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

News | Published in TESS on 29 April, 2011 | By: Julia Belgutay

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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Comment (22)

  • Alasdair Noble (you misspelled his name) spoke for 30 seconds, but gets more space here than any other participant.

    Yet you manage here to miss is main point, and my response to it.

    Alasdair stated forcibly, as he alsways does on these occasions, that Intelligent Design is NOT creationism.

    In reply I quoted "By their fruits shall we know them" and asked why if so, C4ID promoted creationist materials like Explore Evolution, posted Creationist blog misuderstandings of biology on their website, and invited a professional creationist, Jonathan Wells, who had become one at the advice of his master, the rev Sung Myung Moon, to be a lecturer at their upcoming summer school.

    Discussion moved on, but he has since been asked in writing, and not replied.

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    Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
    10:01
    30 April, 2011

    PaulBraterman

  • Correction: the mis-spelling was mine, not yours. The rest of what I say stands.

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    Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
    12:33
    30 April, 2011

    PaulBraterman

  • By identifying Jonathan Wells as a professional creationist, you demonstrate the willfully uninformed, biased ignorance that makes your comment useless to anyone interested in the topic of the article.
    If you want to know what ID is or who Jonathan Wells is, find out for yourself. (Skip Wikipeida. Similarly biased interests control those entries. Actually, do check them out, and you'll see what I mean.)
    Paul is entitled to his opinion. But he leans heavily toward his own ideology, so think for yourself.

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    19:11
    30 April, 2011

    budice

  • Exccellent advice: skip Wikipedia, think for yourself, and judge Wells by his own words.

    These for instance:

    http://www.tparents.org/library/unification/talks/wells/DARWIN.htm

    Father's [Rev Sung Mung Moon's] words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When Father chose me (along with about a dozen other seminary graduates) to enter a Ph.D. program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle.

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    Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
    19:39
    30 April, 2011

    PaulBraterman

  • 'Explore Evolution' is an outstanding educational publication. It does what it says in the title - explores evolution in a balanced, informative manner, encouraging the reader to form their own conclusions.

    Mr Braterman's comment suggests either that he has never read the publication, or that he views as 'creationist material' any biology text book that doesn't commit to the evolutionary 'hard sell' peddled in many other volumes.

    My question is this: Why are evolutionists so afraid of books like 'Explore Evolution', that air the pros AND CONS of an evolutonary account of origins?

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    11:05
    3 May, 2011

    James13

  • Clare Marsh is reported to have said: “Their rejection of evolution is as strange as freshers in physics rejecting Newton’s laws of motion.” As a physicist, I do not find this strange at all. Newton’s laws are capable of modelling empirical data. It is a simple matter to test them out and confirm that they are accurate. This is not the case with “evolution”. If we stick to observable changes, there is support for the mechanisms of Darwinism. However, extrapolating to the unobservable past faces significant problems. There are many biologists who are prepared to say that Darwinism is inadequate to explain biological innovation. Furthermore, biologists use the word “evolution” in different ways: some consider any morphological or genetic change to be evolution, whereas others use the term to defend the “Tree of Life” concept. Students need to be encouraged to examine these issues critically. This cannot be achieved without allowing alternative explanations a hearing. Good teachers will help their students to develop a scientific mind – proposing and testing hypotheses and showing how theory relates to data. Please do not let us get bogged down by legalities (as is the case in the US) and pre-emptive restrictions about what can and cannot be taught.

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    15:05
    4 May, 2011

    DavidJTyler

  • If a textbook entitled, "Explore the Holocaust" had been produced by evidence-denying 'revisionists' with an equally dubious agenda, would James13 be as enthusiastic about that?

    Would he be chiding 'its' critics for dismissing as 'holocaust denial' any history textbook not committed (as such a book's risible defenders might put it) to the 'hard sell' peddled in many other volumes?

    Would he be asking why historians were so afraid of 'outstanding' books like Explore the Holocaust, that aired the 'pros and cons' of accepting the overwhelming evidence available to us?

    Could he as cheerfully ignore holocaust deniers' junk history, non-explanations, conspiracy theories, misunderstandings and misrepresentations?

    Would he imagine such a hypothetical title to be exploring the holocaust in a balanced, informative manner if it gave roughly equal weighting to mainstream historians and fringe cranks – encouraging the reader to form their own conclusions?

    I would ask James13 to search for my online essay/report, 'Creationism, Holocaust Denial and The ID Crowd' and to please try answering at least a few of the questions Dr Noble has thus far chosen to ignore.

