Friday, February 01, 2008

Anti-evolution beliefs among students a worrying trend

reposted from:
thanks to Emo Holes (Brights UK) - who has talked to Prof. Roger Downie - for this link
Chris Street comments are in bright green;
highlights in yellow blockquotes.

Anti-evolution beliefs among students a worrying trend
Guest Vocals: Roger Downie

EVOLUTION IS a cornerstone of modern biology. Nearly 150 years after Darwin and Wallace's original papers, evolutionary biology is a thriving research area, generating hundreds of papers each year. Like any healthy branch of science, it is full of controversy, with competing ideas tested by experiment and observation. Like all science, our current knowledge is provisional, moving on as we gain better understanding through further research.

At the same time, evolution has a curious, an almost unique status among the general public. Large numbers refuse to accept some or all of evolutionary biology's central pillars, such as the ancient origin of the Earth and its life forms and that living species are related by descent largely through the process of natural selection.

Few people campaign for the return of the flat Earth concept, or the phlogiston theory of combustion, so who are these evolution-deniers and why do they do it?

An international survey in 2006 of 34 countries has shown that evolution-denial is low in Europe and Japan but high in the USA (around 40%) and Turkey (around 50%).
In the USA, evolution-denial is associated with a strong Protestant Bible-literalist tradition. In Turkey, the only mainly Muslim country surveyed, evolution-denial is linked to the political struggle between secularists and Muslim fundamentalists.

At Glasgow University, our surveys have shown evolution-denial at about 8% among first-year science students and 10% amongst medical students. When asked why they rejected evolution, such students predominantly responded that it was because they accepted the literal truth of a religious account that excludes evolution.

We find it alarming that intelligent young people setting out to study evidence-based subjects should be perfectly willing to admit to not accepting a major theory in science, not on the basis of a consideration of the evidence, but because of an inculcated belief.

The persistence of evolution-denial in modern society is worrying and creates a challenge for science educators.

Roger Downie is professor of zoological education at the University of Glasgow.

++++++++++ Comments +++++++++

Posted by: Dr Peter Bowen-Walker, Manchester on 10:27am Sun 6 May 07
As an educator – it has been a recurrent experience that when I have set out to convince students of something, they very often appear to reject it (irrespective of the evidence in its favour) particularly if the matter is contentious and challenges other sources of information/authority in their lives. (After all – I only see them a few hours a week – how can I hope to compete with their friends, family, religious community?)

Consequently – I have adopted an approach in which I explicitly do not intend to “convert” them to the theory of evolution or anything else. I always tell my classes that the information I am sharing with them is what they need to remember to pass an examination. We can then approach the material in a neutral “emotional” state of mind!

I then work to understate what evolution is – – and use rather non-contentious examples such as anti-biotic resistance in bacteria (there is a lot of modern evidence to support this and the students are exposed to it on TV on an almost weekly basis) or colour changes in moths! These examples are easily understood and the mechanisms are also straightforward and almost intuitive.

It is only when the underlying mechanism and broad definition of evolution is non-problematic (and they almost without exception can accept micro-evolutionary theory) do I go on to explore the more contentious “macro-evolution” as a logical extension of accumulated micro-evolutionary change.

Since I am a scientist and not a religious leader – I don’t loose sleep over whether I can “convert” someone to become a “believer” in evolutionary theory. None of my children will go to hell if they refuse to "tow the party line" on evolutionary theory (which is quite a relief – I am happy not to be a priest). By taking this non-confrontational and non-hegemonic approach do dealing with real biological phenomena – I find that approaching the matter in a cognitive rather than an affective way make a significant difference to how palatable the material is to the youngsters and the extent to which they will (not can) re-align their thinking.

No comments:

Post a Comment