DOI:

https://doi.org/10.14483/23464712.14656

Publicado:

2020-05-01

Número:

Vol. 15 Núm. 2 (2020): Mayo-Agosto

Sección:

ARTÍCULOS

Biological evolution and creationism from the perspective of graduate students of biological sciences

Evolución biológica y creacionismo en la visión de los estudiantes de ciencias biológicas

Evolução biológica e criacionismo na visão de alunos de ciencias biológicas

Autores/as

Palabras clave:

evolution, creationism, teachers in education (en).

Palabras clave:

evolución, creación, profesor en formación (es).

Palabras clave:

evolução, criação, eestudantes para professor (pt).

Biografía del autor/a

Isabela Maria Silva Leão, University Center of Formiga, Brazil

Graduate in biology and science from the University Center of Formiga/MG. Studying pedagogy at UNIFRAN. Participated in the Biology Teachers’ Conceptions of Three Latin American Countries about Human’s Place in Nature and the Human Mind, University Center of Formiga/MG, University of Oxford, supported by the John Templeton Foundation.

Fernanda de Jesus Costa, Minas Gerais State University, Ibirité Unit, Brazil

Professor at the Minas Gerais State University, Ibirité Unit. Currenlty head of the Department of Biological Sciences and supervisor of the Internship Center. Has a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences, a master’s degree in science teaching and a doctorate in education from the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais. Develops research on distance education, science and biology teaching, teacher training and integration of digital technologies into the school environment.

Graça Simões Carvalho, University of Minho, Braga, Portugal

Full professor at the University of Minho, Braga, Portugal and director of the Research Centre on Child Studies (CIEC) at the same university. Developed postgraduate research training with a particular focus on school settings. In addition to 24 national projects, she was the general coordinator of pan-European project on 'Biology, Health and Environmental Education for better Citizenship' (BIOHEAD-CITIZEN: STREP-FP6 CIT2-CT2004-506015; 2004–2008), which involved 19 countries in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Was awarded the honorary degree of doctor honoris causa by the University of Claude Bernard Lyon 1, France, in 2017, and received the Women in Science award from the Portuguese Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education in 2019.

Heslley Machado Silva, University Center of Formiga, Brazil

Doctorate in education from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (2015), Brazil, in the Latin American program, with specialization in education and science. Research undertaken focuses on issues of the teaching of evolutionary biology in Latin American Schools, in relation to regional religious and political discourse. Master’s degree in education from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (2000). Graduated in biology and science. Specialization in biotechnology from the Federal University of Lavras/MG and specialization in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the Federal University of Ouro Preto/MG. Currently full professor and project coordinator for the pedagogical residency program of in the University Center of Formiga/MG. Has experience in general biology, with emphasis on embryology, genetics, evolution, zoology and coordination of courses in the biological sciences.

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Cómo citar

APA

Silva Leão, I. M. ., Costa, F. de J., Simões Carvalho, G. ., & Machado Silva, H. (2020). Biological evolution and creationism from the perspective of graduate students of biological sciences . Góndola, enseñanza Y Aprendizaje De Las Ciencias, 15(2), 303–321. https://doi.org/10.14483/23464712.14656

ACM

[1]
Silva Leão, I.M. , Costa, F. de J., Simões Carvalho, G. y Machado Silva, H. 2020. Biological evolution and creationism from the perspective of graduate students of biological sciences . Góndola, enseñanza y aprendizaje de las ciencias. 15, 2 (may 2020), 303–321. DOI:https://doi.org/10.14483/23464712.14656.

ACS

(1)
Silva Leão, I. M. .; Costa, F. de J.; Simões Carvalho, G. .; Machado Silva, H. Biological Evolution and Creationism from the Perspective of Graduate Students of Biological Sciences. Góndola enseñ. aprendiz. cienc. 2020, 15, 303-321.

ABNT

SILVA LEÃO, I. M. .; COSTA, F. de J.; SIMÕES CARVALHO, G. .; MACHADO SILVA, H. Biological evolution and creationism from the perspective of graduate students of biological sciences . Góndola, enseñanza y aprendizaje de las ciencias, [S. l.], v. 15, n. 2, p. 303–321, 2020. DOI: 10.14483/23464712.14656. Disponível em: https://revistas.udistrital.edu.co/index.php/GDLA/article/view/14656. Acesso em: 5 mar. 2021.

