Students' perceptions of Earth's age influence acceptance of human evolution, says study

March 10, 2010

High school and college students who understand the geological age of the Earth (4.5 billion years) are much more likely to understand and accept human evolution, according to a University of Minnesota study published in the March issue of the journal Evolution.

The finding could give educators a new strategy for teaching , since the Earth's age is typically covered in physical rather than biological .

Researchers Sehoya Cotner and Randy Moore, professors in College of Biological Sciences, and D. Christopher Brooks, of the university's Office of Information Technology, surveyed 400 enrolled in several sections of a University of Minnesota introductory biology course for non-majors.

The survey included questions about knowledge of evolution and whether students were taught evolution or creationism in as well as questions about religious and political views. Participation was voluntary and had no effect on grades for the course.

The researchers extracted six variables from the survey to explore factors that contributed to students' views about the age of the Earth and and the relation of those beliefs to students' knowledge of evolution and their vote in the 2008 presidential election.

Using that information, they created a model that shows, for example, when a student's religious and political views are liberal, they are more likely to believe that the Earth is billions, rather than thousands, of years old and to know more about evolution. Conversely, students with conservative religious and political views are more inclined to think the Earth is much younger (20,000 years or less) and to know less about evolution.

"The role of the Earth's age is a key variable that we can use to improve education about evolution, which is important because it is the unifying principle of biology," said lead author Sehoya Cotner, associate professor in the Biology Program, which provides general biology classes for University of Minnesota undergraduates.

Through this and previous surveys, Cotner and her colleagues have learned that 2 percent of students are taught creationism only, 22 percent are taught evolution and creationism, 14 are taught neither and 62 percent evolution only.

"In other words, about one in four high school biology teachers in the upper Midwest are giving students the impression that creationism is a viable explanation for the origins of life on Earth," Cotner says. "That's just not acceptable. The Constitution prohibits teaching in schools."

The researchers noted that understanding the Earth's age is a difficult concept; even Darwin found it challenging. Teaching and understanding creationist views of about the Earth's age and life's origins are much easier.

The paper cites a 2009 Gallup poll that coincided with the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth reporting that only four out of 10 people in the U.S. believe in evolution. The poll also reported that 16 percent of biology teachers believe God created humans in their present form at some time during the last 10,000 years.

Explore further: Study: High school teachers influence student views of evolution, creationism

More information: The complete study, "Is the age of the Earth one our 'sorest troubles?' Students' perceptions about deep time affect their acceptance of evolutionary theory," can be accessed at … t/123192457/PDFSTART

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2.5 / 5 (8) Mar 10, 2010
"The Constitution prohibits teaching creationism in schools."

Really? Where? I am not a creationist, but come on.
Correct me if I am wrong, bit i'm pretty sure the Constitution doesn't say anything about what can or can't be taught in schools. Actually, it provides for religious freedoms.
4.1 / 5 (9) Mar 11, 2010
The constitution prohibits state establishment or endorsement of any religion. Since creationist has been found by the courts to be a thinly disguised theological and mostly Christian system of beliefs, teaching it in schools amounts to using tax payer dollars indoctrinating our children into beliefs that run counter to everything we know about the universe and science.

