“Britons unconvinced on evolution,” says BBC News. A survey says that 39% of Britons think (and I use the word advisedly) that creationism or intelligent design best describes the origin and development of life. (The survey separated them into two but I can’t see why.) OK, 48% like evolution theory, as the BBC coyly calls it. A staggering 13% don’t actually have a view. They’re the ones I’m really worried about, the ones who, in Bertrand Russell’s famous phrase, “would sooner die than think”.
Worse, 44% want creationism and 41% want IDiocy taught in science classes. Only 69% want evolution taught in science.
The survey was carried out for a BBC Horizon programme, which I haven’t seen and have no view on. But the editor of Horizon said: “This really says something about the role of science education in this country and begs us to question how we are teaching evolutionary theory.” Now, I don’t know that chap, and for all I know when he says evolutionary theory he may indeed mean evolutionary theory, as practiced by scientists who study different ways in which evolution and natural selection act. Kin selection, for example, that’s part of evolutionary theory. So is population dynamics.
But I fear he, like the BBC itself, was weaseling around in a massive failure to commit. Yes, evolution is a theory, as understood in science, philosophy, logic and the like. No, evolution is not a theory as understood by the average person, as an untried, untested notion that may or may not be true.
Give thanks, then, for dear Martin Rees, current president of the Royal Society. No weasel he: ”It is surprising that many should still be sceptical of Darwinian evolution. Darwin proposed his theory nearly 150 years ago, and it is now supported by an immense weight of evidence.”
He’s right, too, that no major segment of cultural or religious life in the UK actively opposes the teaching of evolution in schools. But still, teachers I know say it is getting harder and harder to do a good job of teaching evolution, and even 25 years ago first year undergraduates were perhaps not as familiar with the basics as I might have wanted.
The thing is, nobody seems to poll the public on other questions of science. If they did, I suspect we might find that the we ought to be teaching a very different set of laws of motion and thermodynamics, precisely those that antedated Newton. For the whole point of science, of the scientific method, is that it is difficult. It exists to overcome the easy conclusions, that obviously the sun goes round the Earth, for we see it do so every day.
A little thought suggests that it is a good thing that, in all realms except biology, we don’t really care whether the public truly understands. But a little thought is just what is so often lacking.
“In fact, they do,” Russell's quote ends. But alas that does not seem to be true. In fact, they prosper at the expense of the rest of us.
Oh, and there’s a fossilized resource at the [BBC’s Evolution Website]
2022-01-27: The BBC resource has vanished, but I did find this. It may simply have moved, or it may be something different.