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Monday, March 21, 2011

Evolution and Academic Freedom

In our chapter on civic culture, we note that debates over the teaching of evolution reflect religious influence on American political life. The debates go on, as The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports:

An Arlington lawmaker has filed a bill aimed at protecting Texas college professors and students from discrimination because they question evolution.

The measure from Republican state Rep. Bill Zedler would block higher education institutions from discriminating against or penalizing teachers or students based on their research into intelligent design or other theories that disagree with evolution.

Zedler said he filed the bill because of cases in which colleges had been hostile to those who believe that certain features of life-forms are so complex that they must have originated from a higher power.


Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog group that opposes religious influence in public education, described the bill as an effort to push an ideological agenda into colleges by suggesting that intelligent design theorists are subject to persecution.

"It's kind of a broad and cynical strategy to undermine sound science at a time when our state and nation's economy depends on science to thrive," Miller said.

In January, the University of Kentucky paid $125,000 to settle a discrimination lawsuit with Martin Gaskell, an astronomy professor who claimed that he was passed over for an observatory director job in part because of statements he made that were perceived as critical of evolution.

Four in 10 Americans, slightly fewer today than in years past, believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago. Thirty-eight percent believe God guided a process by which humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms, while 16%, up slightly from years past, believe humans developed over millions of years, without God's involvement.
A small minority of Americans hold the "secular evolution" view that humans evolved with no influence from God -- but the number has risen from 9% in 1982 to 16% today. At the same time, the 40% of Americans who hold the "creationist" view that God created humans as is 10,000 years ago is the lowest in Gallup's history of asking this question, and down from a high point of 47% in 1993 and 1999. There has been little change over the years in the percentage holding the "theistic evolution" view that humans evolved under God's guidance.