Term Paper: Evolution and Creationism

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[. . .] It has been concluded, as a result, that belief in evolution affects the actions of children just as much as they affect an elder's. Erratic behavior in students is usually attributed to such beliefs especially when in absence of an absolute code of ethics; they choose to take a human life. The Kansas State Board of Education prohibited any reference to evolution from being made in state education (Ayala, 1995). The growing concern that surrounds the belief in evolution and the consequent actions has resulted in issuing disclaimer in Biology textbooks by the publishing companies which states that evolution is a "controversial theory that some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things such as plants, animals, and humans." This is done in order to avoid any responsibility for students' actions that may result from their belief in evolution. However such disclaimers create problems for Biology teachers. They believe that even before a class begins, students are led to believe that perhaps evolution is an immoral concept which is not accepted by a significant number of scientists as well (Dawkins, 1997). This makes it impossible for teachers to teach biology where students can study evolution in the scientific context. Such disclaimer, as teachers complain, are defining the word "theory" in laymen's terms, not scientifically, and evolution is described as "random" and "undirected." Teachers complain that students enter biology class with established misconceptions about evolution as it is where such disclaimers only serve to reinforce their misconceptions before evolution is allowed to be taught in a scientific context.

These misconceptions regarding evolution stem from various reasons, primarily from religious views. Children belonging to religious households are already grounded in the immorality of the evolutionary theory. As a result teachers avoid discussing the evolutionary theory in detail though it is necessary to cause a conceptual change for the study of evolution to be in its proper perspective. Not only do teachers avoid such a discussion on the grounds of conflicting nature of evolutionary theory but also for fear that parents of those students might come to school complaining their children are being taught immoral stuff. Therefore teachers themselves are forced not to teach evolutionary theory in its proper context in order to avoid confrontation with the students' parents. However this is major cause of concern among teachers and school administration alike since they believe that evolution "provides a unifying framework within which many diverse facts are integrated and explained" and therefore evolutionary theory must be allowed to be taught in its proper scientific context.

Although the concept of evolution has been existing for centuries, it was not accepted by scientists until Darwin came up with his theory of evolution with the mechanism of natural selection. Rudolph and Stewart point out that there are substantial similarities between the concepts held by children and historical scientific concepts. But they fear that there is no significant evidence to believe that students take the same route in understanding evolution as that of science. Teachers, therefore complain that students hold many misconceptions regarding role of natural selection in evolution which ought to be removed for progress in biological study. However this is not allowed for the fear of what a belief in evolutionary theory might lead children to. This is strongly opposed by teachers who feel that there are many misconceptions, both biological and moral regarding evolutionary theory.

Other than the scientific misconceptions in the theory regarding mutation and natural selection, there are visible clash between a student's religious theories and the evolutionary theory. As a result, though students do not argue against evolution, they do display nonverbal signs of anxiety and confusion. This is because students feel that evolution and religion stand at opposite ends, therefore evolution and religion cannot be accepted simultaneously. Moreover students do not want to and are rather opposed to the idea of modifying their personal views with respect to evolutionary theory. In order to avoid such a situation in classroom, teachers do not explain the evolutionary theory in an adequate manner but rather give a superficial overview of the topic.

In a study conducted by some scholars, the actual relationship between religious beliefs of students and their acceptance of evolutionary theory was determined. Students were given both a pre and post survey. The students who felt there were no conflict between their religious beliefs and evolutionary theory were determined to be at 12.5% through the pre-test. This number increased from 12.5% on the pre-test to 19.9% on the post-test. Moreover there was also a decrease from the pre-to post-test in the percentage of students who felt there was indeed a conflict between the two. Twenty-nine percent of students stated that evolutionary theory and their religious beliefs were at opposite ends, while 34.3% felt that there was some form of conflict between the two (Sinclair, 1997). The survey also contained the query: "Do you feel that a person can accept the validity of the theory of evolution and also believe in God?" A majority of seventy-four percent answered "yes" to this question on both the pre and post survey. Therefore it can be concluded that a large number of students accept the possibility of accommodating both theories into their belief system. However while agreeing that evolution and religion are not entirely contradictory, students appear to have problems accepting the possibility of human evolution. Therefore the study concluded that students' views of evolutionary theory are influenced by religious beliefs. This was concluded on the basis of the answers that students gave where those who rejected evolutionary theory cited opposing religious ideals as the basis (1997).

From the above study, it can be seen that most of the children would rather believe in religious values than the scientific evolutionary theory. Therefore it can be deduced that students getting affected because of a classroom belief in and study of evolutionary theory is rather unlikely. Moreover teachers are aware of these nonscientific beliefs which they do consider when they plan out instruction in evolution (Matthews, 2001). If the evolutionary theory is taught in its proper scientific context, it is difficult to deduce that students would display erratic behavior just by believing in evolutionary theory. This is evident from the responses that the students gave to the pre- and post-test survey where they stated that especially after a proper scientific study of evolutionary theory, they did not abandon their religious beliefs in favor of evolutionary theory because they though that there was a conflict, the two theories could co-exist. As a result, students who do believe in evolution are not at risk of getting influenced by it in a negative way. Moreover a majority of students rejected the evolutionary theory outright and therefore did not abandon religion in favor of evolution. This shows that there is a very low potential risk that students will firstly at all believe in evolutionary theory at the risk of religion and secondly even when they do believe in evolution, they do not abandon religion but tend to accommodate both. As a result, a classroom study of and a consequent belief in evolution does not strip students of their morality. In addition to this, scholars have been stressing on the idea of teaching creation stories along with the instruction in evolution. For instance, Matthews stressed upon the idea of teaching creation stories along with evolution in order to help students assimilate new ideas into their beliefs so that they this results in students holding clearer scientific views (2001). Therefore it can be deduced that students do not learn to be immoral in conduct or abandon ethics once they are instructed about the evolutionary theory. They must be abandoning ethics because of some other reason since they can accommodate both the religion and evolution within the classroom.

References

Ayala, F.J. 1995. The Difference of Being Human: Ethical Behavior as an Evolutionary Byproduct. In Biology, Ethics and the Origin of Life, ed. Rolston, H. III, pp. 113-135. Boston and London: Jones and Bartlett.

Blackmore, Vernon and Page, Andrew. 1989. Evolution: The Great Debate. Oxford: Lion Publishing.

Carter, Brandon. 1974. Large Number Coincidences and the Anthropic Principles in Cosmology. Confrontation of Cosmological Theories with Data. Reidel: Dordrecht.

Darwin, Francis. 1889. Life and Letters of Charles Darwin. London: D. Appleton

Dawkins, Richard.1989. The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Erickson, Millard J. 1992. Does It Matter What I Believe? Grand Rapids, MI: Baker

Gardner, Martin.1988. The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher.Buffalo, NY: Prometheus.

Kerkut, George A. 1960. The Implications of Evolution. London: Pergamon.

Matthews, D. 2001. Effect of Curriculum: Containing Creation Stories on Attitudes about Evolution. The American Biology Teacher. 63(6), 404-409

Sartre, Jean Paul. 1961. Existentialism and Humanism. French Philosophers from Descartes to Sartre, ed. Leonard M. Marsak. New York: Meridian

Simpson, George Gaylord. 1951. The Meaning of Evolution. New York: Mentor Books.

Simpson, George Gaylord. 1960. The World Into Which Darwin Led Us. Science, 131:966-969.

Simpson, George Gaylord, C.S. Pittendrigh, and L.H.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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