Exploring evolution acceptance for better science education

November 14, 2017

Understanding the nature of science is the greatest predictor of evolution acceptance in college students, a new study finds. With a minority of American adults fully accepting evolution, the fundamental principle of biological science, this research provides guidance for educators to improve science literacy.

"Asking why it is critical that students accept is almost like asking why it is critical that students understand biology," says Ryan Dunk, biology Ph.D. candidate in the College of Arts and Sciences and the paper's lead author. Evolution's many applications include understanding human disease and impacts of climate change, he explains.

The research was published online on July 17, 2017, in the open-access journal Evolution: Education & Outreach. SpringerOpen also published Dunk's invited blog post on the findings on Sept. 11, 2017.

Dunk surveyed introductory anatomy and physiology students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) with co-author Benjamin Campbell, UWM associate professor of anthropology. Andrew Petto, UWM distinguished lecturer of biology, and Jason Wiles, Syracuse associate professor of biology, join as co-authors.

In this study, Dunk and colleagues used statistical models to pinpoint how an individual's understanding of science, knowledge of evolution, personality traits, religiosity and demographic traits predict student acceptance of evolution.

While previous research looked for single traits predicting evolution acceptance, Dunk combined all of the above variables into one comprehensive model. Unlike previous "one variable" models, this comprehensive approach enabled Dunk to see which variables are more important relative to each other.

"We were able to look at interactions that are actually going on in people—every individual has a level of knowledge of evolution, a level of their knowledge of nature of science, a level of religiosity, and so on," Dunk says.

In this study, evolution acceptance was determined by student responses to a commonly used questionnaire called Measure of the Acceptance of the Theory of Evolution (MATE.) The MATE asks questions about the age of the Earth, how organisms have changed over time, how and if humans have changed over time and whether evolutionary theory is supported by historical and laboratory data.

The greatest predictor of evolution acceptance was greater understanding of the nature of science, which includes recognizing the types of questions science can answer and how the scientific method is used to test hypotheses. Intrinsic religiosity, the extent to which an individual relies on religion for decision and opinion making, was also an important factor, but to a lesser extent.

Dunk explains that the study's results go against the old strategy of "teach evolution better" to increase acceptance: "We know we don't just need to teach them the facts better, because we have been working on evolution curriculum reforms for decades that have moved the needle very little on wide-scale acceptance."

Additionally, the authors don't see religion as a roadblock to fostering evolution acceptance. "Many religious leaders have made peace with evolution," Wiles notes, referring to resources like the Clergy Letter Project and Voices for Evolution. Prior research from the Wiles lab found that students who had become more accepting of evolution had not become any less religiously active. Wiles explains, "It may be that as students learn more about how works, they rely more on scientific explanations for natural phenomena, but that doesn't mean they must abandon religion in the process."

Dunk, who recently received a $2,492 Rosemary Grant Award (RGA) for Graduate Student Research from the Society for the Study of Evolution, will continue exploring evolution acceptance with his Ph.D. advisor, Wiles. In addition to tracking evolution acceptance across Syracuse undergraduates over two years, the RGA will fund focus groups and individual interviews with select participants.

"All the people we survey are currently students. But they're going to be educated members of the general public," Dunk says. "Our work aims to help them have an appreciation for scientific inquiry and nature itself."

Explore further: Improve evolution education by teaching genetics first

More information: Ryan D. P. Dunk et al. A multifactorial analysis of acceptance of evolution, Evolution: Education and Outreach (2017). DOI: 10.1186/s12052-017-0068-0

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11 comments

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julianpenrod
1.3 / 5 (4) Nov 14, 2017
More doggerel.
Among other things, you can understand disease and affects of "climate change" without "evolution". Peasants who didn't accept "evolution", for example, pioneered the process of inoculation.
And "evolution", in its real sense of speciation, note, has never been seen. No species was ever seen to turn into another. In fact, the idea is at least all but absolutely implausible. A new species is one that can't even mate with its own parents. If a member of a new species is born, supposedly randomly, where will it find another to mate with to produce offspring?
julianpenrod
1.3 / 5 (4) Nov 14, 2017
For that matter, though, "evolution" as a combining of traits that provide a "survival advantage" is at least all but untenable. Mutations tend to be small. It seems unlikely several changes that will facilitate each other's presence in the creature will occur randomly at once. As a result, mutations are necessarily small, which means they cannot really provide a "survival advantage". And, if the creature survived, there is no guarantee the mutation will be passed down. And it's not likely something that randomly supports the first mutation will follow in the next generation. The first of a string of mutations could be quickly lost.
And, since speciation has never been seen to occur, that means that accepting "evolution" represents not so much an understanding of "science", but, rather, just the mindless embracing of what individuals dressed in white lab coats order you to believe.
rustolio
5 / 5 (7) Nov 14, 2017

And "evolution", in its real sense of speciation, note, has never been seen. No species was ever seen to turn into another. In fact, the idea is at least all but absolutely implausible. A new species is one that can't even mate with its own parents. If a member of a new species is born, supposedly randomly, where will it find another to mate with to produce offspring?


