The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Among Students Who Don’t Understand Evolution

Many people assume that understanding evolution and accepting evolution are two sides of the same coin: that understanding leads to acceptance, and that those who reject evolution must not understand the central claims and evidence. In fact, research in education and cognitive psychology fails to support a strong relationship between understanding and accepting evolution. In most studies, there is a small or nonsignificant correlation between students’ performance on tests designed to assess understanding and their responses to questions about the origins of human and nonhuman life. Some students who accept evolution don’t actually understand it, and some who reject evolution do have adequate understanding.

Failing to find a sizable correlation between understanding and acceptance is potentially surprising, but it’s not unique to evolution. I accept many scientific theories that I understand only superficially, among them most theories in contemporary physics. I accept them not because I think my superficial understanding is sufficient to assess their merits, but because I understand the scientific process that generated them and I know it to be reliable and self-correcting. In fact, while understanding evolution has a very low correlation with accepting evolution, recent evidence from my lab suggests that understanding the nature of science is related to accepting evolution.

Among students who don’t understand evolution—whether or not they accept it—misconceptions are very systematic. In other words, students who misunderstand evolution tend to misunderstand it in the same ways. They tend to believe that favorable genetic mutations arise in response to the needs of individual organisms, not that existing genetic variation in a population leads to changes in the distribution of gene frequencies in the next generation. They take the design in “apparent design” at face value and assume that natural selection acts like a designer, planning and optimizing in advance. Given this typical pattern of misconceptions, teachers can focus their efforts on trying to get students to understand the aspects of evolution that are most commonly misunderstood.

For students who reject evolution—whether or not they understand it—evolution instruction is unlikely to lead to acceptance. Resistance to evolution education often stems from a concern that exposing students to evolution will have a radical impact on their religious beliefs, but the data call this into question. Students’ religious convictions are unlikely to change in response to the kind of evolution instruction in most textbooks and classrooms. Most states’ science standards aim for scientific literacy, and that is what’s essential.


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