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Evolution Debate in Washington (12/05/05)

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A paper published in the November issue of Bioscience suggests that teaching evolution and intelligent design in college-level biology classes may be effective in helping students differentiate science from non-science. In 2003, 103 freshman biology majors at Central Washington University were divided into four sections. Two sections were taught about the arguments for evolution and intelligent design (ID) while two other sections were only taught about the arguments for evolution. At the end of the semester, 66 students completed a questionnaire about their beliefs before and after the course. Six belief choices were given on the questionnaire, ranging from biblical literalism to atheistic evolutionism. The results indicated that 61% of students exposed to evolution and ID changed their beliefs compared to only 21% of students exposed only to evolution. The majority of the 61% shifted toward evolution and away from ID.

According to biologist Steven Verhey, the study's author and teacher of 2 of the sections, the key is recognizing that nearly all American adults have been exposed to information about creationism and evolution. About 70% of Verhey's students said they had learned about creationism and evolution before entering the class. "Basic educational theory says you can't expect people to change their attitudes without acknowledging their prior learning," Verhey stated in a university press release. "Most of these students were initially sympathetic to creationist explanations and moved toward greater acceptance of evolution" he added.

An editorial, accompanying the study by Indiana University biologist Craig Nelson, did not endorse trying to teach evolution and ID at the high school level because teachers are not trained to teach the differences. In fact, one potential flaw in this study is that Steven Verhey taught the two sections that included evolution and ID while another biology professor taught the other two sections. Differences in teaching style may have contributed to the different results among the groups, although the biologists tried to control for this factor. Nelson concludes that effective teaching is the key to eliminating confusion about science and evolution.

The full text of the editorial is available here.

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Sources: Bioscience.

Background section includes material from AGI's Update on State Challenges to the Teaching of Evolution for the 106th Congress.

Contributed by Linda Rowan, AGI Government Affairs Program.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated on December 5, 2005