The sad thing is, its the children that suffer the most. In college they are faced with 2 basic choices, accept that they were taught a pack of lies which means they lose all religious faith (a true travesty), or stick with subjects/majors which put them economically into the bottom rungs of our society.
5 / 5 (6) Mar 11, 2010
only 4 out of 10 believe in evolution? you can't deny the effectiveness of fox news
1 / 5 (8) Mar 11, 2010
Dna and evloution, according to Pery Marshall, prove the existance of a creator. DNA is code and codes are "written". Just as music and computer programs are. Evlution does not give an explnation, even a "super-natural" one, for the beginning of life, and as such is not a a viable "scientific" explanation for the existance of life as we know it.
1 / 5 (7) Mar 11, 2010
Genraly there are two groups of people in the world, those that belive in a creator and those who don't. As the argument over what should or should not be taught in the public indoctrnation schools will never be resolved, perhaps it is time to do away with tax funded "publuc mis-education". Why should athiests pay for the cerationists curiculm or vice versa?
2.7 / 5 (18) Mar 11, 2010
Evolution is not, and never has been, a theory that purports to explain the origin of life. Evolution is the demonstrable process of change in the forms and lifestyles of living organisms through generations. Natural selection is the theory that purports to explain how that change happens. Denying that the forms and lifestyles of organisms change through countless generations is a blatant denial of reality and mountains of evidence, with absolutely no credible evidence to support such a denial. Denying that this change happens through natural selection alone is a perfectly credible hypothesis. Suggesting that God is also a cause of such change amounts to a denial of the possibility of completely explaining this change at all, as no mere human can possibly know the mind of God. Therefore, reference to God can have no legitimate role in crafting explanation for things that humans can use in a practical way.
4.5 / 5 (8) Mar 11, 2010
DNA is not just like computer code. That kind of simplification is exactly what this article attempts to address. Evolution also doesn't deal with the origins of life, however it is used in the research into the origins of life, such as abiogenesis.
5 / 5 (5) Mar 11, 2010
only 4 out of 10 believe in evolution? you can't deny the effectiveness of fox news

By Fox news do you mean Judeo-Christian indoctrination?
DNA is code and codes are "written". Just as music and computer programs are.

Ah but you immediately destroy your own argument.

Just as music is written it can also be found spontaneously within nature. This leads to self organization, a defining prinicple in physical science.

As JayK says, DNA is not "code". DNA is a complex assembly line that builds proteins that create and organize cells and organisms.

It all breaks down to simple chemical interaction. You are the same as a rock undergoing oxidation. The difference is only in scope and complexity.
5 / 5 (5) Mar 11, 2010
4 out of 10 in evolution. Truly sad. When asked for counter arguments we get, "the devil put them there to trick you".
4.7 / 5 (3) Mar 11, 2010
I am sorry if I offend anyone by saying this, but religion is so much cultural dead weight that needs to be shrugged off. I believe that teaching children blatent lies is brainwashing and *child-abuse*, as it will actually impact their ability to be able to understand the reality they have to live in. As such, I do not believe it is a parents right to be able to teach their children religious ideas. I do not believe in freedom of religion, I do not believe faith in something you can't prove is either healthy or good. The sooner we shrug off superstition completely, the better off we will be as a society.

I should clarify that I don't have a problem with children being taught about the possibility that there could be a creator, because there very well could be, but it should be made very clear it's just speculation at that point. To tell them there surely is is to lie to your children and harm them.
2.1 / 5 (15) Mar 11, 2010
Belief in a higher power, and the rituals and superstitions that go with it, are a perfectly healthy and natural response, so long as those beliefs and rituals are not stifling to further cultural and scientific progress. They serve a dual role, first as a defensive buffer for fragile human psyches against the harsh, uncompromising and uncaring realities of the world we live in, and second as a reminder of important social and individual values and concerns that are difficult or impossible to adequately express in daily life, such as respect for the basic humanity in others, generosity towards those less fortunate, etc. Nuances of theology are the epitome of mental masturbation, however, and are really only harmful when used to trump up outmoded superstitions against the progress of science and society.
4.8 / 5 (5) Mar 11, 2010
Thrasymachus, I do not entirely disagree with you, my main concern with religious teachings are those which are uncompromising and which are unwilling to discard those beliefs which are no longer relevant (for example creationism in the biblical timeframe). It would be preferable to simple be honest with ourselves and admit that we do not know, and then speculate knowing that it is in fact speculation. Ignoring the evidence that surrounds you because it is too "harsh, uncompromising and uncaring" isn't going to change the facts, and denying the facts is ultimately harmful in light of those facts. That is why I say that teaching absolutist theology to children is tantamount to child abuse... at its worst it removes their ability to objectively observe the world around them and then form useful and helpful conclusions.
2.5 / 5 (2) Mar 11, 2010
I completely agree. That was rather eloquently put.
1 / 5 (3) Mar 11, 2010
You don't use your mind to think about your religion.
1.1 / 5 (11) Mar 11, 2010
Theology becomes absolutist because of how it is practiced, as an exercise in logic grounded in seemingly uncontroversial premises. Unfortunately, for every conclusion it offers, one can also derive its contradiction, using the same logical methods and beginning with similar premises. Nor is this resistance to change useless. Consider the ancient Jewish prohibition against eating swine, for which we now know there to have been excellent reasons having to do with parasites, though those reasons could not be known by early Jewish leaders. Christians abolished those laws based on a dream. Resistance to such change, in my opinion, is a good thing. It is often better for societies to have such rules even though nobody yet can understand the justification for them, than to decline to make those rules at all. Since humans require justification to make them follow those rules, it's better to have a bad, dogmatic justification that's difficult to dislodge than no justification at all.
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 11, 2010
I don't understand why religious types need to be so against evolution all the time. Sure it contradicts the bible, but it doesn't necessarily have to contradict your religion.

