Jen McCreight had a wake-up call. She wrote a draft of an NSF application that required a personal statement, she wrote about the poor attitude towards evolution she experienced in college, and sent it off to some local people for review. They criticized it, which is not a problem — a good shredding over is always helpful — but the reasons they objected were deplorable.
Some of my reviewers, including a professor, insisted that I was “dogmatic,” and “wanted people to believe in evolution just because that’s what you happen to believe in.” That rejecting evolution isn’t a “terrible” attitude. That I shouldn’t be “shocked” that some biology majors don’t believe in evolution, because not everyone has to be like me. That wanting to help people learn about evolution means I thought they were stupid.
That I came off as, I quote, “Dawkins-esque.”
It was not a “destroy all Christians” essay. It didn’t declare creationists stupid. It described a real problem and Jen’s motivation for addressing it. The problem we often find in the higher levels of academe is that there are people who refuse to recognize anti-evolution as a real problem. It doesn’t affect them — I can assure you that within the community of scientists creationism is not ever a problem. The little dweebs show up at meetings and are ignored or laughed at over beer, and that’s about it.
You can pretend, then, that it’s not a real concern as long as you never step outside the smart, rigorous environment of your colleagues, and don’t even bother to look at the activities of the students on your campus. You can do that, too; it’s even rewarded. Successful scientists are focused and disciplined and single-mindedly connected to their professional activities. The student outreach pastor on campus can be giving weekly showings of Kent Hovind videos, the local community can be hounding the high school science teacher to stop teaching evolution, and the governor of your state can be running for president while declaring evolution is a lie, and you can still get your work done. That is, until the day all your students reject the stuff that you teach (which, for many research faculty, doesn’t matter anyway), all the prospective graduate students from America are stealth creationists (no matter, you’re only taking on European and Chinese students now), and the president makes your research unfundable at the NIH (ouch, finally something that hurts!). This hasn’t happened yet, though, so let’s not worry about it.
Jen wasn’t dogmatic. She was aware. And sane.
It’s dismaying that some of her reviewers seemed to think evolution was just her quirky personal belief, rather than the only viable theory built on evidence that biology has to work with … and that students who reject it aren’t competent to advance science.