Free Online Textbook for Science Teachers: NAS’ “Science, Evolution, and Creationism”

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When only 40% of American adults are scientifically literate enough to accept the theory of evolution, science teachers in American schools clearly need all the help they can get to pull America out of the tenth century and at least up to the educational level of, say, Bulgaria.

Evolution Less Accepted in U.S. Than Other Western Countries, Study Finds via kwout

The National Academy of Science has published a free, 88-page pdf to address this crisis in American science education. I’m doing my part here by putting the word out. Hope you’ll do the same.

From the website of the (US) National Academy of Science:


How did life evolve on Earth? The answer to this question can help us understand our past and prepare for our future. Although evolution provides credible and reliable answers, polls show that many people turn away from science, seeking other explanations with which they are more comfortable.

In the book Science, Evolution, and Creationism, a group of experts assembled by the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine explain the fundamental methods of science, document the overwhelming evidence in support of biological evolution, and evaluate the alternative perspectives offered by advocates of various kinds of creationism, including “intelligent design.” The book explores the many fascinating inquiries being pursued that put the science of evolution to work in preventing and treating human disease, developing new agricultural products, and fostering industrial innovations. The book also presents the scientific and legal reasons for not teaching creationist ideas in public school science classes.

Mindful of school board battles and recent court decisions, Science, Evolution, and Creationism shows that science and religion should be viewed as different ways of understanding the world rather than as frameworks that are in conflict with each other and that the evidence for evolution can be fully compatible with religious faith. For educators, students, teachers, community leaders, legislators, policy makers, and parents who seek to understand the basis of evolutionary science, this publication will be an essential resource.

14 thoughts on “Free Online Textbook for Science Teachers: NAS’ “Science, Evolution, and Creationism””

  1. Clay,

    That graph is appalling! I knew that there were areas of the U.S. where religious beliefs dictated the anti-evolution curriculum, but had not idea that “false” or “don’t know” outnumbered “true”.

    Did the National Academy of Science conduct this study? What are some of the particulars: population surveyed, area where polling done, etc,?

    My two kids attended parochial school in the early elementary grades, then transferred to public school. I don’t believe that any of their teachers discounted the theory of evolution (I’d better make sure before the grandchildren start coming).

    I’d better stop assuming things and take an informal “survey” at school tomorrow. I’ll be interested in teachers’ responses across the K-12 spectrum.


    diane’s last blog post..What Gets Measured

  2. Diane,
    Here’s more from the main article from National Geographic about the research:

    A new study of those surveys suggests that the main reason for this lies in a unique confluence of religion, politics, and the public understanding of biological science in the United States.

    Researchers compared the results of past surveys of attitudes toward evolution taken in the U.S. since 1985 and similar surveys in Japan and 32 European countries.

    In the U.S., only 14 percent of adults thought that evolution was “definitely true,” while about a third firmly rejected the idea.

    In European countries, including Denmark, Sweden, and France, more than 80 percent of adults surveyed said they accepted the concept of evolution.

    The proportion of western European adults who believed the theory “absolutely false” ranged from 7 percent in Great Britain to 15 percent in the Netherlands.

    The only country included in the study where adults were more likely than Americans to reject evolution was Turkey.

    The investigation also showed that the percentage of U.S. adults who are uncertain about evolution has risen from 7 percent to 21 percent in the past 20 years.

    Researchers from the U.S. and Japan analyzed additional information from these surveys in an attempt to identify factors that might help explain why Americans are more skeptical about evolution.

    Led by Jon D. Miller, a political scientist at Michigan State University, the team reports its findings in tomorrow’s issue of the journal Science.

    There’s more at the article itself, linked above.

  3. Living and teaching in Florida I’m always on the look out for info on science and evolution. Imagine my surprise the the graph by the National Academy of Science had Iceland at the top of the list. That corresponds directly with Ruut Veenhoven’s study of happiness that also placed Iceland near the top of the happiness scale. I guess knowledge does bring joy. Hummm?

  4. Clay, thanks for bringing the NAS book ‘Science, Evolution, and Creationism’ to your readers’ attention. I checked out a few chapters of it today; they do a good job, not just of explaining
    evolution, but confronting the creationist arguments head on.

    The graph you posted showing the acceptance of evolutionary theory really is startling. (As a Canadian, I wish that Canada was included in the study.) I’ll be interested to hear the results of Diane’s informal survey of teachers. I’ve been surprised a number of times when I’ve discovered that some of my science teacher colleagues don’t ‘believe’ in evolution.

    In the US, a person’s views on evolution appear to be linked to their politics; “The team found that individuals with anti-abortion, pro-life views associated with the conservative wing of the Republican Party were significantly more likely to reject evolution than people with pro-choice views.” (

    This political aspect of evolution also has a profound effect on how it is taught. Some teachers, perhaps because they are afraid of a negative backlash from students or parents, just gloss over evolution. That’s akin to being a chemistry teacher and glossing over atomic theory!!! In British Columbia, where I teach, only recently has evolution become part of the curriculum for ALL students. As recently as two years ago, only students who chose to take Biology 11 (an elective) would have learned about evolution at school. Evolution is fundamental to the study of biology. It is important that all students have an understanding of evolution if we want to have scientifically literate citizens.