If you believe in God and that God really set all this up, then God is probably significantly smarter than you will ever be. How do you know evolution isn't intelligent design? Maybe it's supposed to be this way.

I'm not saying it is and I'm not saying it isn't. I'm just saying that religious and non-religious alike are way too certain about things we can't possibly be certain about.

If there isn't a God then it's all luck and if there is... well... He/She/It is probably smart enough to make it look like it's all luck if they wanted to.

"Nuances of theology are the epitome of mental masturbation"

Now there's the real problem.
1.2 / 5 (10) Mar 11, 2010
As far as belief in higher powers go, religions can be roughly separated into two groups based on their concept of the higher power. Either that concept is based on the "omni's" (all-powerful, all-present, all-knowing, etc.) or that higher power is something very like a human, though not necessarily with a human body, but with greater powers over nature, rather like a Greek god. The first group is dominated by the mental masturbation of theology because logic deals particularly well with the "omni's." Most monotheisms are of this group. Theological assertions that come from this group cannot be proven either true or false by any means. The latter group are true fairy tales, and most of their assertions about their gods and their relationships with nature can be proven false through experiment.
4.5 / 5 (2) Mar 11, 2010
Thrasymachus, your not making any sense to me... are you really suggesting that random arbitrary rules with no justification are good? So what if some of those rules "happen" to accidently have some useful purpose, I am willing to bet an even larger of them serve no useful purpose or are even harmful. I think religion had it's place in our human history but it no longer serves any useful purpose that can't also be accomplished without it's superstition. When you tell someone it's ok to believe one random unproven thing, you are effectively telling them it's ok to believe ANY random unproven thing that makes them feel good, because where do you draw that line? You can't because it's arbitrary. The only line that is real is what we can observe in reality and what we cannot. I think you are maybe being just a little naive and apologist, but I am willing to hear more of your thoughts if you think I am either wrong or have misunderstood what you are saying.
4.2 / 5 (5) Mar 11, 2010
Much of this discussion goes back to an earlier discussion of the evolutionary basis for religion, or in more subtle terms: The God Gene. Humans appear to be preprogrammed (poor term, but I'm using it anyway) to believe because that belief sets up tribal and communal practices that increase survivability. Thrasymachus' example of swine is evidence that some of the practices of belief are positive.

