Religious Competence in Evolution Education


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The Experiences of Religious Students in Scientific Evolution Classrooms

Evolution is among the most influential yet controversial scientific theories in the modern world. As mentioned in the previous section, there has been a significant conflict between religion and scientific evolution, especially in the school setting. Statistically, most of the public polls taken within the past three decades have affirmed that around 60% of Americans believe that human beings evolved from another species (Barnes, Elizabeth, & Brownell). Nonetheless, a substantial percentage of citizens affirm that a supernatural being created human beings. The above assertions have created challenges associated with the acceptance of evolution among all students undertaking biology courses. Specifically, scholars have affirmed that the rate of acceptance of the evolution theory among religious students is lower than that of non-religious students. The following is an analysis of religious students’ experiences when learning scientific evolution and the effects on the acceptability of the evolution theory among the learners.

Exclusion from the Classroom

A leading factor causing the declining acceptance of the evolution theory among religious students is the feeling of exclusion from the classroom. According to research, the majority of students in the United States of America hold religious beliefs. Nonetheless, it is affirmed that only a mere quarter of biologists and scientists are religious. Particularly, only 10% of evolutionary biologists are religious, which leads to the inference that this group of instructors is fundamentally irreligious (Barnes, Elizabeth, & Brownell). The inconsistency of students’ religious and cultural beliefs and that of the biologists causes tension in the classroom, to the extent that religious students feel excluded. Markedly, it has been affirmed that evolutionary scientists are either reluctant or unwilling to address the compatibility of evolution and religion.

Most scientists feel that religious discussions are irrelevant in the biology classroom. Most professors fail to acknowledge that religious students face significant challenges when incorporating evolution into their beliefs. It may be because some professors do not realize the degree to which their students are religious. They, therefore, end up teaching evolution as entirely atheistic, while some of them go as far as making disparaging comments and interpretations about religion during their lectures (Bertka 3). The failure to acknowledge religious principles is causes feelings of alienation for religious students. Students feel that their instructors do not accept their religious views regarding the creation and hence perceive that they should not accept the evolution theory. The feelings of non-belongingness among the students due to the differences between them and their secular instructors cause many students to drop out of evolution courses. At the same time, some avoid biology classes as much as possible to ensure that they do not study the evolution theory.

Biblical Literalism

Biblical literalism is another factor associated with the acceptability of the evolution theory among religious students. According to scholars, the level of hypothetical-deductive reasoning is a crucial determinant of the acceptance rate of the evolution theory among students (Barnes, Elizabeth, & Brownell). Markedly, students who depict higher hypothetical-deductive reasoning are more likely to accept evolution compared to those with lower logical reasoning. Such students may find connections between geographical and geological research findings, which may help them establish connections between the diversity of life and evolution. For instance, such learners may accept concepts that link all life to common ancestry. On the other hand, however, religious students with intuitive thinking are less likely to accept the evolution theory.

Contrary to reasoning that involves logic, intuitive thinkers usually follow their first instinct, which leads them to make quick decisions (Barnes, Elizabeth, & Brownell). They use the automatic cognitive process to decide, limiting their ability to consider other possibilities that may allow for counterintuitive decision-making. Intuitive thinking leads religious students to feel that the evolution theory is automatically false to the human mind in the same way that the idea of a spherical earth is unintuitive to young children. The concept is directly associated with Biblical literalism. It refers to the theological perception that all Biblical content is true and error-free.

Religious students usually have strong connections with the Biblical accounts of creation. It is difficult for them to conceive the idea of evolution as the cause of life’s diversity. Such learners strongly believe in themes such as Noah’s ark, the seven-day creation of the universe, and the creation of woman from a man, among other accounts. However, the study of evolution dismisses all creation stories and affirms that the earth has been in existence for millions of years. This undermines the Christian religious doctrine, which claims that God created the universe only a few thousand years ago (Barnes, Elizabeth, & Brownell). Most religious students remain unwilling to neglect their literal interpretation of the Bible due to intuitive thinking, which ultimately discourages them from studying or accepting the evolution theory.

