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Defending Darwin

James Krupa teaches evolution for non-biology majors at the University of Kentucky. This is more difficult than you might expect, he says, because so many of his students were taught that evolution is in direct opposition to Christian belief, and others don’t have much background knowledge because Kentucky schools try to avoid the subject if at all possible. That was a surprise to me because my Kentucky daughters were taught about evolution in both parochial and public school.

We live in a nation where public acceptance of evolution is the second lowest of thirty-four developed countries, just ahead of Turkey. Roughly half of Americans reject some aspect of evolution, believe the earth is less than ten thousand years old, and that humans coexisted with dinosaurs. Where I live, many believe evolution to be synonymous with atheism, and there are those who strongly feel I am teaching heresy to thousands of students. A local pastor, whom I’ve never met, wrote an article in The University Christian complaining that, not only was I teaching evolution and ignoring creationism, I was teaching it as a non-Christian, alternative religion.

There are students who enroll in my courses and already accept evolution. Although not yet particularly knowledgeable on the subject, they are eager to learn more. Then there are the students whose minds are already sealed shut to the possibility that evolution exists, but need to take my class to fulfill a college requirement. And then there are the students who have no opinion one way or the other but are open-minded. These are the students I most hope to reach by presenting them with convincing and overwhelming evidence without offending or alienating them.

Krupa wrote about the challenges his job entails and the reasons he keeps doing it, at Orion magazine. -via Boing Boing


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You can ask the same things to the same people worded slightly different ways, and still get rather different results.

Indeed. You can rig a survey to produce any results that you want. I stress this to students when teaching basic information literacy. It's not enough to take statistics, especially population surveys, at face value.
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Yup. On any poll like that, you'd have a lot of people who would prefer to give you a long explanation of their thoughts. If you bluntly asked, "Do you believe in God or evolution?" a great number of people would say, "Now, wait a minute there..." because those concepts are not mutually exclusive.
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The question of whether people think the Earth is less than 10,000 years old is not simple to address, and along with other topics related to evolution, depends heavily on how you word questions. One commonly cited survey puts that at ~40%, but has a lot of baggage in the question, with those ~40% choosing, "God created humans beings in pretty much their present form at one time within the last 10000 years." The other two options involve evolution of some sort. Another survey directly asking if a person thinks the Earth is less than 10,000 years old found only ~20% agreement and ~10% unsures. If asking do they agree with the idea that continents have been moving for millions of years, only ~10% disagree with another 10% unsure.

You can ask the same things to the same people worded slightly different ways, and still get rather different results. For example, changing a question from asking did humans develop other animals to did animals and plants develop from other species can give a large difference, or explicitly including God in a question about a process will change the results compared to asking about the same thing without naming God.

People are kind of fickle when it comes to asking questions, even without all of the religious and political baggage that comes up in such surveys. A project researching how to teach basic physics once found, for basic homework questions, asking a person a question, then asking them "What answer would a smart student give?" caused some people to change their answer...
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