Engaging prior learning on creationism and evolution may benefit college biology students

An educational intervention that included reading books sympathetic to and opposed to "intelligent design" (ID) prompted students in a college introductory biology course to report that they had become more accepting of evolution as an explanation for life, according to a study in the November 2005 issue of BioScience. The intervention, which was studied by Steven D. Verhey of Central Washington University, encouraged students to read parts of an ID-friendly, anti-evolution text, as well as an online refutation of the text and parts of a book presenting evidence for evolution.

Students in the study's two intervention streams read from "Icons of Evolution" by Jonathan Wells, which attacks evolutionary theory and is sympathetic to ID, and "The Blind Watchmaker" by Richard Dawkins, which supports the theory of evolution. Students in the intervention streams also read "Icons of Obfuscation" by Nic Tamzek, an online refutation of Wells' book, and discussed current thinking about the nature of science. Students in the two non-intervention streams read from and discussed "The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature" by Matt Ridley, which describes evolutionary explanations for sexuality.

Verhey asked the 103 enrolled students to classify their beliefs about evolution and creationism before and after the course. Most of the 66 students who completed the survey had previously been exposed to both evolutionary and creationist accounts of life. Sixty-one percent of students in the intervention streams reported some change in their beliefs; most of these students were initially sympathetic to creationist explanations and moved toward increased acceptance of evolution. Only 21 percent of students in the non-intervention streams reported change in their beliefs.

Verhey's study was inspired by an influential theory of cognitive development advanced in 1970 by William G. Perry. Perry's theory holds that students pass through distinct modes of think

Contact: Donna Royston
202-628-1500 x261
American Institute of Biological Sciences

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