Accepting/rejecting evolution

Cliff Martin’s thought-provoking and thought-soliciting post, Two Categories of Beliefs/Opinions, asks the question,

Which type of belief/opinion is the more easily dislodged? that is, from which type of opinion is a person more easily persuaded to accept an alternate view? Support your answer.
A) Chosen beliefs/opinions
B) Evidence-based beliefs/opinions

Cliff was asking this specifically in reference to the refusal of many Christians to accept evolution as a valid explanation of the scientific evidence.  As may be obvious from earlier posts of my own (such as “Why creationists are creationists“), I agreed with Cliff’s conclusion that type B (evidence-based) beliefs are easier to dislodge than those adopted for other reasons, and supported my answer in the comments of his post. But it is cloudier than this simple question makes it appear: it’s not that creationists have nothing but opinions and evolutionists have all the evidence. Rather, the creationists’ most trusted evidence is derivative from their less evidentiary opinions on how the Bible’s account of creation must be read.  I believe they have chosen a tenet based upon non-scientific (which isn’t necessarily to say invalid) evidence that evolution contradicts central aspects of their theology, which for type A reasons they refuse to allow to be modified for type B reasons.

I was directed this morning to an article from the International Journal of Organic Evolution, published in 2007, that corroborates Cliff’s informal observation in an academic fashion. Here is the abstract:

Poor public perceptions and understanding of evolution are not unique to the developed and more industrialized nations of the world. International resistance to the science of evolutionary biology appears to be driven by both proponents of intelligent design and perceived incompatibilities between evolution and a diversity of religious faiths. We assessed the success of a first-year evolution course at the University of Cape Town and discovered no statistically significant change in the views of students before the evolution course and thereafter, for questions that challenged religious ideologies about creation, biodiversity, and intelligent design. Given that students only appreciably changed their views when presented with “facts,” we suggest that teaching approaches that focus on providing examples of experimental evolutionary studies, and a strong emphasis on the scientific method of inquiry, are likely to achieve greater success. This study also reiterates the importance of engaging with students’ prior conceptions, and makes suggestions for improving an understanding and appreciation of evolutionary biology in countries such as South Africa with an inadequate secondary science education system, and a dire lack of public engagement with issues in science.

Anusuya Chinsamy and Éva

Plagányi

Volume 62, Issue 1, pp. 248-254

In the full article, they present evidence for the relative invulnerability of “religious ideologies” (type A beliefs) to scientific challenges compared to the efficacy of teaching scientific evidence (type B beliefs) for evolution.

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