The point remains, however, that belief in the supernatural isn't necessary, at this time, due to increases in awareness, knowledge and communication. Religion is equivalent to nipples on a man, it is a vestigial remnant, one that can be excised if needed. I just happen to believe that it is infected and should be cut out.
1.5 / 5 (11) Mar 11, 2010
In other words, if there is something like the Creator God of Christian theology, we can't ever know it (at least in this life), and it can't ever make any sort of difference in any experiment or practical activity we attempt. The experiment comes out the same way when the assumption of such a God's existence is affirmed or denied.
Religion is ultimately only about creating a maximally stable society for us to live in. Appeal to a higher, punitive power to promote compliance is an artifact of the sorts of societies we are all born into, i.e., families. Theology begins when this artifact is abstracted to the most general and extreme end of an all-powerful, all-present and all-knowing God. It is masturbation because playing with such concepts is sort of fun, we all do it from time to time, and in the end, it isn't about anything that really matters to the project of living. That makes it masturbation. It’s mental because we do it with logic.
1.5 / 5 (11) Mar 11, 2010
I never said the rules that religion comes up with are arbitrary. Usually, they arise after long experience with the thing in question. Take the swine meat rule. Probably, people ate swine before there was this rule, and some of them dropped dead from the parasites some time later. Eventually, they realized that eating swine was like playing Russian Roulette. They don't know why, but they tell their kids not to eat it. When the kids ask "why" the answer is most commonly "Because I said so." Note that this is the same answer given to why swine was prohibited in the first place (because God said it was dirty) and why that prohibition was lifted (because God said it was clean now). There are almost always non-arbitrary reasons for the social rules various religions foist on their followers, they just don't know what they are, so the religious leaders make some up.
4 / 5 (4) Mar 11, 2010
I see the problem as this: Judeochristian religion(excepting fundamentalist/literalist) is not incompatible with Evolution. I specify J-C because it is the most widely practiced in America. J-C religion simply establishes the initial conditions. Evolution is the mechanism by which life proceeds therefrom.
Most J-C practitioners are not literalists, and are able to accept that the biblical accounts are metaphoric/allegoric.
The prohibition against the establishment of Religion in or by the State is to prevent any imposition of religious dogmatic hegemony by the state.
Public schools are for teaching the arts and sciences, and churches/sunday schools are for teaching religion. I submit that private schools- by nature hybrid- church-run or no, should always have to teach established,accepted science.
Attempts by Church to infiltrate State, or vice versa(although this is invariably a one-way proposition)demand harsh rebuke, and in persistent cases dealt with Criminally.
4.5 / 5 (2) Mar 11, 2010
I see your point Thrasymachus, however I would argue that it would be a disservice to the child in question who asked "why" to tell him "because I said so" and not to explain "because for some reason when people do they are more likely to drop dead". Which itself leads to a willingness to accept authority for no good reason other then that being how you were raised. Authority for it's own sake is a harmful concept, especially in this day and age. While I wont deny that some good things/behaviors come from religion, the ones that are actually useful have reasons for being useful that do not require a religious explanation. Religion will always be a tool that those who do not believe in it can use against those who do. It comes back to the idea that a willingness to believe something that you can't know one way or another, rather then accepting the truth that you don't actually know, is ultimately more harmful to our modern society then it is beneficial.
5 / 5 (3) Mar 11, 2010
You seem to not agree with this, to feel that it still does more good then harm, but there is also an opportunity cost that you may not be factoring in: every person who is raised in such ignorance ultimately is less likely to be able to contribute usefully to the intellectual body of knowledge that our civilization is slowly accumulating. If I am missing some very important benefit though I would like to hear it.
2 / 5 (1) Mar 11, 2010
These are the reasons I ultimately laugh at situations where people insult each other over things they know nothing about personally, like say global warming. I do not personally know if it is or is not happening, and have no problem stating that. If it is happening then maybe it needs to be dealt with, but with the way the discourse is happening, along with people's willingness to accept authority opinions from both sides, it's impossible to get an impartial body of evidence from which to derive a conclusion. But so many people will get angry and hateful at people about things they know nothing about in reality. These behaviors are at least partially a direct result in people being raised to accept authority without question. Ultimately people will side with different "authority figures" and conflicts will arise, and religion plays a very substantial part in raising each generation to think this way, even if it isn't the only thing factoring into the equation.
5 / 5 (3) Mar 11, 2010
Ultimately I would just make the point that I don't disagree that religion has had it's uses, and still does, but we would do well to find non-superstitious and non-authoritarian ways of creating those behaviors, ways based on the use of logical reasoning and honest observation. The longer we stay "stuck on religion", the longer we will be artificially holding ourselves back.
1.2 / 5 (10) Mar 11, 2010
While I applaud the ideals you promote in your several posts above, I must object. The "because I said so" appeal to authority is not really an appeal to authority. In fact, all such appeals to authority are really appeals to force. "Do this or I will hurt you." In the case of the swine flesh, it's "Don't eat pork or God will hurt you." "God" always stands for "I don't know" in any such practical explanation.