    Claire’s last blog post..Tools Are Important (but they?re still just tools)

  5. Chris: What a fun connection. I know I, for one, feel much less guilt when I place myself in the animal kingdom, and accept my biological home as a pleasant home instead of a mortal enemy. The “how can you say I’m an animal?” argument has always struck me as an odd one: non-human animals are often decent, friendly, smart, sane creatures (depending on the species, anyway) – Swift’s choice of horses as the wisest species in his utopian section of Gulliver’s Travels strikes me as right on; and a former Golden Retriever I lost recently definitely did the animal kingdom proud as a model of Goodness. The “sons and daughters of Adam” are generally a bungled lot, comparatively (a small percentage of well-turned individuals the heartening exception), and a blight to the planet.

    And wasn’t the island of Palau high on that happiness list too? Maybe there’s something about island living?

    @Claire: I hope one day to write a fictional account of an experience teaching history I had. Modern history. We started with the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, and Martin Luther’s Reformation. The students yawned through Luther’s earth-shaking challenge to the faith (“earth-shaking” for blighted Europe, anyway – we have to remember that Buddhist Asia has been immune from this problem for its entire history, Korea notwithstanding ).

    I wasn’t going to let them get away with that. I returned to Luther at the end of the unit by introducing Bishop John Shelby Spong’s “Call for a New Reformation” (1990s), which argues that practically all the articles of faith in the Nicene Creed – the divinity of Jesus, the virgin birth, the second coming, the Trinity, the reality of heaven and hell, the literal truth of any claims in the Bible – were tribal myths from Iron Age nomads – genocidal ones, at that -and that for Christianity to survive as a religion at all, it had to come to terms with the findings of modern science.

    Bam. They felt the earth shake now. And what did they do when confronted with this argument from our contemporary Luther (remember, he’s an Episcopalian man of the cloth)? Some were fine with it, but one – whose family contained three generations of preachers whose livelihood depended on the perpetuation of these myths via the offering plate each Sunday – that one told mother. Mother tried to get me fired. My admin saw the historically powerful relevance of the Luther – Spong connection in my unit plan, and sided with me. I was very proud of them for that.

    You’re right about both the fear and the ignorance of many science teachers in our schools. It’s one more reason I have little faith in the system improving, We’re little better than the Saudis or other fundamentalist Muslim states when it comes to defending science against unreason – or heck, even understanding what the word “true” means in science in the first place.

    So it goes. Thanks for the input :)

  6. By the way, if you missed my “Truly Critical: Thinking about Science, Religion, and Goodness” post on Christmas day, there is some fantastic conversation running through the 35 or so comments on that post.

    Political blog Crooks and Liars featured it in their weekly blog round-up, and pushed about 1,000 readers from there to here. They had much interesting stuff to say. Teachers, with one exception, didn’t say a word.

    More evidence of fear and irrelevance in education. Anonymous comments at least would have been nice, pro or con. It’s the refusal to even discuss or reflect that is so disturbing.

    My question, really, is this: are teachers blind to the relevance of religion (especially in the US) in their political and cultural futures? Don’t they see the connections between religion and war, religion and anti-environmentalism, religion and racism, anti-feminism, epistemology, ontology, and so many other things? Do they think it’s just some quaint little private matter we should just “humor” or “tolerate”? Don’t they see how it infects so much of our collective future with the worst of our deep past?

  7. Claire,

    I didn’t get to “survey” all of our teachers, but had an enlightening conversation with our middle school (grades 7 & 8) science teacher.

    The New York State Core Curriculum
    required that in Intermediate Science (Gr. 5 – 8), students be taught Key Idea 3:

    “Individual organisms and species change over time.” The introduction to Key Idea 3 specifically states that “Evolution is the change in a species over tiem…Generally this diversity of species developed through gradual processes of change occurring over many generations.”

    Performance Indicator 3.2, Major Understanding 3.2c says:

    “Many thousands of layers of sedimentary rock provide evidence for the long history of Earth and for the long history of changing lifeforms whose remains are found in the rocks.”

    In the Living Environment Core Curriculum (high school), under the same Key Idea 3:

    “Evolution is the change of species over time. This theory is the central unifying theme of biology. This change over time is well documented by extensive evidence from a wide variety of sources…”

    The Elementary Science Core Curriculum (K-4) includes Key Idea 3 but emphasizes “change” rather than “evolution”.

    My science colleague says that when she gets to this portion of the curriculum, she tells students that she means no disrespect to their religious beliefs, but the theory of evolution is in the required state curriculum and that is what will be taught in the class.

    I’m not aware of any parents in our area challenging this curriculum.


    diane’s last blog post..Splitting the Atom

  8. Diane, thanks for the info. I’m glad to hear that in New York state, students are introduced to the concept of evolution fairly early! The approach your colleague takes when introducing evolution is similar to what I do. I’ve actually had a few creationist students take my course so that they had a better understanding of ‘the other side’.

    As a grad student I had the experience of leading a tutorial for a 4th year course on Evolutionary Ecology. One of the students had done his prior schooling at a baptist university. It was interesting to see how his attitude changed over the duration of the course. At one of the early tutorials he scoffed at the idea that humans and fish shared a common ancestor. He was a smart student though, and as the course progressed it was clear in the tutorials, his assignments, and his discussions with me that he was more and more conflicted about evolution. He could no longer dismiss evolution outright, even though it went against everything that he had learned prior to the course. There was just too much scientific evidence.

    Claire’s last blog post..Tools Are Important (but they?re still just tools)

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