Adherence to Societal Constructs of Religion

Scholars affirm that after birth, children begin learning from their immediate environment before joining learning institutions. Therefore, the first knowledge that a child acquires is usually attained from parents and the immediate society members. When they begin to internalize ideas, children are taught about religion. It has been affirmed that children are more likely to follow the religion that their parents introduce to them at a young age. Most religions share the common ideology that there exists a deity responsible for the existence of all life in the universe (Barnes, Elizabeth, Elser, & Brownell 105). Nonetheless, the evolution theory uses scientific evidence such as the analysis of fossils to conclude that life on earth comes from common ancestry. Evolutionists conduct experiments such as DNA sampling to find biological associations between different species that existed in history. They have documented compelling evidence to date the earth’s existence back to millions of years ago, which seems to negate the religious belief that a supernatural being created the universe. Children are taught by their parents that accepting any evolutionary perspectives is bound to influence their religiosity negatively. To accept evolution, students have to completely neglect their religious understanding of the world and adopt an atheistic view (Barnes, Elizabeth, Elser, & Brownell 108).

Nonetheless, most students perceive this to conflict with the parental and societal teachings at a young age. They remain unwilling to accept the possibility of the non-existence of God or any other deity. Consequently, religious students’ acceptability of evolution remains constrained, while some learners decided to evade biology classes to avoid being taught about evolution completely. Indeed, religious beliefs are a leading cause of the declined acceptability of the evolution theory among religious students.

Religious Competence in Evolution Education

In light of the above experiences that religious students face when learning about evolution, it is imperative to develop solutions that will eliminate the conflict between the religious and evolutionary worldviews. The United States school curriculum should adopt religious competence practices when teaching students about evolution (Cavallo, Ann & McCall). Markedly, a significant percentage of Americans profess that they believe in a particular religion and that the diversity of life is directly associated with the existence of a powerful deity. As mentioned earlier, many evolution scientists are irreligious and fail to acknowledge students’ viewpoints regarding a religious explanation for life. Evolution instructors need to undertake a religious and cultural competence training program to teach them how to discuss evolution from both theistic and atheistic dimensions. Rather than claim that religion is irrelevant to evolution, such evolutionists need to help students establish connections between religion and evolution (Barnes, Elizabeth, & Brownell). This will go a long way in eliminating the controversial conflict between the religious and evolutionary explanations for the diversity of life. When students feel that their instructors appreciate their religious views, they will develop a sense of belongingness, ultimately improving their acceptability rates of the evolution theory.

Summing up, evolution is among the most influential theories even in the contemporary world. Nonetheless, there has been a long-lasting conflict regarding the coexistence of religion with evolution. Religious students face several challenges in the classroom as their instructors teach evolution. For instance, they feel excluded from the classroom since most instructors are unwilling to discuss religion in biology classes because they are irreligious. Furthermore, Biblical literalism resulting from intuitive thinking limits the students’ ability to accept the evolution theory. The need to adhere to family and societal values also contributes to the lower rates of evolution acceptability among religious students. This paper recommends implementing religious and culturally competent practices when teaching evolution to improve the acceptability rates of the theory among religious learners.



Works Cited

Barnes, M. Elizabeth, and Sara E. Brownell. “A call to use cultural competence when teaching evolution to religious college students: introducing religious cultural competence in evolution education (ReCCEE).” CBE—Life Sciences Education 16.4 (2017): es4.

Barnes, M. Elizabeth, and Sara E. Brownell. “Practices and perspectives of college instructors on addressing religious beliefs when teaching evolution.” CBE—Life Sciences Education 15.2 (2016): ar18.

Barnes, M. Elizabeth, James Elser, and Sara E. Brownell. “Impact of a short evolution module on students’ perceived conflict between religion and evolution.” The American Biology Teacher 79.2 (2017): 104-111.

Bertka, Constance M., et al. “Acknowledging students’ concerns about evolution: a proactive teaching strategy.” Evolution: Education and Outreach 12.1 (2019): 1-28.

Cavallo, Ann ML, and David McCall. “Seeing may not mean believing: examining students’ understandings & beliefs in evolution.” The American Biology Teacher 70.9 (2008): 522-530.


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