Understanding and acceptance of biological evolution and the nature of science: Studies on university faculty
There are serious problems with biological evolution education. Since the time of Darwin resistance has existed to the idea that biological evolution via natural selection occurs. America has seen more than its fair share of opposition, particularly in recent history. From Scopes to Dover the teaching of biological evolution has been under attack. Most recently foes of biological evolution have argued that intelligent design (ID) is a valid scientific alternative. Those that suggest this hold fundamentally incorrect concepts of the nature of science (NOS), which has been shown to be a factor related to knowledge and acceptance of biological evolution.
But is biological evolution even worth fighting over? Isn't it "just a theory?" Isn't all science unproven? These are questions that members of the American public are struggling with and science educators need to help them address. Misconceptions about biological evolution specifically and science in general are pervasive in American society and culture. Some think biological evolution explains life's origins. Others think that hypotheses become theories, which then become laws. These misconceptions are reinforced in the media, in people's personal lives, and in some unfortunate cases in the science classroom.
Previous work has looked at several factors that are related to a person's knowledge of biological evolution, their acceptance of biological evolution, and their understanding of the NOS. Yet no one has examined the three variables together and how they relate to each other as a whole. It has not been determined which factors are the most pervasive influencers of a person's knowledge of biological evolution, their acceptance of biological evolution, and their understanding of the NOS. These are gaps in our knowledge that must be filled if we want to address the myriad issues surrounding BEE.
I was interested in investigating these variables in a highly educated population: university faculty. These are people who are not only involved in instruction, but are also active researchers. I suggest that by learning what faculty members understand about the NOS, their knowledge of biological evolution, their acceptance of biological evolution, what misconceptions they have, how those are related to their personal views as well as other factors we will gain an understanding of what we can do to make improvements that lead to a better education for students.
The primary questions of interest are:
1. What knowledge of biological evolution do faculty have?
2. How, if at all, does faculty knowledge of biological evolution differ among disciplines?
3. How, if at all, does faculty knowledge of biological evolution differ between theistic views?
4. What level of acceptance of biological evolution do faculty have?
5. How, if at all, does faculty acceptance of biological evolution differ among disciplines?
6. How, if at all, does faculty acceptance of biological evolution differ between theistic views?
7. What understanding of the Nature of Science (NOS) do faculty have?
8. How, if at all, does faculty understanding of the NOS differ among disciplines?
9. How, if at all, does faculty understanding of the NOS differ between theistic views?
10. How, if at all, do knowledge of biological evolution, acceptance of biological evolution, and understanding of the nature of science relate to each other?
There are also secondary questions of interest:
11. What is the relationship, if any, of these variables to the amount of science education received?
12. What is the opinion held by faculty across science disciplines of science teaching policies?
In order to effectively cover these questions, the content has been broken up into several chapters. Chapter 2 details much of the relevant background needed to understand the degree and scope of the BEE problem. It covers the recent history, including the political and the legal aspects, of the teaching of biological evolution. Additionally, current research on the effective methods of teaching evolution, the relationship between the Nature of Science and evolution, and those groups that have already been studied are discussed.
Chapter 3 presents data and analysis collected from faculty members at a large, Midwestern, public university regarding their knowledge and acceptance of biological evolution. Chapter 4 presents data collected from the same population, but focuses on their understanding of the NOS, as well as the relationship between evolutionary knowledge, NOS knowledge, and acceptance of evolution.
Chapter 5 discusses the importance of the results of this research, as well as the some of the participant responses to questions that were not discussed in Chapters 3 and 4, and concludes with some recommendations for further research.