial a few years back, where the judge determined what any real scientist knows – that Intelligent Design is not science and merely creationism dressed up as science:

    http://www.pamd.uscourts.gov/kitzmiller/kitzmiller_342.pdf

  4. Submitted by Ann Spencer on 02/09/2011 - 03:44 pm.

    I heard Steve Parry, CNN’s education correspondent, state yesterday that creationism should not necessarily be taught in biology class, but it needs to be discussed there because “a lot of people believe it.”

    I disagree.

    A lot of people believe a lot of things that are not appropriately taught in an educational curriculum.

    Creationism is not science; creationism is a matter of faith. Science deals with the empirically verifiable—or at least the empirically probable. Faith, by its very nature, deals with that which cannot be empirically proved or disproved—that’s why it’s called “faith.” Empirical proof is irrelevant to faith; it is the core of science.
    Putting evolution and creationism side by side in a science classroom leads students to think that both are valid scientific theories. They aren’t. They occupy completely different realms.

    Moreover, I am concerned lest we further confuse “belief” with “fact”–a confusion that is already too prevalent in modern America. We do not want to teach our children, even by implication, that widespread belief in something is evidence BY ITSELF of its truth.

  5. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 02/09/2011 - 04:00 pm.

    Whatever your beliefs about Creationism, Intelligent Design, and/or Evolution, the fact remains that Beth Hawkins is right–the only of these that represents a scientific theory is Evolution. The other two cannot be tested using the scientific method, and therefore disqualify as scientific theory and as legitimately taught scientific information.
    The unfortunate truth is that even when Evolution is taught in the classroom, it is not taught correctly. This not only confuses the issue, but makes it that much easier to twist the theory into something completely wrong (e.g., the mocking concept that no monkey ever gave birth to a human). The acceptance that non-scientific topics and or opinions can substitute for scientific thinking has placed this country on a fast track to the bottom of the heap as far as innovation goes. I certainly hope this can be turned around.
    One must remember that opinion is not fact and not every opinion is as valid as another.

  6. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 02/09/2011 - 04:27 pm.

    Islamic creationism is the belief that the universe (including humanity) was created by Allah as explained in the Qur’an.

    Does this make creationism more politically correct?

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/09/2011 - 04:52 pm.

    //Militant, atheist evolutionary biologists are every bit as religious as a sweating, hollering young Earth creationist preacher from south Alabama.

    This is the thing that I always find funny about some religious people, they don’t seem to understand that when they obliterate science they also obliterate religion. They end up with no viable concept of either science or faith. Only a person with absolutely no concept of faith can make the above claim.

  8. Submitted by William Pappas on 02/10/2011 - 06:46 am.

    The is mind boggling, and we wonder why our state’s education is declining. If 25% of our state’s science teachers are choosing to teach creationism then there is something wrong with state licensure. Creationism is pure fantasy. Here we are reliving the Scopes trial all over again. Welcome to conservative earth, the Bachmann future of education. Unbelievable.

  9. Submitted by Gary Hurd on 02/10/2011 - 08:57 am.

    Beth Hawkins did a good job within her limited word count. Joe Cap managed to pack a lot of nonsense into just over 300 words.

    The original article published in last week’s Science magazine was “Defeating Creationism in the Courtroom, But Not in the Classroom” by Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer. They found that ~28% of teachers nationally do correctly and enthusiastically teach the scientific basis of all biology, evolution. At the opposite end of the scale, 13-18% personally reject evolution, and actively subvert the curriculum, or explicitly teach creationism. One Minnesota teacher was quoted, “I don’t teach the theory of evolution in my life science classes, nor do I teach the Big Bang Theory in my [E]arth [S]cience classes…. We do not have time to do something that is at best poor science.”

    Berkman and Plutzer felt that the remaining teachers, ~54%, who were weak in their presentation of evolutionary biology lacked a proper background, and thus lacked the confidence, and competence to successfully present the curriculum. Prof. Moore disagrees, and cites his own data that the “unsure” teachers are were a mere 15%, and that up to 25% of teachers rejected evolution and taught religious creationism instead. Oddly, he has published 2003 data indicating that up to 52% of teachers felt they were inadequately prepared to teach evolution, “The Teaching of Evolution & Creationism in Minnesota” Randy Moore and Karen Kraemer, The American Biology Teacher. 67(8): 457–466. 2005.

    Mr. Cap’s comment has no relevance to any of this. Not one of his objections to Prof. Moore’s observations is supported with facts, which I’ll come to presently.

  10. Submitted by Dean Carlson on 02/10/2011 - 09:11 am.

    “In fact, the biology teachers least likely to teach creationism work in Catholic schools.”

    I have two children going through the Academy of Holy Angels and I can confirm that creationism is not being taught in the biology classes there. Straight-up evolution. That includes Intro to Biology and AP Biology.

  11. Submitted by Gary Hurd on 02/10/2011 - 10:12 am.

    Mr. Cap wrote, “(1) It implies that there is only one kind of evolution, the neo-Darwinian synthesis based on methodological naturalism (the a priori assumption that nature is all that there is).”

