The study says that religion is not the factor that most influences the rejection of the theory of evolution in schools

The area of ​​the small polygon corresponds to the expected result if all Christians had similar answers in both countries. The blue polygon indicates greater differences between Catholics in both countries than differences between the two groups of Christians in the same country (Brazil). attributed to him: Plus one (2022). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0273929

Religion influences high school students’ understanding and acceptance of evolutionary theory, but sociocultural factors such as nationality, perceptions of science and family income have more influence, according to a study of 5,500 Brazilian and Italian students ages 14 to 16. An article about the study has been published in the journal Plus one.

Participants were asked to agree or disagree with a number of statements related to the age of the Earth, the importance of fossils and the origin of humans, among other topics. When the researchers analyzed the results, they concluded that nationality was more related than religion to acceptance of theories about common descent and natural selection, which was greater among Italian Catholics than Brazilian Catholics, for example, while the pattern of answers was similar among Brazilian Catholics. and Protestants.

“The results of our survey show that the broader social and cultural context influences the acceptance of evolutionary theory. Conservative societies such as Brazil tend to be more averse to the evolutionary ideas it proposes.” [Charles] Darwin and included in the school curriculum,” Nelio Bezu, author of the latest article, told Agência FAPESP. Bezu is a professor at the University of São Paulo’s Faculty of Education (FE-USP) and the Federal University of São Paulo’s Institute of Environment, Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences (ICAQF-UNIFESP) in Brazil .

Scientists at the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMT) in Brazil and the University of Trento in Italy collaborated on the study, which was part of a thematic project on issues related to the inclusion of biodiversity in school curricula and conducted under the auspices of the FAPESP Research Program on Biodiversity Characterization, Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use (FAPESP). BIOTA-FAPESP).

“We wanted to investigate in more depth the clash between religion and evolution because we needed to explore the mechanisms of evolution in order to understand and conserve biodiversity. They are interconnected. Students will better understand the consequences of the extinction of a species, or of local and global extinctions, for example if, for example They were familiar with concepts such as common descent, natural selection, and the origin of species.”

true or false

An analysis of responses to statements such as “Our planet originated about 4.5 billion years ago,” “Humans descended from other primate species,” and “Fossils are evidence of organisms that lived in the past,” among others, indicated patterns of greater or lesser acceptance. before the students.

The results showed repeated acceptance of evolution by Italian Catholics. The response pattern of Brazilian Catholics was more similar to that of non-Catholic Brazilian Christians (Protestants of various denominations).

According to the article, Italian and Brazilian Catholics differed greatly in their understanding of geological time. In fact, the gap was wider than the difference between the views of Catholics and Protestants in Brazil. Italian Catholics accepted evolution more and also understood it better than Brazilian Catholics.

Acceptance of evolution has been primarily influenced by nationality, educational system, income, and other socioeconomic variables, family cultural capital, and society’s attitudes toward scientific knowledge in general.

“Both countries have Catholic majorities, but there are significant social and cultural differences associated with complicating factors such as education,” Bezu said.

He added that although there was little data available, surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center, a US-based think tank, confirm that rejection of evolution is not generalized or deeply rooted in Italian society. “The same cannot be said of Brazil,” he said. Another recent Pew study showed that creationism is on the rise among adults in Brazil, and Christian acceptance of evolution in Brazil is much lower. [51%] than in Italy [74%]. “

The acceptance of the theory of evolution has been investigated in many studies in recent decades because it is considered a prerequisite for a better understanding of the subject. “Our study wasn’t about whether or not people understood evolution. It took it a step further with acceptance analysis, which is essential to achieving understanding. If you don’t accept the idea of ​​thinking about a topic, your understanding is inevitably compromised,” Pizzo said.

Secular books

In light of these findings, the researchers suggest that textbooks presented by the São Paulo State Department of Education on Darwin’s evolutionary theories should not refer to the Bible’s account of God’s creation in the Book of Genesis, which is considered sacred by Christians and Jews alike.

“It is clear that many textbooks believe that religion alone is the most important factor when addressing evolution, which leads to the mixing of Darwin’s theory with the Genesis narrative. Our study shows that this is wrong. From a theoretical point of view, we can discuss some points regarding the secularism of the state, But our study has nothing to do with that. What it does show is that one should not assume that religion should be included in any account of evolution because otherwise it would not be accepted by students.”

Saved methodology

In contrast, previous research involving large-scale surveys of more than 6,000 European students found religion to be the leading cause of high school students’ refusal to develop. The discrepancy may reflect methodological differences, according to Bizzo, who explained that most studies on this topic involve Likert scale questionnaires, widely used in customer satisfaction surveys.

This methodology typically presents five response options. For example, in response to the statement that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, the options would likely be totally agree, somewhat agree, neither agree nor disagree, somewhat disagree, completely disagree.

The problem is the tool used [the Likert scale] Assigns an inaccurate number to data on scientific facts. Variation in answers can lead to inaccuracies when adding up scores. For this reason, it is best to provide the options ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘true or false’ in this type of questionnaire.”

Furthermore, he continued, the Likert scale should not be used in studies on scientific topics. “We discovered that when you make a well-known scientific statement, such as ‘Vaccines are good for your health,’ those who disagree know they don’t agree with a scientific finding, just as those who agree know they endorse themselves,” Bezo said.

Another methodological issue is the issue of anonymity in studies on sensitive topics such as religion, for example. “Surveys and opinion polls with religious implications, especially in conservative contexts, should be conducted in a way that avoids what the literature calls ‘social desirability,’ in which respondents know what is expected of them and try to meet that expectation rather than saying what exactly they think. Social expectations may have contributed to the inaccuracy. The measurements made by these various studies.”

more information:
Graciela da Silva Oliveira et al, Acceptance of Evolution by Secondary School Students: Is Religion the Key Factor?, Plus one (2022). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0273929

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