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“Teach ’em all?” Michigan Poll Supports Critical Analysis But Misinterprets the Data

A recent poll reported in “Inside Michigan Politics” found that 76% of Michiganites agree with the following statement:

Biology teachers should teach Darwin’s theory of evolution, but also the scientific evidence against it.

Only 17% of Michigagonians felt that “Biology teachers should teach only Darwin’s theory of evolution and the scientific evidence that supports it.”

If that poll question sounds familiar to frequent readers of ENV, that’s because it’s identical to one of the poll questions commissioned by The Discovery Institute earlier in 2006 and reported here.

But there’s one major difference between this Michigan poll and the prior poll commissioned by Discovery: The Michigan poll is improperly touting a poll question about teaching both scientific strengths and weaknesses of Darwinism as if it is about teaching alternatives to Darwinism.

To reiterate, the Michigan poll found that 76% of Michiganistas agree that:

“Biology teachers should teach Darwin’s theory of evolution, but also the scientific evidence against it.”

But then the Inside Michigan Politics Poll Report incorrectly says this data shows support for teaching alternatives to Darwinism:


Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution? Intelligent design? Creationism? Anything else out there? Whatever, teach ’em all, say Michigan voters, who by a 4-1 margin claim they would prefer to see Darwin’s theory as well as theories opposed to it all taught, not just Darwin’s theory alone.”

But that isn’t what the poll question asked. All the question asked was if “scientific evidence against” evolution should be taught. Teaching scientific criticisms of Darwin is something very different from bringing in alternative explanations, such as intelligent design. That is why in Discovery’s recent poll, we crafted a separate question which asked about teaching alternative explanations to Darwinism. If the Michigan pollsters wanted to know about support for teaching alternative explanations, then they should have asked a question to that effect.

To illustrate the difference between these two approaches, one can look at vertebrate embryos and recognize that they start developing very differently in a way which challenges the famous “biogenetic law,” inspired by the faked 19th century “research” drawings of Ernst Haeckel (below). One can inform students that actual embryological data challenges the notion of common descent without saying anything about intelligent design or other alternatives to Darwinism.

Haeckel’s Faked Embryo Drawings:

Educators, legislators, and the rest of the public need to realize that teaching strengths and weaknesses of Darwin’s theory is different from bringing in a replacement theory for evolution. Traipsing Into Evolution, which I recently co-authored, explains how obfuscating the differences between a “teach criticisms of evolution” and “teach alternative theores like intelligent design” approach has resulted in “[a] chilling effect on open inquiry” (TIE, pg. 77) in places like Ohio and South Carolina where only “strengths and weaknesses” policies should were at stake.

Though Darwinists work hard to obscure the differences, these are different pedagogical approaches, recognized by the courts as such. Educators, legislators, and the public should understand the differences too.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.