Chicago

Silva Leão, Isabela Maria, Fernanda de Jesus Costa, Graça Simões Carvalho, y Heslley Machado Silva. 2020. «Biological Evolution and Creationism from the Perspective of Graduate Students of Biological Sciences». Góndola, enseñanza Y Aprendizaje De Las Ciencias 15 (2):303-21. https://doi.org/10.14483/23464712.14656.

Harvard

Silva Leão, I. M. ., Costa, F. de J., Simões Carvalho, G. . y Machado Silva, H. (2020) «Biological evolution and creationism from the perspective of graduate students of biological sciences », Góndola, enseñanza y aprendizaje de las ciencias, 15(2), pp. 303–321. doi: 10.14483/23464712.14656.

IEEE

[1]
I. M. . Silva Leão, F. de J. Costa, G. . Simões Carvalho, y H. Machado Silva, «Biological evolution and creationism from the perspective of graduate students of biological sciences », Góndola enseñ. aprendiz. cienc., vol. 15, n.º 2, pp. 303–321, may 2020.

MLA

Silva Leão, I. M. ., F. de J. Costa, G. . Simões Carvalho, y H. Machado Silva. «Biological Evolution and Creationism from the Perspective of Graduate Students of Biological Sciences». Góndola, enseñanza Y Aprendizaje De Las Ciencias, vol. 15, n.º 2, mayo de 2020, pp. 303-21, doi:10.14483/23464712.14656.

Turabian

Silva Leão, Isabela Maria, Fernanda de Jesus Costa, Graça Simões Carvalho, y Heslley Machado Silva. «Biological Evolution and Creationism from the Perspective of Graduate Students of Biological Sciences». Góndola, enseñanza y aprendizaje de las ciencias 15, no. 2 (mayo 1, 2020): 303–321. Accedido marzo 5, 2021. https://revistas.udistrital.edu.co/index.php/GDLA/article/view/14656.

Vancouver

1.
Silva Leão IM, Costa F de J, Simões Carvalho G, Machado Silva H. Biological evolution and creationism from the perspective of graduate students of biological sciences . Góndola enseñ. aprendiz. cienc. [Internet]. 1 de mayo de 2020 [citado 5 de marzo de 2021];15(2):303-21. Disponible en: https://revistas.udistrital.edu.co/index.php/GDLA/article/view/14656

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BIOLOGICAL EVOLUTION AND CREATIONISM FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF GRADUATE STUDENTS OF BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES

EVOLUCIÓNBIOLÓGICAYCREACIONISMO EN LA VISIÓN DE LOS ESTUDIANTES DE CIENCIASBIOLÓGICAS

EVOLUÇÃOBIOLÓGICAECRIACIONISMO NA VISÃO DE ALUNOS DE CIÊNCIASBIOLÓGICAS

Isabela Maria Silva Leão*, Fernanda de Jesus Costa**, Graça Simões Carvalho*** y Heslley Machado Silva****

Citation: Silva Leão, I.M., Costa, F.J., Simões Carvalho, G. y Machado Silva, H. (2020). Biological evolution and creatio­nism from the perspective of graduate students of biological sciences. Gdola, ensenza y aprendizaje de las ciencias, 15(2), 303-321. DOI: http://doi.org/10.14483/23464712.14656

Recieved: 27 de march de 2019; accepted: 28 de june de 2019 


* Graduate in biology and science from the University Center of Formiga/MG. Studying pedagogy at UNIFRAN. Participated in the Biology Teachers’ Conceptions of Three Latin American Countries about Human’s Place in Nature and the Human Mind, University Center of Formiga/MG, University of Oxford, supported by the John Templeton Foundation. Email: isabela.leao94@hotmail.com 

** Professor at the Minas Gerais State University, Ibirité Unit. Currenlty head of the Department of Biological Sciences and supervisor of the Internship Center. Has a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences, a master’s degree in science teaching and a doctorate in education from the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais. Develops research on distance education, science and biology teaching, teacher training and integration of digital technologies into the school environment. Email: fernanda.costa@uemg.br 

