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UT Arlington sociology professor says current Texas evolution debate pits cultural traditionalism against modernism

Friday, January 23, 2009

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Media Contact: Kristin Sullivan, Office:817-272-5364, Cell:817-706-9811,

ARLINGTON - Professor Ray Eve, sociology program director at The University of Texas at Arlington, wrote the book on the debate over teaching the theory of evolution with his 1990 publication, The Creationist Movement in Modern America. In November, he published "Evolution, creationism & public schools: Surveying what Texas scientists think about educating our kids in the 21st Century." The report is based on 464 interviews with biology and physical anthropologists who teach the theory of evolution in science courses at Texas public and private colleges and universities. The survey was commissioned by the Texas Freedom Network, an Austin-based nonprofit group that opposes religious influence on public education.

The Texas Board of Education this week split on whether high school biology students should continue to be instructed to consider the weaknesses as well as strengths of the theory of evolution in new state curriculum standards for science. A final vote on the science standards is expected this spring.

Dr. Eve is available for media interviews on the issue. Contact Kristin Sullivan in the UT Arlington media relations office to arrange an interview at or at 817-272-2761.

Five questions for Dr. Eve:

What role have you played in the current debate before the Texas Board of Education?
A sociologist's job in this is not to take a stance on the physical evidence. It's to use sociology and social psychology to explain what drives both sides. It's the big picture from the tower.

Why does the teaching of evolution continue to be debated in public schools?
The public doesn't argue about whether atoms exist or continents drift, but they get in bar fights over creationism.... It's cultural traditionalism bumping up against rational hypothesis and empirical analysis. They are profoundly irresolvable ways of evaluating a truth claim."

What did your recent survey find?
Surveys were sent to 1,019 professors at 50 Texas colleges and universities. Interviews were done in late fall 2007 and early spring 2008. We tried to find everyone who was teaching evolution at the college level.

Fewer than 5 percent of the science faculty interviewed expressed any degree of sympathy for teaching creationism or intelligent design in the classroom.

What's wrong with the "strengths and weaknesses" language?
It's pretty clearly political buzzwords for getting creationism in the back door of public schools... Some people are trying to create an image that there's a huge debate among scientists about the mainstream consensus on how evolution happened. But there isn't; 97 percent of these people are happy to say, "No. We know what happened. The scientists know there's no debate."

Why does this keep coming up in Texas?
It comes up anywhere cultural traditionalism meets cultural modernism - the belief that you use empirical data and hypothesis to assess truth claims. Where these debates tend to take place is where rural spaces meet urban places, in states where rapid, high-tech growth and multiculturalism are colliding with a rural economy.


The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.