Exploring Patterns of Evolution Understanding, Religiosity, and Evolution Acceptance in Undergraduate Biology Students in the United States

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Stewart, Madison
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Middle Tennessee State University
Despite evolution’s foundational position in the biological sciences, it remains controversial among students learning biology. Some of the most consistent factors associated with student evolution acceptance are how much someone grasps evolution conceptually (which is typically referred to as understanding), and the extent to which they identify as religious (which is called religiosity) but there are very few studies exploring how the relationship between understanding and acceptance can be impacted by student religiosity levels. Further, students show different levels of acceptance of evolution depending on whether it is microevolution, macroevolution, or human evolution, but few studies explore how evolution understanding is related to acceptance in these three different areas. In this study, we surveyed introductory college biology students from a wide range of geographical contexts in the United States to explore the relationship between their understanding and acceptance of evolution and how religiosity impacts that relationship. We also explored how these relationships change based on acceptance of microevolution, macroevolution, and human evolution. Among incoming college students in introductory biology classes in the United States, understanding of evolution was positively related to acceptance of microevolution, macroevolution, and human evolution, but this relationship was weaker for highly religious students. There was a moderated relationship between evolution acceptance and evolution understanding by student religiosity levels. Students who scored high on religiosity showed a weaker relationship between their evolution understanding and acceptance of macroevolution/human evolution compared to those who scored lower on religiosity. Further, highly religious students also showed no relationship between their understanding of evolution and acceptance of the common ancestry of life on Earth. These results indicate that understanding of evolution is not the only factor that educators need to consider if they are to convey the importance and veracity of evolutionary theory to their students.
Education, Evolution & development