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    22:31
    4 May, 2011

    KeithGilmour

  • James: Not only have I read Explore Evolution, but a detailed scientific critique by myself and others can be found at

    http://bcseweb.blogspot.com/p/evolution-exposed.html

    and, more specifically, at

    http://www.bcseweb.org.uk/images%20for%20blog/EE%20Exposed.pdf

    Our critique, which is far from comprehensive, runs to 16 closely printed pages. To take one small example, in Endnote 11 to the introduction, Explore Evolution describes Woese as supporting a "polyphyletic" view of life. This he does only in the restricted sense that he sees the origin of life as we know it, as are coming together of a number of different factors, followed by massive horizontal transfer so that, at its very base, life resembles the web rather than a tree. (I have had the privilege of hearing Woese lecture on this).

    Explore Evolution totally misrepresents this position as support for separate creation, as shown in Figure i:4. This Figure involves a use of the term "polyphyletic" that does not occur in the genuine scientific literature, so as to give credibility to a conclusion that is the very opposite of the scientific work being referred to with so great an air of spurious erudition.

    DavidJTyler touches on some interesting philosophical points. However, he would be horrified if such arguments were used to advocate a reinstatement of Aristotle's mechanics, and he should be similarly horrified when they are used to advocate a reinstatement of pre-Linnaean biology.

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    Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
    23:05
    4 May, 2011

    PaulBraterman

  • Hello Paul et al.

    The misrepresentations and misguided "responses" to "Explore Evolution" featured on the BCSE's website (which is largely derived from NCSE literature) have been thoroughly addressed and refuted on this website:

    http://www2.exploreevolution.com

    Hope you find it helpful!

    J

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    15:13
    10 May, 2011

    McLatchie1

  • McLatchie1,

    I had a look at http://www2.exploreevolution.com and I must say it LOOKS impressive. The problems start as soon as one reads what is being said in the opening paragraph.

    Quote: 'Scientists often debate how best to interpret the available evidence. Controversy in science is nothing new. It’s not a distraction; it’s normal. Explore Evolution is part of the continuing debate over Neo-Darwinism. On this page, the authors of Explore Evolution along with other scientists continue the discussion by responding to questions, comments, and critiques related to issues covered by the textbook.'

    The scientific process is being presented as some form of 'debate' with equal weight given to any idea (no matter how daft) and the idea that ID is somehow presented as controversial. This isn't true. Scientifically ID isn't controversial it is wrong. The scientific process is a debate between theory and evidence, not unsupported ideas. ID is a STORY not a THEORY; it has no basis in science.

    In defence of the book the site says: 'Explore Evolution has been targeted for attack by the Darwin lobby because it promotes critical thinking and provides an evenhanded discussion of the scientific evidence.'

    The Darwin lobby? Surely the 99% of all scientists can't be dismissed as the 'Darwin lobby'? I do think that in order to engage with 'critical thinking' it is necessary to have an open mind; I have yet to find a christian who in any way could be described as having an open mind in religious matters. As for 'evenhanded discussion of the scientific evidence'; in order to have competing THEORIES one needs ID to come up with one (just one!) theory. ID is a story containing no falsifiable hypotheses and no evidence.

    The authors of 'Explore Evolution' are presented as scientists.
    1. Stephen C. Meyer earned his Ph.D. in the Philosophy of Science; does that make him a scientist? A scientist who researches life science? I don't think so.
    2. Jonathan Moneymaker is a freelance technical writer, specializing in making complex topics easy for the non-expert to understand. He isn't a scientist either.
    3. Paul A. Nelson is described as 'a philosopher of science'. I don't think he could actually call himself a scientist.
    4. Scott A. Minnich is an associate professor of microbiology at the University of Idaho, so can actually lay claim to being a scientist. He is an apologetic (see below). However there is real controvesy over his 'scientific' papers on ID; basically he has never had a scientific journal article peer reviewed concerning ID. THAT says a lot.
    5. Ralph Seelke is also someone who can claim the title scientist. However, he has an ongoing interest in Christian apologetics, which sometimes overlaps with his professional career. He is convinced that Christianity is not only true, but that it is perhaps the only way of viewing the world that allows both meaning and rationality in life. At his current university his primary duties involve teaching courses of cellular, molecular, microbiology, genetics, immunology, and cell biology.........NOT evolution!

    Two of these five people are actually apologetics not scientists the other three are just writers & story tellers.

    Science begins with hypotheses; apologetics begins with conclusions. Science performs experiments which can disconfirm hypotheses; apologetics employs rhetoric (conclusions can never be disconfirmed). Science discovers how the world works; Christian apologetics assures that the world conforms to the Bible (or to church doctrine). Apologetics is not a productive approach to discovering how the world works; science is not a productive method for making the world conform to the Bible.

    Current science supports modern evolutionary Biology and the theories of Evolution. Current science has not found any evidence to support the stories of creationism or Intelligent Design.

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    11:44
    11 May, 2011

    Brooke Bond

  • DavidJTyler ,

    Quote: 'Newton’s laws are capable of modelling empirical data. It is a simple matter to test them out and confirm that they are accurate. This is not the case with “evolution”. If we stick to observable changes, there is support for the mechanisms of Darwinism. However, extrapolating to the unobservable past faces significant problems.'