But the imputation of divinity, of limitlessness, to the explanation is an expression of our awareness of the limitlessness of our own ignorance of the workings of the world we inhabit together with the importance of the values those rules support. This combination of humility and passion is an important driver of human progress, and also of a conservative caution against changing the historic interpretation of important social rules.
1 / 5 (10) Mar 11, 2010
And at any rate, there often occur situations when it's best not to question who's in charge at the moment. There's a reason armies are organized the way they are. And humans crave explanations and justifications, even bad ones. A guy who's told not to eat pork because some people (but not everybody) who did, died and no one knows why might still try some pork. But the guy who's told it's because God will punish you will probably not eat any pork.
4.2 / 5 (5) Mar 11, 2010
Yeah, belief just for the sake that it might be helpful. That sounds really productive, except for the fact that it isn't. Just because one line out of 10,000 is correct doesn't mean that you might eventually find another. We have laws and social constraints that are well communicated across all social and geographical boundaries that works just as well as religion, at least in first world nations. If you're saying that those first world nations should just ignore the existence of religion in order to allow 3rd world nations time to figure it out as well ignores the reality of situations like Uganda, where religion is actively being used to murder people.

Best to be rid of it as soon as possible.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 11, 2010
Yes, there is a qualitative difference between the application of the Law and the Authority from which it derives.
3 / 5 (2) Mar 11, 2010
well any caution against changing social rules should and does exist mostly because we figure such rules exist for a good reason. And this can serve us well when such rules ARE instituted for a good reason. However, when people feel that the rules they are being bound to are NOT instituted for a good reason, but rather an arbitrary one or even a lie, they tend to get angry, and law and order has a tendency to break down into conflict.

That is why I think it is especially important we make sure all of our "laws and traditions" be based on reality, not conjecture and faith, because only then can we adequately explain why something is being done the way it is, rather then say "it's because (god, the king, obama, your employer, bush, your father) said so" with no further explanation. That only leads to conflict.
5 / 5 (2) Mar 13, 2010
About 14 years ago I was working as an chemical engineer in a world class chemical plant in Texas. One of my coworkers, an older white gentleman in his 60's, said that he enjoyed watch NOVA until "they start talking about billions of years, because I know what the truth is".
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 13, 2010
You're probably familiar with the aphorism: "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink...".
Apparently even a relatively advanced education isn't always enough to divorce fact from fantasy.
There's even another article here on physorg right now about the very thing:

1 / 5 (1) Mar 14, 2010
We don't know anything when it comes to lets knuckle down and do some unbiased well thought out scientific research to inch a little way to a better world
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 14, 2010

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or abridging the free exercise thereof..."

This has been repeatedly and emphatically interpreted to mean, among other things, that it is unconstitutional to promote religious beliefs in public schools. Creationism is nothing but religious dogma, and has no place in public schools.
not rated yet Mar 14, 2010
If you're saying that those first world nations should just ignore the existence of religion in order to allow 3rd world nations time to figure it out as well ignores the reality of situations like Uganda, where religion is actively being used to murder people.

Best to be rid of it as soon as possible.

Might not be a bad idea to let them finish each other off. We simply stop providing technology and assistance and let them stay backwater. Once they've evolved their society to be rid of violence then we can again start interacting with them.

