Better knowledge of evolution leads to greater acceptance of the concept

February 7, 2018, University of Pennsylvania

Prevailing theories about evolution state that belief in the concept is tied only to a person's politics, religion or both. But according to new research out of the University of Pennsylvania published in BioScience, the journal of the American Institute of Biology, whether Americans accept or reject the subject also depends on how well they understand it.

"We find the traditional relationship between your and evolution, and between your political beliefs and evolution, but we also find that those are not the only factors that matter," said Deena Weisberg, a senior fellow in Penn's psychology department in the School of Arts and Sciences. "They do matter, but if you know more about evolutionary theory, if you understand it better, you're more likely to accept it."

That's positive news for educators, said Michael Weisberg, professor and chair of Penn's philosophy department, also in the School of Arts and Sciences. "For controversial topics—evolution, climate change, vaccines—no doubt the controversy is explained in relation to a person's identity. But actual knowledge of the science seems to play a role, and we've documented that here for evolution for the first time in a representative population."

Previous work in this realm typically asked black-and-white questions with just two answer options or tested a non-representative sample such as a group of recruited high-school students. The Penn team thought that nuance would be important in this conversation, so they created a survey about evolutionary concepts like variation and natural selection using carefully selected language.

To measure participants' knowledge about evolution, for example, the researchers employed a National Science Foundation technique that starts questions with phrasing like "according to scientists" or "scientists would think." This, in theory, allows participants to answer based on what they know about a subject rather than what they believe about it.

Then, to assess survey-takers' acceptance of evolution, they asked questions with choices along a spectrum, with one end geared toward creationism, the other toward evolution and several middle-ground alternatives. For instance, a question about the origin of plants and animals stated that they were created by God in their current form; that they developed through natural processes guided by God; that they developed through natural processes set up by God but then continued on their own; or that they developed entirely through natural processes.

"In measuring knowledge of evolution, we tried to offer scenarios. 'There is a population of fish that can eat minnow. The minnows move really fast and are hard to catch. In the next generation, what kind of fish who eat these minnows are more likely to survive?'" said D. Weisberg. "In designing these questionnaires, we think about what sort of assumptions people are going to make, what they're going to be thinking that we may not want them to think about. A lot of the work has been in trying to refine our question-asking methods to get around some of these issues."

M. Weisberg and D. Weisberg then contracted with an organization called YouGov, which runs online surveys. The group polled a sample of 1,100 people demographically representative of the United States, weighted to ensure as close a match as possible. The survey revealed that 26 percent of participants held creationist views, compared to 32 percent who believed in evolution. In addition, 68 percent "failed" the researchers' questionnaire about , meaning they demonstrated low levels of comprehension about the subject.

With these two data points in hand, the Penn team tested whether a relationship existed between knowledge and acceptance of evolution. Incorporating in religious beliefs and political leaning, they found statistically significant evidence that how well a participant understood evolution predicted that person's acceptance of it.

"When we talked to people about what they did or didn't accept about evolution, there was such a gigantic range of views," said M. Weisberg. "The crux of this research is that even once you factor in religious and political ideology, some of the variance is explained by knowledge level."

Wording and phraseology also matter greatly, added D. Weisberg.

"It really depends on how you ask the question," she said. "When we put in more options and ask about plants and animals as opposed to humans, we get a very different response from what is commonly reported. It's not particularly surprising but it's good to know, as a consumer of science. You need to look carefully at what people are asking."

The researchers just completed analysis on a second wave of data from the survey. They're also looking into which interventions and media might be most effective in improving education about .

"We're going to get some more nuanced results," said D. Weisberg. "We are by no means done with this investigation."

Explore further: Evolution acceptance in children linked to aptitude, not belief

More information: BioScience (2017). DOI: 10.1093/biosci/bix161

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julianpenrod
not rated yet Feb 07, 2018
Among other things, a major reason many don't trust "evolution" is the idea of individuals calling themselves "scientists" high hatting it over everyone else and proceeding to demean the nature of humans.
In fact, there is no such thing as "climate change". Climate is the eigenstate of the collection of interactive influences like land, oceans, the atmosphere, solar radiation, life. Only the air is changing and that is being done by chemtrails. In fact, there are climatologists who don't see signs indicative of climate alteration. The "scientists", note, say they must be wrong because there's only a few of them. They ignore that, for example, Copernicus said the planets orbited the sun while everyone else disagreed, but "science" declares him right now.
With respect to vaccines, note that "science's" "proof" vaccines are "safe" is that they used to be made well, "therefore", they be being made well now!
aedgeworth
not rated yet Feb 07, 2018
Actually a group of over 19,000 climatologists say they have scientific proof that all global warming and cooling is directly related to solar activity. The idea that the more a person knows about evolution, the more likely they are to accept it, is interesting considering the list of hundreds of scientists with advanced degrees from accredited universities that have signed the Dissent from Darwinism list. A person's acceptance or rejection of Darwinism is directly related to the pre-existing philosophical worldview of the individuals who taught them, and how persuasive they were. What were the philosophical worldview beliefs of those who designed the above study? You can arrange the data to say whatever you want it to. They may not have even realized they were being influenced; or perhaps they were.

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