*** Full professor at the University of Minho, Braga, Portugal and director of the Research Centre on Child Studies (CIEC) at the same university. Developed postgraduate research training with a particular focus on school settings. In addition to 24 national projects, she was the general coordinator of pan-European project on 'Biology, Health and Environmental Education for better Citizenship' (BIOHEAD-CITIZEN: STREP­FP6 CIT2-CT2004-506015; 2004–2008), which involved 19 countries in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Was awarded the honorary degree of doctor honoris causa by the University of Claude Bernard Lyon 1, France, in 2017, and received the Women in Science award from the Portuguese Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education in 2019. Email: graca@ie.uminho.pt 

**** Doctorate in education from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (2015), Brazil, in the Latin American program, with specialization in education and science. Research undertaken focuses on issues of the teaching of evolutionary biology in Latin American Schools, in relation to regional religious and political discourse. Master’s degree in education from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (2000). Graduated in biology and science. Specialization in biotechnology from the Federal University of Lavras/MG and specialization in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the Federal University of Ouro Preto/MG. Currently full professor and project coordinator for the pedagogical residency program of in the University Center of Formiga/MG. Has experience in general biology, with emphasis on embryology, genetics, evolution, zoology and coordination of courses in the biological sciences. Email: heslley@uniformg.edu.br 


Abstract 

This work aimed to analyse students’ conceptions in a graduate course of biology teachers at the University Centre of Formiga, Minas Gerais, Brazil, of topics related to evolutionary theory (Chance and Natural selection) and creationism (God and Intel­ligent design). We used a part of the European BIOHEAD-CITIZEN questionnaire in a sample of 56 students, studying in their 2nd, 4th and 6th terms. The four-category Barbour model (conflict, independence, dialogue and integration) was used to analyse the data and characterise the students’ ideas of the relationship between science and religion. Using the Pearson chi-square statistical test (.2), the differences among the groups of students were tested, at the statistical significance level of 5%. The results show that most students are able to establish a relationship of independence between issues of evolutionary theory and creationism. Even religious students can establish boundaries that separate the fields of science and religion. Due to the importance of evolutionary theory for science and for biology in particular, it is necessary for new research to be carried out in the Brazilian context to determine students’ and teach­ers’ perceptions on the topic and to improve the teaching of evolutionary theory in the biological context and to refrain from inserting personal religious considerations into general science and biology classes.

Keywords: evolution; creationism; teachers in education. 

Resumen 

En el presente trabajo se analizan las concepciones de los estudiantes del curso de Ciencias Biológicas en el Centro Universitario de Formiga, Minas Gerais, Brasil, sobre temas relacionados con la teoría evolutiva (azar y selección natural) y creacionismo (Dios y diseño inteligente). Se aplicó el cuestionario europeo BIOHEAD-CITIZEN en una muestra de 56 estudiantes del 2°, 4° y 6° semestre. Se utilizó el modelo de Barbour de cuatro categorías (conflicto, independencia, diálogo e integración) para analizar los datos a fin de caracterizar las concepciones de los estudiantes sobre la relación entre ciencia y religión. La significación de las diferencias de las respuestas entre los grupos de estudiantes se determinó mediante la prueba estadística de chi-cuadrado de Pearson (.2) con un nivel de significancia del 5 %. Se observó que los alumnos, en su mayoría, logran establecer una relación de independencia entre los temas, aun siendo religiosos, creando límites que demarcan los campos de la ciencia y la religión. Ante la importancia de la teoría evolutiva para la ciencia, y especialmente para la biología, es indispensable realizar nuevas investigaciones amplias para co­nocer la percepción de alumnos y profesores sobre el tema en Brasil.  Esto con el propósito de perfeccionar la enseñanza de la evolución biológica y evitar la inserción de cuestiones religiosas de carácter personal en las clases de ciencias y de biología.

Palabras clave: evolución; creación; profesor en formación. 

