New England Science Public (NESP) and the New England Center for the Public Understanding of Science at Roger Williams University, United States, have just released the study ‘Acceptance of Evolution by America’s Educators of Prospective Teachers: The Disturbing Reality of Evolution Illiteracy at Colleges and Universities.’
Coauthors Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Mino-C and Dr. Avelina Espinosa, members of NESP, investigated the attitudes toward evolution among 500 educators of prospective teachers affiliated with 300 colleges and universities in the US. These professionals (almost all PhD holders) where polled in five areas: (1) their views about evolution and creationism, (2) their understanding of how science and the evolutionary process work, (3) their position about the hypothetical ‘harmony or compatibility’ between science and religion, (4) their awareness of the age of the Earth, its moon, the solar system and universe, and (5) their personal convictions concerning the evolution or creation of humans in the context of their religiosity.
Acceptance of evolution was strongly influenced by the educators’ religious beliefs. In comparison to two other populations whose acceptance of evolution had already been studied by Paz-y-Mino-C and Espinosa —that is research faculty and college students in New England— the educators showed an intermediate level of understanding science, low acceptance of evolution, and high religiosity.
The significant outcomes of the study can be summarized as follows:
• 59% of the educators accepted evolution openly, 51% thought that evolution is definitely true, and 59% admitted to be religious. In contrast, among the New England researchers, 94% accepted evolution openly, 82% thought that evolution is definitely true, and 29% admitted to be religious. Among the students, 63% accepted evolution openly, 58% thought that evolution is definitely true, and 37% admitted to be religious.
• Educators in each region of the US (North East, Midwest, South, and West) had science- and evolution-literacy scores below the researchers’ but above the students.’
• The educators’ rejection of evolution increased, conspicuously, with increasing level of religiosity.
The authors highlight that “the educators of prospective teachers are responsible for mentoring the teachers-to-be in the American school system, and that their hesitation to embrace evolution resides in a deficient understanding of science and high religiosity.”
Paz-y-Mino-C and Espinosa conclude that harmonious coexistence between science and religion is illusory. If co-persisting in the future, the relationship between science and religion will fluctuate between moderate and intense antagonism.
The complete 92-page study is available open access at New England Science Public; it includes 23 figures, statistics, 34 maps, 12 tables, and a companion slide show ‘Image Resources’ for science journalists, researchers and educators.