Adam Polaski

Evolution Debate Divides Miss USA Contestants

Filed By Adam Polaski | June 23, 2011 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Marriage Equality
Tags: beauty pageant, creationism, Miss California, Miss USA

Tiara.jpgProgressive beauty pageant fans in California can come out from under their rocks now. Two years after Carrie Prejean, the Miss USA contestant from California in 2009, won the competition while expressing her opposition to marriage equality, a new Miss USA has been crowned. Alyssa Campanella, the new victor, is also Miss California, and she was one of the most progressive of the 51 contestants.

In web interviews that preceded Sunday's show, the 51 state delegates to the pageant answered a series of questions on camera that were posted to YouTube. Two were typical beauty pageant fodder questions - "Have you, or would you, use an online dating service?" and "How do you feel about being in a tasteful nude photo shoot?" - and one was simply offensive, asking contestants to impersonate a cat, a motor boat, a police siren, and a slot machine. But the other question - "Should evolution be taught in schools?" - elicited a range of interesting responses.

Campanella was one of the few to announce her support and belief in evolution. She said, "I was taught evolution in my high school growing up, and I do believe in it. I mean, I'm a huge science geek, so I like to believe in the Big Bang Theory and the evolution of humans throughout time." Seven other contestants, hailing from Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Vermont, and Washington, also said, without qualification, that it should be taught in schools.

Only three opposed teaching evolution outright - Alabama, Indiana, and Kentucky, who responded, "How do you teach a child the true meaning of evolution when so many different cultures have their different beliefs?".

While 37 others voiced that it should be taught in schools, they clarified these responses by saying it should be taught alongside "other perspectives." Some of the women specifically named creationism while others stuck with some variation of "Kids should hear both sides." Four of these 37 explicitly mentioned that they do not believe in evolution, Miss Wisconsin merely said it would "a great subject to touch base on," and Miss Nevada's answer was an irrelevant ramble about how maybe we should teach about how communities can evolve as opposed to how lifeforms have evolve.

Reporting from USA Today about the Miss USA contestants' responses was incorrect, inflating the number of girls opposed to evolution, as Kathy Gill pointed out in her analysis. But even fewer than one-fifth of the Miss USA contestants admitting any support for teaching evolution is a frightening litmus test. It demonstrates that the creationism vs. evolution debate is still a highly controversial subject - one that, at least as of 2006, continued to divide the country.

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I skimmed through some of the other videos, and I thought Miss Alaska's response was a little interesting:

"It's necessary that evolution is taught in schools because it is part of our history and belief system that the US has held for a long time. However, personally, I don't believe in evolution, I believe that each one of us was created for a purpose, by God, and that just gives my life so much more direction and meaning."

What do you think about that response? It seems to me to be perfectly reasonable.

(Video found here:

It's still wrong. Evolution is not a belief system and it's not just history. It is a science of a process that has happened, is continuing to happen, and will continue to happen. Details of the theory are in question, like every other theory (after all, if all the questions were answered there would be no need for scientists, just engineers and technicians), but it is an outright fact that life evolved and is continuing to evolve.

I believed in evolution until I saw Fred Phelps. He is my poster child for non-evolving. Sorry, couldn't help myself...bad, Tina, BAD!!!

It's actually very simple:

Evolution, both cosmic and biological, belongs in science classes.

Creation, including "intelligent design," belongs in religion, philosophy classes -- and anthropology classes when the beliefs of various cultures (including our own) are the topic of study.

Now, children will ask why their science class teaches them something different from their religion class. The proper response is that scientific knowledge is produced by scientific methods, while religions and other beliefs emerge out of other processes -- and children should not be shielded from the fact that adults, even expert adults, have difficulties getting the different sources of knowledge to agree.

There is no reason to give children the illusion that grown-ups have all the answers, or that all grown-ups agree, or that they will have all the answers by the time that they grow up.

Actually, the fact that eight out of fifty beauty contestants supported teaching evolution as science indicates to me that maybe our society is making progress in this area.

May I add: The dichotomy between evolution and creationism is a false one. Evolutionary processes do not prove or disprove that there might be a cosmic intelligence playing some role in there somewhere -- either guiding the processes are they run their course, or setting things up just perfectly in the first place -- but we can say there is no scientific evidence requiring such an intelligence.

Science has very good evidence that the Big Bang actually occurred -- but it has very poor notions, at this point in our history, about why it occurred. This may change in the future -- or it may not.

Speaking as a biologist, I don't want to meet whatever cosmic intelligence was guiding Earth evolution. That being is nothing short of a bastard. And I would be loathe to call the process perfect. I tend to think of things like "sloppy" and "cruel" instead.

I meant perfectly in the sense that the energy forces were such that matter formed, that gravity was such that orbits were possible, etc and I could give better examples if I were a better physicist.

I did not mean "perfect" in a touchy-feely sense -- in fact, I agree with you that "survival of the fittest" can be, and is, a cruel, painful process that achieves its results through mechanisms requiring dreadful struggle and ubiquitous death.

Your entire argument there relies upon the anthropic principle. To shamelessly quote Douglas Adams, "Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!'"

There are a whole multitude if different ways the universe could exist and a whole multitude of other possible physical laws that would allow life to form and evolve. Even within life itself there are so many other possibilities than what we currently see, so many different solutions to the same ecological problems.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | June 24, 2011 10:01 AM

Why is there any doubt about this at all? For example, Sarah Palin either evolved from lower life forms or was created directly by God under the concept of Intelligent Design.

Ooops, wait a minute......