Battle for the Classroom

on May 16, 2009
Featured in News to Know

The conclusion may seem obvious, but it now has statistical support: high school teaching influences acceptance of evolution.

Researchers completed a survey of one thousand students taking introductory biology classes at the University of Minnesota. The primary goal of the study, named “Measure of Acceptance of the Theory of Evolution,” was to compare the creation/evolution attitudes of biology majors versus those of nonmajors.

The (perhaps surprising) result? The two groups’ views were similar, with a significant difference between majors’ and nonmajors’ answers on only 3 of the survey’s 20 questions.

More interesting was the connection between what students were exposed to in high school and their attitudes toward creation and evolution. Regarding what their high school biology class covered, the respondents indicated:

  • ~66% were exposed to only evolution
  • 6–13% were exposed to neither creation nor evolution
  • 21–29% were exposed to both creation and evolution
  • 1–2% were exposed to only creation

But how does this relate to acceptance of evolution? The survey discovered:

  • Among those exposed to evolution only, 72–78% agreed that evolution is scientifically valid.
  • Among those exposed to creation (solely or along with evolution), 57–59% agreed that evolution is scientifically valid.

Of course, those results are in line with what one might expect, considering the influence teachers have on what information and views students absorb.

“It’s unfortunate that so many teachers think their religious beliefs are science. Teachers who don’t teach evolution deny students the understanding of one of the greatest principles in history,” commented lead study author Randy Moore, a professor of biology at the university. Yet Moore seems to be ignoring the fact that only 1 to 2 percent of students reported not encountering evolution—in other words, 98 to 99 percent of the teachers of those surveyed are teaching evolution. The issue, then, is not whether evolution is taught, but whether it is taught exclusively. When students learn both sides of the debate they are less likely to swallow the evolutionary story whole.

Biology professor Sehoya Cotner added:

I was shocked that there weren’t bigger differences between majors and nonmajors. Evolution is the foundation of the entire discipline. It leads me to believe that these students are probably interested in biology for reasons besides gaining a full understanding and appreciation of the science.

Given Cotner’s presupposition—that evolution is the foundation of biology—no wonder she can’t see how a creationist would want a full understanding and appreciation of biology.

Unsurprisingly, the researchers are using this as an evolutionary rallying cry. PhysOrg reports, “The authors are interested in working with high school biology teachers . . . to improve their understanding of evolution and develop best practices for covering sensitive topics such as human evolution and life’s origins.” In other words, they will try to increase the preaching of evolutionary dogma—to the exclusion of all else.

When children aren’t taught biblical truth, and when their real questions don’t receive real answers, it’s a quick route to faithlessness. It’s not just an issue of public schooling; in his latest book, Ken Ham reveals the startling connection between Sunday school teaching and anti-biblical attitudes. (Visit the Answers Bookstore to learn more about Already Gone, coming out later this month.)

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