, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 139-162
Date: 06 Mar 2012

Educators of Prospective Teachers Hesitate to Embrace Evolution Due to Deficient Understanding of Science/Evolution and High Religiosity

Abstract

Acceptance of evolution by educators of prospective teachers remains superficially studied despite their role in having mentored schoolteachers whose weak support of evolution is known. Here, we contrast the views of New England educators of prospective teachers (n = 62; 87% Ph.D./doctorate holders in 32 specializations) with those of the general faculty (n = 244; 93% Ph.D./doctorate holders in 40 disciplines), both members of 35 colleges and universities, and with college students (n = 827; subsample of the 35 institutions) who were polled on: (1) the controversy evolution vs. creationism vs. intelligent design (ID), (2) their understanding of how science/evolution works, and (3) their religiosity. The educators held intermediate positions in respect to the general faculty and the students: 94% of the general faculty, 75% of the educators, and 63% of the students said they accepted evolution openly; and 82% of the general faculty, 71% of the educators, and 58% of the students thought that evolution is definitely true. Only 3% of the general faculty in comparison to 19% of the educators and 24% of the students thought that evolution and creationism are in harmony. Although 93% of the general faculty, educators, and students knew that evolution relies on common ancestry, 26% of the general faculty, 45% of the educators, and 35% of the students did not know that humans are apes. Remarkably, 15% of the general faculty, 32% of the educators, and 35% of the students believed, incorrectly, that the origin of the human mind cannot be explained by evolution; and 30% of the general faculty, 59% of the educators, and 75% of the students were Lamarckian (=believed in inheritance of acquired traits). For science education: 96% of the general faculty, 86% of the educators, and 71% of the students supported the exclusive teaching of evolution, while 4% of the general faculty, 14% of the educators, and 29% of the students favored equal time to evolution, creationism and ID; note that 92% of the general faculty, 82% of the educators, and 50% of the students perceived ID as either not scientific and proposed to counter evolution based on false claims or as religious doctrine consistent with creationism. The general faculty was the most knowledgeable about science/evolution and the least religious (science index, SI = 2.49; evolution index, EI = 2.49; and religiosity index, RI = 0.49); the educators reached lower science/evolution but higher religiosity indexes than the general faculty (SI = 1.96, EI = 1.96, and RI = 0.83); and the students were the least knowledgeable about science/evolution and the most religious (SI = 1.80, EI = 1.60, and RI = 0.89). Understanding of science and evolution were inversely correlated with level of religiosity, and understanding of evolution increased with increasing science literacy. Interestingly, ≈36% of the general faculty, educators and students considered religion to be very important in their lives, and 17% of the general faculty, 34% of the educators, and 28% of the students said they prayed daily. Assessing the perception of evolution by educators of prospective teachers vs. the general faculty and the students of New England, one of the historically most progressive regions in the U.S., is crucial for determining the magnitude of the impact of creationism and ID on attitudes toward science, reason, and education in science.