Resumo 

Considerando a problemática da evolução biológica recorrente no Brasil e no mundo, o presente trabalho objetivou analisar as concepções dos alunos do curso de Ciências Biológicas do Centro Universitário de Formiga, Minas Gerais, Brasil, sobre temas rela­cionados à teoria evolutiva (Acaso e Seleção natural) e criacionismo (Deus e Design inteligente). Aplicou-se o questionário europeu BIOHEAD-CITIZEN em uma amostra de 56 estudantes do 2°, 4° e 6° períodos de graduação. Foi utilizado o modelo de Barbour de quatro categorias (Conflito, Independência, Diálogo e Integração) para análise dos dados a fim de caracterizar as concepções dos estudantes sobre a relação entre ciência e religião. A significância das diferenças das respostas entre os grupos de estudantes foi determinada pelo teste estatístico Qui-quadrado de Pearson (.2) ao nível de 5%. Observou-se que os alunos, em sua maioria, conseguem estabelecer uma relação de independência entre os temas, mesmo sendo religiosos, criando bar­reiras que delimitam os campos da ciência e da religião. Diante da importância da teoria evolutiva para a Ciência, e especialmente para a Biologia, é indispensável que novas pesquisas sejam realizadas no vasto Brasil para se conhecer a percepção de alunos e professores sobre o tema, com o intuito de aperfeiçoar o ensino da evolução biológica e afastar a inserção de questões religiosas de cunho pessoal nas aulas de ciências e de biologia.

Palavras-chave: evolução; criação; estudantes para professor. 


Introduction

Science and religion have had complex relation­ships throughout history; one of the most profound intellectual challenges from the twentieth century until now is related to the understanding of the spe­cific features that guide science and religion (Nord, 1999). The theory of biological evolution is at the centre of scientific and religious discussions, be­coming a zone of confrontation (Rodrigues, Chaves, 2013 p. 4), as both fields investigate aspects of hu­man existence and life in general but are structured in very different ways (Sepúlveda, El-Hani, 2004). In addition to its account of the diversity of living beings and the trajectory of life on earth (Futuyma, 2002), the theory of biological evolution is consid­ered a unifying axis that connects and facilitates the understanding of other contents that integrate the biological sciences (Meyer, El-Hani, 2005). In other words, nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolutionary theory (Dobzhansky, 1973). However, despite its importance and the level of scientific proof undergirding it, the Evolu­tion Theory remains one of the most questioned and misunderstood subjects of biology (Pacheco, Oliveira, 1997).

Discussions of creationism and evolution are widespread among the Brazilian public and have also appeared in the school environment. General science and biology classes should address how sci­ence understands living things and how important it is to teach exclusively scientific subjects in these spaces (Staub, Strieder, Meglhioratti, 2015). Students often experience difficulties in understanding the Evolution Theory as the unifying axis of Biology (Coimbra, Silva, 2007), and this may also occur with teachers as well (Oleques, Bartholomei-Santos, Boer, 2011). In general, both teachers and students seek ways to accommodate religious hypotheses to scientific theories (Costa, Antunes, 2014). The diffi­culty of teaching biological evolution often generates conflicts between teachers and students, especially in classes of general science and biology (Rodrigues, Clementino, 2014). Some Brazilian teachers do not mention religion at all and keep their religious ideas out of their instruction to avoid controversy. Oth­ers, having difficulties, tend to avoid debates on this subject in their classrooms (Oleques, BArtholomei-Santos, Boer, 2011). However, others encourage the debate between creationism and evolutionism, so their students can encounter this confrontation between different ways of thinking about human beings, in addition to providing a means of under­standing scientific knowledge and its importance for society (Piolli, Dias, 2004).

This study analyses biology students’ conceptions of biological evolution and creationism, and anal­yse them by using a four-category Barbour (1990) analysis, constituted by, namely, conflict, indepen­dence, dialogue and integration. These categories are examined below.

