1 in 20 don't give a monkey's about Darwin

29th April 2011 at 01:00
Many first-year biology students reject evolution, survey finds

One in 20 first-year biology students at Glasgow University don't believe in the theory of evolution, according to new research.

Two thirds of the "evolution rejecters" were unable to identify the correct definition of theories, including Darwinian evolution and old and new earth creationism, the study found.

The findings come a year after the Scottish Qualifications Authority faced criticism from biology teachers for not including evolution and ecology in the new Higher biology syllabus.

The study, presented at last week's Edinburgh International Science Festival, at a "Creeping Creationism" seminar run by the Humanist Society, found that 85 per cent of students who reject evolution and 85 per cent of students who accept it were able to identify the definition most closely describing intelligent design (the most recent alternative to Darwinism).

This particular finding by Ronan Southcott, a voluntary researcher at the university, working in co-operation with Roger Downie, professor for zoological education, may suggest a growing awareness of the intelligent design movement among secondary pupils.

When asked why they rejected evolution, 41 per cent said they believed there was an alternative explanation for the diversity of life, while a third said they simply had insufficient knowledge of evolution.

The concept that humans descended from ancient species of apes, one of the theories creationists most rigorously reject, was accepted by over one third of evolution rejecters, and two thirds of them agreed that natural selection acted within species to adapt to environmental change.

"There is a move away from the traditional," said Mr Southcott. "Instead of using the bible to say you shouldn't accept evolution, it seems they are trying to use science as a way forward."

Clare Marsh, education spokesperson for the Humanist Society, described the findings as "remarkable".

"Their rejection of evolution is as strange as freshers in physics rejecting Newton's laws of motion," she said.

Alastair Noble, director of the Centre for Intelligent Design, said if the message of the research was that students should have more opportunity to assess the scientific evidence for the various positions around origins, no one would disagree with that.

He said the study's definition of intelligent design was inaccurate and over-simplistic, although he was not surprised by the high levels of awareness of intelligent design - unlike evolution, it was intuitive and "a non-dogmatic, non-religious position which attempts to account for the sophistication we find in natural and living systems in terms of mind, as well as matter and energy".

julia.belgutay@tes.co.uk.

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