    Sorry to have to burst the bubble here but Newton's so called laws are actually demonstrably wrong. Ask Einstein and any modern thinking phyisist. For certain conditions Newton's laws are a good model; but they are not compariable to Evolution because we already know Newton was wrong. If we stick to observable changes, there is not just 'support' but a huge amount of EVIDENCE for the mechanisms of Evolution (not Darwinism!). When we move beyond what YOU term observable we aren't 'extrapolating to the unobservable', we are gathering further observable EVIDENCE in many other forms (DNA being just one). You are deliberately building a straw man to knock down but the straw man is wrong.

    Quote: 'There are many biologists who are prepared to say that Darwinism is inadequate to explain biological innovation. Furthermore, biologists use the word “evolution” in different ways: some consider any morphological or genetic change to be evolution, whereas others use the term to defend the “Tree of Life” concept.'

    In any field terms are contested and scientists agree/disagree but no Biologist of any note has argued that Evolution (not 'Darwinism') is wrong.

    Quote: 'Students need to be encouraged to examine these issues critically. This cannot be achieved without allowing alternative explanations a hearing.'

    In Chemistry we no longer teach 'Alchemy' because we know it to be nonsense. Why teach 'alternative explanations' which are based on stories and not evidence based peer reviewed science? I'd happily have any evidence based peer reviewed alternative theory taught but there simply isn't one.

    Quote: 'Good teachers will help their students to develop a scientific mind – proposing and testing hypotheses and showing how theory relates to data. Please do not let us get bogged down by legalities (as is the case in the US) and pre-emptive restrictions about what can and cannot be taught.'

    Is that because creationism got it's ass kicked in the states?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    12:02
    11 May, 2011

    Brooke Bond

  • James13,

    Quote: 'My question is this: Why are evolutionists so afraid of books like 'Explore Evolution', that air the pros AND CONS of an evolutonary account of origins?'

    Scientists (not evolutionists) aren't AFRAID of a book like 'Explore Evolution', but they realise that it can harm knowledge production and childrens understanding of science. Any good teacher would happily explore any other evidence based peer reviewed alternative theory; but there simply isn't one.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    12:07
    11 May, 2011

    Brooke Bond

  • budice,

    Quote: 'By identifying Jonathan Wells as a professional creationist, you demonstrate the willfully uninformed, biased ignorance that makes your comment useless to anyone interested in the topic of the article.'

    Wells is best known for his 2002 book 'Icons of Evolution', in which he discusses ten examples which he says show that many of the most commonly accepted arguments supporting evolution are invalid. The book is rejected by the scientific community as an example of creationism. If it looks & acts like a creationist; it's a creationist!

    Quote: 'Paul is entitled to his opinion. But he leans heavily toward his own ideology, so think for yourself.'

    I don't know Paul but I do know that from what he says this 'ideology' you accuse him of having is actually rational, evidence based, peer reviewed research called 'science'. Science is not an ideology, but creationism is.

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    12:14
    11 May, 2011

    Brooke Bond

  • Have just looked at http://www.c4id.org.uk/ and it makes me want to vomit.

    Quote: 'With science has come ideological naturalism which insists that everything about the universe is ultimately explicable in purely physical terms. That philosophy, allied to neo-Darwinism, purports to give a comprehensive worldview which excludes the possibility of deliberate design. However, the new evidence about design makes that an unsustainable position. The findings of intelligent design theorists significantly change the scientific landscape.'

    And that EVIDENCE would be?........Well I read it & it amounts to: 'gosh the universe is big, scary & must have been created by a god'.

    Alastair Noble, director of the Centre for Intelligent Design, does provide a direct link to this page from www.c4id.org.uk so that his supporters can write rubbish as we can see from contributions by McLatchie1, DavidJTyler, James13 & budice.

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    13:12
    11 May, 2011

    Brooke Bond

  • To Mr Braterman, I will look at your link if I have time later. However, looking at your example, I would say that Explore Evolution does Woese a favour by neglecting to mention his commitment to "massive horizontal transfer". Like "punctuated equilibrium", it's one of those terms that, when un-packed, does no favours whatsoever to the theory it puports to support. Since the appearance of analogous genetic modules contradicts so completely the 'tree of life', 'massive horizontal transfer' would have to be an inter-species event. Many impartial observers here witness the house of cards adding fourteen floors and a barbican.

    To Keith Gilmour, your analogy is interesting. A text book entitled 'Explore the holocaust' would, presumably, only be objectionable to holocaust deniers. A balanced and rational discussion of actual evidence for and against the holocaust would utterly obliterate the position of holocaust deniers, exposing their rhetoric, propaganda and rationalising for what it is, i.e. devoid of any evidential content. Would anyone like to disagree with that? Quite... which links back nicely to my initial question -

    "Why are evolutionists so afraid of books like 'Explore Evolution', that air the pros AND CONS of an evolutonary account of origins?"