After all, if you teach a cave man the secrets of iron, he'll first use them to ensure dominance over his contemporaries.
1.5 / 5 (2) Mar 14, 2010
High school and college students who understand the geological age of the Earth
Isn't that a bit thick? I mean, I can believe the Earth is so-and-so old, but to claim that one UNDERSTANDS this age, is a bit stretching it.

To be precise, I DO understand many of the physical manifestations of Newtonian physics, classical mechanics, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, some quantum mechanics, etc. But to claim that I [i]understand[/i] the age of the Eart would be stretching it.

Of course there should be a correlation between students' belief in that Earth is 4.5GY old and their "learnedness" about human evolution.

My problem is that these two notions shouldn't be considered as having a cause/effect relationship. They should rather be considered, at most, /predictive/. In other words, find one, and you may expect finding the other one too.
1 / 5 (2) Mar 15, 2010
"That's just not acceptable. The Constitution prohibits teaching creationism in schools."

Ignorant professors like Sehoya Cotner, pretty much sum up the value of the government run education system in the United States these days. I'd like to see the Section and Article in the Constitution that provides for this prohibition. The First Amendment provides for the Freedom of Religion. It is not a syllabus for science class.

It's amazing how frenzied the evolutionists get when their religion of chance gets challenged in the classroom. Instead of proving the worth of their hypothesis, they simply want to censor all alternative view points. Pathetic.

1 / 5 (2) Mar 15, 2010
my main concern with religious teachings are those which are uncompromising and which are unwilling to discard those beliefs...

Unlike the open-minded Darwin worshipers....
3 / 5 (2) Mar 15, 2010
Unlike the open-minded Darwin worshipers....

Oh yeah, you should see my shrine at home! I have all sorts of finches, carefully preserved and all humping a voodoo figurine of Darwin while he carefully burns a cross. It is the awesome!
2 / 5 (1) Mar 15, 2010
If by some miracle we are visited by god or some other completely incontrovertible evidence assured there is a god, it will also be apparent immediately that everything that we understand to be true or possible through scientific methods will also be confirmed as being the design of the creator as well. It is the most damaging of things that a religion must be the center/source of that knowledge, for if it were truly open minded, it would embrace the fact that science too was intended to be known by us.
5 / 5 (1) Mar 20, 2010
It's amazing how frenzied the evolutionists get when their religion of chance gets challenged in the classroom. Instead of proving the worth of their hypothesis, they simply want to censor all alternative view points. Pathetic.

Pot Kettle Black?
1 / 5 (3) Apr 10, 2010
Evolution is religious dogma, and should not be taught in public schools. Since there is absolutely no, nada, 0, zippo, proof for it. Variation within a kind happens, but this "Micro" evolution is a completely different subject. Trying to extrapolate the formation of
one cell to man using a theory called "Evolution",
is nothing more than a rediculous religion.
1 / 5 (3) Apr 10, 2010
"The Constitution prohibits teaching creationism in schools." What a rediculous interpretation of the constitution. See this article http://www.wallbu...?id=123.
5 / 5 (2) Apr 10, 2010
Evolution is religious dogma, and should not be taught in public schools. Since there is absolutely no, nada, 0, zippo, proof for it.

"I can give you several examples of new species that have emerged within human observation. The best example that I can give you is the butterfly, the genus of butterfly known as Hedylypta. Hedylypta is a genus of butterfly that feeds on various plants. It's endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, which means it's only found there. And there turn out to be two species of Hedylypta with mouthparts that only allow them -- only allow them to feed on bananas. Now why is that significant? It is significant because bananas are not native to the Hawaiian Islands. They were introduced about 1,000 years ago by the Polynesians -- we know this from the written records of the Hawaiian Kingdom -- and what that means is that by mutation and natural selection, these two species have emerged on the Hawaiian Islands within the last 1,000 years.

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