I don't think you understand speciation. New species aren't created in a single generation. New species arise when small populations are isolated. The mutation rate stays the same, but for a small population, each mutation has a bigger effect than what it would on a large population. Over many generations, characteristics change until the individuals in that population can't mate with the original species.

In other words, individuals don't evolve, populations evolve.
RobertKarlStonjek
5 / 5 (4) Nov 14, 2017
It should be noted that the USA is alone among modern Western Countries (first World Countries) in placing fantasy religious beliefs above science having only half as many as European, Japanese and Australian understanding basic evolutionary science.

A full chart showing the degree of acceptance of the basic science of evolution can be found here (Wikipedia)

https://en.wikipe...volution
greenonions1
5 / 5 (2) Nov 15, 2017
rustolio
In other words, individuals don't evolve, populations evolve.
I have a very superficial - lay persons understanding of evolution - but I understand that your explanation is the general scientific explanation. Berkley does a nice clear job of explaining. https://evolution...e/evo_42
juliapenrod is one of many - who troll boards like physorg - despite even the most basic awareness of their own lack of knowledge of subject matter. Penrod really makes the point in today's article for us.
Vintagedude
1 / 5 (3) Nov 15, 2017
Evolution has serious problem that are impossible to overcome. First is Abiogenesis (life from non-life). How do inanimate elements come together to form the proteins needed for life? Second and probably the most damaging problem is Information. Where did all the information in DNA come from? Information ONLY comes from intelligence. Thirdly is Genetic-Entropy. Even if a reproducing cell suddenly popped into existence mutations would cause extinction long before any new species was formed.
greenonions1
5 / 5 (2) Nov 15, 2017
Vinta - maybe you could look at my comment regarding trolls like penrod - who do not have the most basic awareness of their own lack of knowledge of the subject matter.

From the link I am supplying
The origin of life is certainly an interesting topic, but it is not a part of evolutionary theory
https://www.thoug...n-249875

On your point about information - if you understood anything about evolution - you would know that it explains the process of more order coming out of less order. Here - a read for you - https://www.newsc...rmation/
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (2) Nov 15, 2017
So basically it's not a matter of whether people understand biology or evolution; it's simpler than that, it's whether they understand how science works.

Religiosity isn't the problem either, though it's *a* problem. The most serious problem is, people who deny evolution simply don't understand how science works. This is what we need to teach, not more biology, more evolution theory, nor do we need to deny religion. This is an interesting result, with implications for why people don't "get" evolution.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (2) Nov 15, 2017
Evolution has serious problem that are impossible to overcome. First is Abiogenesis (life from non-life). How do inanimate elements come together to form the proteins needed for life?
This is not a problem for evolution. Evolution isn't biogenesis of any kind. Once genes exist, then they evolve; creating them from scratch is not a question evolution answers.

Second and probably the most damaging problem is Information. Where did all the information in DNA come from? Information ONLY comes from intelligence.
This is factually incorrect. Random data is information. We use it for encryption keys. Think about it.

Thirdly is Genetic-Entropy. Even if a reproducing cell suddenly popped into existence mutations would cause extinction long before any new species was formed.
This is also incorrect. Molecular biology shows that there are error-correcting algorithms, and there are large numbers of failed pregnancies due to genetic defects. Links available.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (2) Nov 15, 2017
What constantly amazes me is that people who understand breeding animals- which is evolution by human selection- don't understand that the environment applies selection pressures just the same way that humans apply selection pressures when breeding animals. If a particular animal dies before breeding due to not being able to cope with its environment, where is the substantive difference between that and human culling, whether by killing or neutering? And where is the substantive difference between an environmental pressure created naturally, and an environmental pressure created by human selection?

Anyone who breeds animals believes in evolution; they wouldn't bother breeding them if they didn't, because if you can't change traits, you can't breed, and if you can change traits then you've proven evolution. It really is as simple as that.
leetennant
5 / 5 (2) Nov 15, 2017
What constantly amazes me is that people who understand breeding animals- which is evolution by human selection- don't understand that the environment applies selection pressures just the same way that humans apply selection pressures when breeding animals. If a particular animal dies before breeding due to not being able to cope with its environment, where is the substantive difference between that and human culling, whether by killing or neutering? And where is the substantive difference between an environmental pressure created naturally, and an environmental pressure created by human selection?

Anyone who breeds animals believes in evolution; they wouldn't bother breeding them if they didn't, because if you can't change traits, you can't breed, and if you can change traits then you've proven evolution. It really is as simple as that.


Evolution is demonstrated by the annual flu season.

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