A new survey again shows Kansas secondary biology teachers have the lowest rates of creationist belief of teachers in any of the states surveyed. Repeating a similar 1991 survey done before the many controversial hearings on the creation-evolution debate in 1999–2007, the results, presented at a September conference of the Kansas Association of Biology Teachers and due to be published in an upcoming Kansas Biology Teacher journal, verify that the general press image of Kansas being backward on evolution is completely opposite of the facts.
Percent answering "Yes" to:
"Creationism Has a Valid Scientific
Foundation" or Equivalent
South Dakota teachers
Kansas teachers 1991
Kansas teachers 2009
While those of us in science education are worried with such high figures, there is reason to believe that creationist-belief-that-contradicts-science may actually be substantially lower for all of these states including Kansas.
In 1991, 85 percent of Kansas biology teachers marked that they thought "...the modern theory of evolution has a valid scientific foundation." But 25 percent also marked that they thought "...creationism has a valid scientific foundation." Add 85 percent and 25 percent and you have 110 percent of the teachers. The paradox is that ten percent marked that they agreed with both statements.
After the 1991 survey, I chatted with teachers in the field. Some explained that they marked both because they were not literalist and 3.5 billion years of evolution was no problem. But they did believe in a supernatural creation of the universe in the beginning, and in some cases, a supernatural instilling of the soul on the evolutionary route from ape-men to humans. In neither case would their beliefs interfere with teaching modern evolutionary biology.
Our 2009 study showed the same "overlap": 94 percent agreed with "the modern theory of evolution has a valid scientific foundation" while 23 percent also marked that they thought "creationism has a valid scientific foundation." This year, 17 percent had marked both! Of those who believe creationism has a valid scientific foundation, half do not think creationism should be taught in public schools. And a fourth of teachers who "believe creationism has a valid scientific foundation" indicated they did not understand Intelligent Design, a recent variation rejected by the federal court.
A big divide remains between small rural schools and larger Kansas schools. Today, 36 percent of biology teachers at small rural schools (under 100 enrollment) are creationist, while this drops to 15 percent in schools with 100-399 students. Rural teachers are more likely to be trained "second field" and are less likely to pursue an advanced degree since they have to teach across many disciplines. Other research also finds that small rural Kansas schools are more subject to influence from a few local personalities, while our larger schools can ignore the larger pool of therefore-less-influential people and pay more attention to state and national standards.
Some media perpetuate the perception that science and religion are not compatible. But most Christian denominations have no difficulty with evolution. In 1998, Molleen Matsumura in the National Center for Science Education Reports found, "of Americans in the twelve largest Christian denominations, 89.6% belong to churches that support evolution education." Churches that have no problem with evolution are non-literalist and include: United Methodist Church, National Baptist Convention USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), National Baptist Convention of America, African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church, and others. While we did not ask for the church affiliation of biology teachers, our results reflect this widespread acceptance.
Hard-core opposition to evolution among Kansas biology teachers is probably around six percent, dramatically lower than for any other state surveyed.
Sadly, that will not stop late night talk shows from portraying Kansans as anti-evolution hayseeds.