    Brooke Bond's comments provide a nice example of the kind of reaction I'm talking about. Keith Gilmour's analogy explains the reason. Thanks guys.

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    20:12
    15 May, 2011

    James13

  • p.s. pre-Linnaean? Carl Linnaeus believed in common design, not common descent. He believed in the fixity of species, and his classification systems owed nothing to an evolutionary approach. I think you mean pre-Darwinnian.

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    23:20
    15 May, 2011

    James13

  • James 13,

    Nice of you to wait until you thought these comments had stopped before putting up your reply........Think you'd get the last word?

    Carl Linnaeus died in 1778 before the THEORY of evolution had every been put forward, being pre-Darwinian he has no voice in this debate. Just as most mathematicians, pre-Newton, didn't understand motion they'd have no real voice in matters which are mechanical.

    Punctuated equilibrium is a theory in evolutionary biology which proposes that most sexually reproducing species will experience little net evolutionary change for most of their geological history, remaining in an extended state called stasis. It is commonly contrasted against the theory of phyletic gradualism, which states that evolution generally occurs uniformly and by the steady and gradual transformation of whole lineages (anagenesis). In this view, evolution is seen as generally smooth and continuous.

    Feel free to 'unpack' the terminology but point out that ALL the terminology supports Evolution & NOT your silly creation stories.

    You imply that damaging the 'tree of life' theory somehow damages the theory of evolution. This is nonsense. The concept of a tree of life as a many-branched tree illustrating the idea that all life on earth is related is only an analogy for a number of theories which one may list in a 'tree of knowledge'. As a creationist you fail to understand the related & separate nature of all the evidence FOR evolution. It may surprise you that even if Darwin was found to be gay; it wouldn't damage the theory!...............LOL

    Quote: 'A balanced and rational discussion of actual evidence for and against the holocaust would utterly obliterate the position of holocaust deniers, exposing their rhetoric, propaganda and rationalising for what it is, i.e. devoid of any evidential content......'

    Glad you got Keiths point. Science has long ago had a balanced and rational discussion of actual evidence for and against evolution this exposed the rhetoric & propaganda of the evolution deniers for what it is i.e. devoid of any evidential content. The fact that none of the authors of 'Explore Evolution' can get any of their ideas in a peer reviewed journal of science says it all.

    Quote: 'Brooke Bond's comments provide a nice example of the kind of reaction I'm talking about. '

    Feel free to counter all my points with evidence.....please!

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    14:11
    16 May, 2011

    Brooke Bond

  • Thanks for backing me up on Linnaeus, Brooke, I'm glad we could find some common ground in the end. A small but important point. (Mr. Braterman was trying to re-write a little history himself there, for obvious reasons).

    I hope anyone who's followed this discussion feel's intrigued enough to read "Explore Evolution - the arguments for and against neo-darwinism". It's available from amazon for about £2.

    It's been a revealing conversation, here ends my participation.

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    18:33
    16 May, 2011

    James13

  • Iwasn't backing you up on Linnaeus I was merely adding evidence; you should try it.

    £2 is about the cost of good quality toilet paper in Tesco's. This is a good analogy for the book "Explore Evolution - the arguments for and against neo-darwinism" as both toilet paper & the pages of that book can be seen to be covered in the same thing.

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    21:14
    16 May, 2011

    Brooke Bond

  • Now that natural selection has ceased or rather been overtaken by human selection (all kinds of genetic managements) where are we going now? I know this doesn't contribute to the debate but I've wondered whether thoughts about the past can be turned to the future. If we seem to be the 'intelligent' managers of the future where are we going and what is our purpose (if we have one)?

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    10:48
    17 May, 2011

    questioner

  • Quopte: 'Now that natural selection has ceased or rather been overtaken by human selection (all kinds of genetic managements) where are we going now?'

    Straw-man argument! There is no evidence that natural selection has ceased or rather been overtaken by human selection; this is just an attempt to frighten people about science.

    Quote: 'If we seem to be the 'intelligent' managers of the future where are we going and what is our purpose (if we have one)?'

    It is always right to think these things but the answers will not be found in some bronze-age-death-worshipping-religious-cult. We never know where we are going; it is great to plan but nobody ever predicts the unpredictable. In 1970 who'd have thought of the internet? A black president of the USA? Only a handful of Moon landings?

    Forget planning; just hang on in there for the ride!

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    13:35
    17 May, 2011

    Brooke Bond

  • Our purpose? To pass on some of our DNA to the next generation then die.

    Have a read of:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2011/may/16/hawking-physics

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    13:37
    17 May, 2011

    Brooke Bond

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