There’s been a fair amount of talk about the Miss USA interview question “should evolution be taught in schools,” and a fair amount of attention given to the answers provided by the contestants. For the most part, people have gotten mad at these women because they are both beautiful in a classic patriarchal-normative-way and are handmaidens or hobgoblins or whatever of the sexist system in which we live, and because they are all wrong about evolution and whether or not it should be taught in schools.
But, it is not so simple.
I’ve actually seen it written that all but two, or all but one, or some other dismal ratio, of the contestants “got it right,” and I find it interesting that science-oriented (as in pro-evolution) observers would just make that up, because it is not true. In fact, when I listened to each and every answer, I was surprised to find a number of pretty good responses. I quickly add, however, so I don’t get thrown out of the club and all, that overall their answers were at the same time a bit more encouraging than one might have expected, and indicative of the fact, plain and simple, that creationists are winning one particular battle: Getting everyone to think that there are “two sides” (or some other number of sides) to the story, and that “all sides” should be taught. Because, in the end, that was the modal answer.
The video is below. You can watch it, and score it, yourself, but here’s the numbers as I see them. There are 51 contestants (50 states and DC).
Number of contestants who said “yes” as part of their answer to “should evolution be taught in schools”: 49
Number of contestants who said “no”: 2
So, the take home message is that the vast majority of Miss USA contestants are “pro” on the issue of teaching evolution in schools. Yay.
Now, for some more details:
The number of contestants that explicitly said that they don’t believe in evolution: 4
Number of contestants that explicitly expressed acceptance of evolution and perhaps even enthusiasm for science: 5
Of those contestants who said “yes” to “should it be taught” a small number were very weak in their statement suggesting that it should only be an elective or otherwise burying the topic in with other academics and minimizing it. The overwhelming number of those who said “yes” to this question couched their answer in terms of giving choice between “other theories” and evolution, or in some cases, religious beliefs and evolution. The number who explicitly said that evolution should be taught as one of several ideas (mentioning religion or not) is actually only 29. A handful of others said that evolution should be taught as an alternative, but they were being pretty clear that they meant as an alternative to what kids learn at home “with their families” … presumably religious creationist beliefs … not as alternative curriculum.
It is that last category that I find most interesting, but also hardest to code from the video (and thus I’m not giving a number … but if I did it would be around five or six). Here’s what I think some of the contestants are thinking: Our society is religious, families are religious, people go to school already having a religious view, and so they should have their horizons expanded and thus be taught evolution. That is actually an interesting perspective and just might become part of my own argument. And in these cases, there is no specific mention of requiring that other “theories” or points of view be taught along side of evolution. Miss Delaware is a good example of this point of view. In fact, Miss Delaware may be a pro-evolution contestant, but I did not count her among the five who are pro-evolution and science-enthusiastic.
In the end the pro-science lobby may have a victory here as well. While creationists have succeeded in making many people assume that there are “two sides” and that the only fair thing is to teach both of them, the pro-science lobby may have succeeded (a little) in causing people who might otherwise be making more explicit statements about how evolution is evil and Darwin was a Nazi to shut up about that and tone down their rhetoric when required to do so because they are being judged on their thoughtfulness.
I have not coded the percentage of contestants who said “yes” who also said that it should be required vs. offered as an elective because, while some made statements that were clear on that issue, most did not. Rather, I’m going with “Most say yes” so if these women were representing their states as members of the Senate of the United States of America rather than as pageant winners, we could probably get some sort of national standards passed tomorrow.
And, I’m so very glad that the “science geek” won the contest.