Meeting Abstract

S4-1.1  Friday, Jan. 4  Teaching Evolution: Evolving Student Attitudes LOVELY, Eric C.; Arkansas Tech University

Teaching college students about the nature of science should not be a controversial exercise. College students are expected to understand the difference between science and pseudoscience. They are expected to accept astronomy as science, and astrology as mysticism. Likewise, to accepted evolution as a scientific theory, and creationism as a religious belief. In practice they are unlikely to walk out of physical science course if the instructor discusses the evidence supporting the existence of black holes. In fact they are fascinated with the discussion of these yet unproven singularities in space and time. However, the conflict between creationism and the nature of science is apt to create friction in the classroom when the subject of evolution is raised. Students have been known to stage walkouts from classrooms in protest of the topic being discussed. The author has grappled with the meaning of such behaviors. This study surveyed more than 300 students in a small, public, liberal arts college in the Mid-South. Pre-course survey questions were designed to determine: a) what portion of the students held a creationist view; b) how well informed the students were about the theory of evolution; and c) whether or not there was a correlation between the level of understanding of the theory of evolution and the expression of a creationist position. An identical post-course survey was used to determine if there was any significant shift in position before and after a semester of instruction in a college biology course in which evolution was taught. The results reveal that students have diverse opinions and understanding of evolution. Student attitudes do evolve when taking a semester course with evolutionary themes. Students who are initially in a transitional stage of intellectual development undergo the greatest move away from a creationist view. Many more students are willing to accept evolution of plants and non-human animals than those who accept human evolution.