Saturday, February 18, 2017
Exhibit Hall (Hynes Convention Center)
Elizabeth Barnes, Arizona State University, tempe, AZ
Evolution is simultaneously one of the most important theories in biology and one of the most controversial in society. Even among students in college biology classes, rates of rejection can reach up to sixty percent. Research shows that the source of rejection of evolution most often stems from an interplay of students’ misconceptions about evolution and their perceptions that evolution and religion are in conflict. While there is a wealth of research illustrating how to provide instruction on student misconceptions about evolution, there is very little experimental research that explores how to reduce students’ perceptions that evolution is in conflict with religious beliefs. In this study, we designed a two-week module on evolution aimed at both increasing college biology student knowledge of evolution and reducing students’ perceived conflict between evolution and religion. Our instructional module included (1) acknowledging that there is a spectrum of viewpoints about the compatibility of religion and evolution, (2) explicit discussion about the realm of science and the realm of religion, using Stephen J. Gould’s “Nonoverlapping Magesteria” framework and (3) examples of religious biologists who accept evolution. Using an open ended survey, we analyzed students’ perceptions of conflict between evolution and religion before and after our two-week module. We categorized students’ perceptions before and after the module as “in conflict” or “compatible” and then documented changes from pre to post module. We found that students’ perceptions that evolution and religion are in conflict were reduced by half. Surprisingly, we saw this reduction among both religious and non-religious students. This study suggests that by incorporating explicit discussion of the conflict between religion and science we may be able to ameliorate students’ perceived conflict and thus improve student attitudes towards evolution.