    The theory of evolution was rephrased in the 1930s to meld the discoveries in genetics with Darwin’s notions of common descent, and selection. This relied heavily on the mathematical models of population genetics and weakened Darwin’s emphasis on individuals and “survival” in favor of populations and reproductive success. This was the “the neo-Darwinian synthesis” Mr. Cap referred to above. There have been two significant additions since then; Kimura’s neutral theory (see his 1985 book “The neutral theory of molecular evolution), and the observations by Gould, Eldredge, and Lewontin of rapid change in the fossil record which they generalized as “punctuated equilibrium” as opposed to Darwin’s gradualism( see: Gould SJ and Eldredge N 1977 Punctuated Equilibria: The Tempo and Mode of Evolution Reconsidered; Paleobiology 3 115–151). We are currently anticipating further advances in developmental biology (mostly in embryology), and ecological theory which will in turn expand and improve evolutionary theory. It is highly unlikely that Randy Moore, a professor of biology, would think that the neo-Darwinian synthesis of Fisher, Haldane, and Huxley is the “only” kind of evolution.

    In the same numbered objection, Mr. Cap confused “methodological naturalism” with “philosophical naturalism.” The latter holds that the material universe is exclusive. Scientists universally hold to “methodological materialism.” That is, scientific explanations, or theory, must always be based on observable phenomena and may only use natural law-like statements in their theories. You cannot toss miracles and undefined magical powers into your work to dodge difficulties and still pretend to be scientific. It is methodological materialism that allows the devout Hindu, or Christian to contribute good science equally along with the agnostics, and atheists. In this regard there is “only one kind of evolution” because there is only one kind of science period, that based on methodological materialism.

  12. Submitted by Gary Hurd on 02/10/2011 - 11:16 am.

    Mr. Cap wrote “(2) (Prof. Moore asserted gh) that if you don’t believe the claims of this theory (evolutionary biology gh), the ONLY other choice is religion. I personally believe life evolved in a tree similar to what is taught in evolutionary biology classes, but could not have happened simply via random mutations and natural selection. Not nearly enough information search capability. This is not automatically imply that God or gods did it.”

    Prof. Moore is speaking from his perspective from over a decade of opinion survey research. This research has shown that teacher rejection of evolutionary theory in favor of actually teaching creationism was religiously motivated. It was not an assumption, or opinion, it was an objective fact. But, Mr. Cap did use the opportunity to make an absurd claim of his own that the nested hierarchies of evolutionary biology are real, but that they didn’t happen by evolutionary means. His “argument: Not nearly enough information search capability.” This is a bit of classic Intelligent Design Creationism gibberish.

    It is close to the argument made by ID creationist Mike Behe in his Dover testimony. Behe had cited his article with David Snoke, “Simulating evolution by gene duplication of protein features that require multiple amino acid residues” Protein Science (2004), 13:2651–2664. Based on this paper, Behe asserted that there was “too little time” for a random process to have generated complex organisms. In cross-examination however, he was forced to admit that using realistic conditions his published result would have actually supported evolution. (see Behe cross examination, Day 12 Am.
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/dover/day12am.html#day12am366 )

  13. Submitted by Gary Hurd on 02/10/2011 - 12:30 pm.

    Mr. Cap claims that ID creationism does not have a religious foundation. Some obvious statements by ID leaders will settle this error;

    Michael Behe
    “In my estimation, although possible in a broadly permissive sense, it is not plausible that the original intelligent agent is a natural entity. … Thus, in my judgment it is implausible that the designer is a natural entity.” From “Reply to My Critics,” Biology and Philosophy 16: 685–709, 2001.

    William Dembski
    In a 1999 article for the Christian magazine Touchstone “Signs of Intelligence,” Dembski confirmed the foundation of ID in John 1 when he assured readers that “Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory.”

    “My thesis is that all disciplines find their completion in Christ and cannot be properly understood apart from Christ.” ‘Intelligent Design’, p 206

    Phillip Johnson
    “This [the intelligent design movement] isn’t really, and never has been, a debate about science, it’s about religion and philosophy.” World Magazine, 30 November 1996
    “The Intelligent Design movement starts with the recognition that ‘In the beginning was the Word,’ and ‘In the beginning God created.’ Establishing that point isn’t enough, but it is absolutely essential to the rest of the gospel message.” Foreword to Creation, Evolution, & Modern Science (2000)
    “Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools.” American Family Radio (10 January 2003)

    Jonathan Wells
    “Father’s words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When Father chose me (along with about a dozen other seminary graduates) to enter a Ph.D. program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle” [Note: ‘Father’ refers to self-proclaimed Messiah, Rev. Sun Moon]. Date: 1996. Source: Why I Went for a Second Ph.D.
    Location: http://www.tparents.org/library/unification/talks/wells/DARWIN.htm

    ID creationists Paul Nelson and Steve Meyer are also Young Earth Creationists, and William Dembski has recently been forced to recant his published opinion that the Genesis Flood was not a historical global event. His statement reads, “In a brief section on Genesis 4–11, I weigh in on the Flood, raising questions about its universality, without adequate study or reflection on my part. (referring to his book “The End of Christianity”). Before I write on this topic again, I have much exegetical, historical, and theological work to do. In any case, not only Genesis 6–9 but also Jesus in Matthew 24 and Peter in Second Peter seem clearly to teach that the Flood was universal. As a biblical inerrantist, I believe that what the Bible teaches is true and bow to the text, including its teaching about the Flood and its universality.”

