We’ve been hearing a lot in the last few days about 47% of Americans: Governor Romney’s comments about the 47% who don’t pay federal income taxes, or the 47% whom he assumes won’t vote for him.
I’m more interested in the 46% of adult Americans who believe humans were created in “pretty much their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” For believers in evolution like me, that number is hard to understand. How can so many adults–almost half of whom hold college degrees–believe in this kind of young-earth creationism?
As we’ve discussed here recently, this is not merely a question of shoddy science education. Mere exposure to evolutionary science does not promise to increase the number of believers in evolution. The important element seems to be the messenger of evolutionary science, not just the message.
A brief autobiography this morning by evolutionary creationist educational writer Abigail McFarthing seems to confirm this notion. McFarthing describes her upbringing as a youngster homeschooled into the tenets of young-earth creationism. As she writes,
“In ninth grade, I went to public high school armed and ready for the fight I had been trained to expect. When my biology teacher taught evolution and required us to write an essay, I hi-jacked the essay topic and turned it into an apologetic for six-day creation. Because I was in ‘conflict mode,’ I was not ready to consider the arguments for evolution, or the possibility that Christians could actually accept it.”
It was not until McFarthing attended the evangelical Wheaton College that she was brought out of conflict mode. As she studied to become a high-school teacher, one of her evangelical Christian professors insisted, “‘Jesus is not going to be standing at the gateway of heaven . . . holding a clipboard in his hand and asking, “Did you believe in six-day creation? Did you believe in evolution?” He’s going to be asking the one question that matters: “Did you believe in ME?”‘”
The goal of McFarthing’s new homeschooling curriculum is not to train students away from their conservative evangelical faith. Rather, she describes her goal as “resilience.” She wants young people to realize that they can be Christian and accept the evidence for evolution.
I’m not advocating McFarthing’s curriculum. I do not think that her evolutionary creationism will fit in public schools, nor does she suggest that it should. The interesting point here is McFarthing’s story. It seems to add one more bit of evidence to a growing pile. The way to educate people about evolution is not simply to bash them over the head with scientific evidence. As we noted recently, evidence alone does not convince. Rather, for people like McFarthing, the messenger is more important than the message.