Monday, August 14, 2006


Shaken to the Bedrock

The Guardian is reporting on a new survey showing that over 30% of students in the UK believe in creationism or its doppelganger, Intelligent Design.

Opinionpanel Research's survey of more than 1,000 students found a third of those who said they were Muslims and more than a quarter of those who said they were Christians supported creationism. Nearly a third of Christians and 10% of those with no particular religion favoured intelligent design. Women were more likely to choose spiritual explanations: less than half chose evolution, with 14% preferring creationism and 22% intelligent design.

While three years of learning how to weigh evidence appears to make students slightly more inclined towards evolution, with 57% of third-years choosing it compared with 54% of first-years, it does not appear to put them off belief in God. As many third-years as first-years believed in creationism, although slightly fewer supported intelligent design.

That last is an interesting result, perhaps reflecting that a more-or-less open rejection of evidence in favor of faith is more palatable than the underhanded attempt to sneak religion into science.

On the other hand, Roger Downie, professor of zoological education at Glasgow University, says:

What was extremely worrying for students embarking on evidence- and science-based disciplines was that they were perfectly prepared to say they had rejected it not on the basis of evidence but on the basis of their religious beliefs.

But how surprising is that considering the following:

In the Opinionpanel survey, nearly 20% said they had been taught creationism as fact by their main school. Most thought it would be best to teach a range of theories, but nearly 30% of those who supported creationism felt that pupils should learn about creationism alone.

Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London and author of, among other books, Darwin's Ghost:

. . . blames the influence of Christian fundamentalists in America and political correctness among teachers [in the UK] who, he says, feel they have to give a reasonable hearing to beliefs held by people from other cultures, particularly Muslims.

A different approach is that of Jeremy Rayner, professor of zoology at Leeds University:

The best thing we can do is what universities should be doing anyway - producing bright, intelligent young minds with the confidence to be advocates for science.

Leeds University will be incorporating lectures on creationism and intelligent design into its second-year course for zoology and genetics next year with the idea to teach students about the creationism hypothesis "so they are in a position to make their own rational judgment and counter it," according to Rayner.

The only problem with this approach may be that the article opens with the opinions of Chris Parker, a final-year English student, Kim Nicholas, who is studying to be a primary school teacher and Annie Nawaz, a second-year law student, all seemingly in positions to make rational judgments, who nonetheless chose creationism.

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