  14. Submitted by Herman Cummings on 02/10/2011 - 05:54 pm.

    For seventeen years, the truth of Genesis has been known to mankind, yet those who
    claim to love the Lord support the lies of evolution. How? By refusing to allow
    the people to hear the truth of Genesis. Withholding the literal truth of God’s
    Word is the same as telling the people a lie.

    The current doctrines of Creationism either deny scientific reality, or deny the literal truth of scripture, compromising with secular science. Young Earth creationism makes Genesis seem like a myth, saying the dinosaurs and mammoths died in the flood of Noah. But Noah’s Flood was in 2611 BC. The dinosaurs all died 65 million years
    ago, and the mammoths died out during the Ice Age of 10,000 years ago. When our children are taught such foolishness in church, and they find out differently in school, no wonder we lose youth attendance. They are not being taught biblical realty.

    In an attempt to compensate, many of the clergy try to compromise and say that God used
    evolution, or the text in Genesis is just allegorical, and is not to be taken literally.
    Do you want to tell God that His Word is not to be taken literally, and can’t be trusted?
    Old Earth creationism teaches that there was either theistic evolution, age long days, or
    gaps between the days in Genesis chapter one. This is because the truth of Genesis has
    been stranded outside the church and seminaries, knocking at the door, but not allowed to
    come in. Why? Because the world of theology doesn’t understand the text, and is
    unwilling to learn the correct rendition of scripture.

    The correct opposing view to evolution is the “Observations of Moses”, not creationism,
    and it explains the first chapter of Genesis, conveying its proper interpretation.
    Questions are answered such as “where did the water come from”, “why does the evening
    come before the morning”, “was mankind first or the animals”, and also, “where are the
    dinosaurs in Genesis”? These and other questions are answered in the presentation,
    using correct literal interpretation of scripture. Even the Sanhedrin in Israel was
    stunned. They had considered Genesis to be allegorical, and didn’t know “how to act”
    when the truth was revealed to them. Unfortunately, they felt it was more important to
    protect the false teachings of earlier rabbis, than embracing the literal truth.

    There is no excuse for the people to remain ignorant of the facts of Genesis, leaving
    them defenseless against the false conclusions of science. Yes, the scientific data is
    authentic, but the correct literal truth realistically explains the data, proving the
    Bible to be the truth, and that there is a Creator. Genesis is not just a “book of
    faith” any longer, because we now have the information that proves it to also be a book
    of history, and advanced math and science.

    I solemnly urge you to host the 62 minute PowerPoint presentation, followed by up to
    thirty minutes of questions. Invite the community, the news media, the school board,
    and the state government. The truth of God’s word is nothing to hide, but is to be
    given to all, believer and non-believer alike. Please respond using the below contact
    information.

    Herman Cummings
    Ephraim7@aol.com

  15. Submitted by Gary Hurd on 02/11/2011 - 04:31 pm.

    We might was well finish up with Mr. Cap’s errors. I’ll skip his bigotry toward Young Earther’s, and southerners other than noting it seems as extreme as any atheist’s. The last gross error is that there is a “theory of intelligent design.” Again, I’ll let two of the ‘great’ minds of ID creationists take the stage;

    Philip Johnson
    “I also don’t think that there is really a theory of intelligent design at the present time to propose as a comparable alternative to the Darwinian theory, which is, whatever errors it might contain, a fully worked out scheme. There is no intelligent design theory that’s comparable. Working out a positive theory is the job of the scientific people that we have affiliated with the movement. Some of them are quite convinced that it’s doable, but that’s for them to prove…No product is ready for competition in the educational world.” Berkley Science Review (Spring 2006).

    Paul Nelson
    Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don’t have such a theory now, and that’s a real problem. Without a theory it’s very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now we’ve got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as “irreducible complexity” and “specified complexity” – but as yet no general theory of biological design. Date: July/August 2004 Source: Touchstone Magazine interview

    There is no ID theory, there never will be an ID theory. ID is relabeled creationism, and not a science of any kind.

  16. Submitted by Peter Bartholomew on 09/22/2013 - 06:34 pm.

    Baffling!

    To someone outside the US this is really puzzling, all the major branches of Christianity accept evolution as fact including the Church Of England and the Roman Catholic Church, indeed the Catholic Church stated that the science of Genetics has proved it beyond any doubt.
    You simply cannot teach biology or many other branches of science if you believe in creationism, it is an illogical, irrational religious belief based on a blind acceptance of myths and legends in a 2,000 year old book and shows a complete inability to find things out for yourself or comprehend the scientific method.
    Creationism in the UK appears in tabloid newspapers under the heading of “Only in America!” alongside stories of Elvis being alive and living on the Moon, please USA educate your people – it’s embarrassing!

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