Home > Anti-evolution > Creationist belief at ASU

Creationist belief at ASU

February 5, 2010

I did a relatively unscientific poll among my Origins, Evolution & Creation class the other day, asking them (through a written assignment) to accept one of the three “standard” poll positions about human evolution: recent creation of humans, God-guided evolution, or naturalistic evolution. You may remember that the national support for these positions runs at about 47, 38 & 15 percent and that these figures have stayed fairly constant over the past thirty years.

The proportion of self-identified young earth creationists in the class was 6% whether one looked at the class as a whole, science majors, biology majors or non science majors. That’s noticeably less than the 47% national number. While education is (hopefully) playing a part in this, I think there might also be a slight under-reporting due to the question being asked in a classroom environment (a similar online poll last year in the same class gave an 11% YEC group although that poll didn’t ask explicitly about human evolution). I find it interesting that there appears to be no effect of major on whether one was a YEC or not. Looking at that 6%, many explicitly stated that they adopted that position in the face of the scientific evidence precisely because they felt their religious belief required them to. I wasn’t able to find any respondent who rejected human evolution because of evidential reasons.

Among science majors, 69% were naturalistic evolutionists and 25% held to god-guided evolution. There was no difference between biology and non-biology majors. I find this interesting as I would have, perhaps naively, expected biology majors to perhaps accept evolution at a higher rate.

When one looks at the non-science majors, the pattern changes significantly. Only 38% of this group hold to naturalistic evolution while 56% believe in god-guided evolution. Make of this what you will.

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  1. Cera
    February 5, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    This is very interesting. I suppose that what one is to make of this is simply that acceptance of evolution is, at least for some students, inextricably tied up in their religious beliefs, and may have very little to do with those students’ scientific literacy or their functional skills in science. I’m not sure *what* to make of that, though, or what to *do* with it once I’ve made something of it.

    Honestly, it’s still just hard for me to accept that there’d be any science majors who ascribe to young earth creationism, though I know it happens. I even graduated with a fellow Biology and Society student who did not “believe in evolution,” and she did attempt to dismantle the scientific evidence on class discussion boards. But she took and passed Organic Evolution. So…

    Incidentally, 11 US states include the history of the development of the theory of natural selection in their state high school standards, and 9 include the history of the development of the Big Bang Theory. That’s apart from their standards about general history and nature of science.

  2. February 5, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    I should add that in the late 1990’s I ran a similar poll every year and got a YEC acceptance in the 8-10% range as well. In that poll, I actually also found that biology majors were no more likely to define evolution (or natural selection) correctly than non-science majors when given a set of choices.

    My feeling is that the bio majors who reject human evolution are students who are possibly taking biology so as to get into medical or dental school and thus, while they can regurgitate statements about evolution so as to pass classes, do not actually hold those statements to be true in any meaningful way.

  3. Doc Bill
    February 5, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    I think it’s a matter of thinking it through and most people don’t take the time or are not interested.

    When I was in college in the 70’s (at NAU!) I had fellow biology/chemistry major friends who understood evolution and could discuss it, answer questions, and so forth, but who would also expound on how God created the universe and somehow set things in motion. They were raised with a religion and for whatever reason dragged it along, even if it didn’t make sense. Socially it was easier, I guess.

    As I moved through grad school, though, basically nobody cared. Religion was never discussed, or if so only marginally. I had an atheist friend who took Bible study classes. Why? He found it interesting and loved to argue. Go figure.

    I never had a poll on religion at NAU. The administration was too concerned about who was smoking pot!

  4. February 5, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    I think you have a point John, when you mention pre-med, dental, vet students. Unfortunately many (most?) such students see classes and exams as hoops to jump through to become a doctor, and are not always interested in really learning something. Several of my classmates who went through 4 years at NAU and got BS-Zoology degrees, then 4 years of veterinary school in Colorado, still do not understand science and are now practicing some blatant woo in addition to the science based medicine we learned in school in the late 80’s. It does not help that CSU now teaches acupuncture and gives tacit approval to other forms of woo, but these people were in the same classes with the same professors I had, and should understand evolution, and other basic ideas about science.

  5. Seamus
    February 5, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    I think it is very interesting, that so many people have this intellectual base layer of indoctrinated ideology that can so often trump subsequent education.

    But does our modern education system really teach critical thinking? (and does our society value it, beyond applying it to get rich?)
    Education as a means to an end rather than an end in itself…

    A friend of mine once said to me, quite genuinely: “I want my son to believe what I believe, because I believe I’m right” He wasn’t being pigheaded, just pointing out the reality. Theres a lot of social conditioning to overcome, and to paraphrase and maybe take liberties with Decartes, theres a big difference between the abstract possibility and capability of ‘I think’, and the active deliberate process associated with ‘I am thinking’.

    So even though the figures in the US provide depressing reading because of the clarity that the fundamentalists have about their views, I wouldnt be sure that many ‘advocates’ of naturalistic evolution you might find in somewhere like Ireland would fully appreciate what that view actually entails.

    It is also interesting about the biology majors being similar to general science majors, but as someone who never studied much biology in my youth, I always accepted naturalistic evolution as a central pillar of science, without really understanding the core science to any great extent.

  6. Wes
    February 6, 2010 at 10:14 am

    The proportion of self-identified young earth creationists in the class was 6% whether one looked at the class as a whole, science majors, biology majors or non science majors. That’s noticeably less than the 47% national number. While education is (hopefully) playing a part in this, I think there might also be a slight under-reporting due to the question being asked in a classroom environment (a similar online poll last year in the same class gave an 11% YEC group although that poll didn’t ask explicitly about human evolution).

    I think it’s a good bet that education plays a role in the difference. College takes students out of the home environment they knew all their lives and opens them up to new ideas. I included a segment on evolution in the philosophy classes I taught in the fundamentalist ground zero of Oklahoma. I never polled my classes, but I remember once getting an email from a girl saying that when she first heard we would be talking about evolution, she was actually scared. But by the end of the class she realized evolution wasn’t evil. It was probably the first exposure she’d had to the theory that didn’t amount to “Evolution is the devil’s lies.”

    The fundamentalist mindset depends pretty heavily on controlling what kinds of ideas a person has access to. Just putting people in an environment where there are more novel ideas flowing in starts the erosion process.

  7. Marilyn
    February 7, 2010 at 7:23 am

    Is evolution what we become when we’ve reached a goal, therefore the goal we aim for determins the evolution we become. Jesus was physically of the same species as we are today. Garden of Eden is where we came from – An ideal- are we yet the sort of creature that would be worthy of the Garden of Eden. Jesus said “I am the way the truth and the life” John ch 4 vs 6. He wanted us to be as He is so we would be with Him and like his nature and one with the Farther. 1 Corinthians ch 13

  8. Wes
    February 9, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    Fucking hell. Marilyn has migrated from trolling Coyne’s blog to trolling Lynch’s blog.

  9. Wendy2525
    February 11, 2010 at 9:32 am

    Thank you for providing us with this insight into evolution discussions and a platform to air comments. I am not very knowledgeable about the subject. I would like to say that when discussions are taking place about evolution in the process, are these things also taken into concideration. Survival by healing in one way or another. Immunisation, there must be a build up of generations by now of people who have been vacinated against the flu virus and other illnesses. Also to remember the reasons why genetically modified food is not concidered a good way forward. And that insectasides will have also stopped cirtain mutations, and the reasons for organic firtalizer.

  10. Marilyn
    February 14, 2010 at 9:46 am

    I’ve never heard of Coyne let alone troll him whatever that means.

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