The conflict category includes people referring to the meeting of radical and divergent opinions. Here, one pole is represented by biblical literalists and creationists, a particular group of Christians who do not accept the theory of biological evolu­tion and believe that it conflicts with religious faith. Charles Brabec, the founder of the Discovery Park of America, a theme park where all the attractions are related to the Bible and creationist thought, is an excellent example of a radical creationist. Brabec calls the teaching of evolutionary theory a strategy that seeks to poison the minds of young students (Abreu, 2007). At the other pole, atheist scientists with extreme views also appear in this category, denying the existence of God and believ­ing that the most considerable evidence matches the evolutionary conception (Sanches, Danilas, 2012). One well-known radical atheist is Richard Dawkins, who is the author of many well-known works setting forth his theological views, such as The God Delusion (Dawkins, 2001) and The Blind Watchmaker (Dawkins, 2007). He presents his anti-creationist case, describing evolutionary theory as the only acceptable explanation for the world’s diversity. According to the conception out­lined by Barbour (2004), it is impossible to have deep religious conviction and be a scientist with an uncompromising view of scientific truth; one must choose only one of the poles, science or re­ligion, as ‘no one can believe in evolution and God at the same time. Each side gains adherents, in part by opposing the other, and either uses war rhetoric’ (Barbour, 2004 p. 25).

The category of independence proposed by Bar­bour (1990) presents the view that conflict between science and religion is unnecessary and that there must be a distance between the fields. On this view, real and objective factors are investigated by science, and religion deals with values and the meaning of life. The goals and languages of these two spheres of knowledge are mostly incompatible and focus on altogether different aspects of human existence. In this category, science and religion work to keep from intervening in each other’s domain, creating a restricted field proper to each (Rodrigues, Motta, 2011). Among scientists, a clear proponent of this category is the palaeontologist and evolutionary bi­ologist Stephen Jay Gould (2002), who defends the conception of science and religion as having entirely different functions in society, without overlap and with equal importance.

In the third category, dialogue, individuals wish to identify the similarities between the fields of sci­ence and religion and approximate them to each other. In this category, more complex reflections can arise, such as considerations of the emergence of the universe, a dialogue is sought. This relation­ship is commonly encountered where there are no known explanations for certain issues or when the two areas come to agree on something. Some is­sues require science and religion to provide expla­nations, each respecting the integrity of the other (Barbour, 2004).

Finally, in the integration category, people seek harmonise the relationship between the two areas. This can be achieved by scientific initiatives that seek, using the scientific method, to prove the ex­istence of a creator. Integration can also be adopted from the religious side, through the reformulation of beliefs in a way that conforms to scientific dis­coveries, such as the acceptance of the Big Bang theory (Barbour, 2004). The hypotheses proposed by Michael J. Behe (1997) constitute a classic ex­ample of the integration category. Another reconcili­ation would be the intelligent design theory, which integrates creationism with biological evolution, suggesting that God participated in or guided evo­lutionary processes.

Given the above-mentioned issues, the present work analyses the conceptions of graduate students enrolled in biology teachers’ training course at the University Centre of Formiga (UNIFOR-MG) on themes related to the evolutionary theory (chance and natural selection) and creationism (God and intelligent design). The aim was to analyse the as­sociation of students’ faith with their positions on evolution and the relationship they find between science and religion and, consequently, their ideas about teaching evolution. 

1. Methodology

The questionnaire developed for the present quan­titative study was based on one created by the Eu­ropean project BIOHEAD-CITIZEN (Biology, Health and Environmental Education for Better Citizenship), which posed 144 prompts of teachers and future teachers in 19 European, North African and Middle Eastern countries (Carvalho, Clément, 2007). In this way, conceptions were gathered from these teachers and future teachers on socially controversial topics, such as evolution (in particular, human origins), sex education, health education and environmen­tal education, among other controversial subjects (Carvalho, Clément, 2007).

This BIOHEAD-CITIZEN questionnaire was pre­sented to 56 students at three moments points (their 2nd, 4th and 6th terms) enrolled in a graduate course of biology teachers at the University Centre of Formiga, Minas Gerais, Brazil. The mean ages of the groups were similar, and most of the sample was composed of women (42 of 56, or 75%) as shown in Table 1.

In the present work, only the responses to prompts related to biological evolution and creationism (B.42, B.43, B.44 and B.48) were analysed (Figure 1). 

To characterise the students’ conceptions abouth the relationship between science and religion, the four categories of Barbour (1990) were used: con­flict, independence, dialogue and integration. The responses to the prompts were analysed with respect to the religion (Table 2) of the respondents, with the hypothesis that the Catholic students’ conception of evolutionary theory would align to the scientific consensus with a higher frequency than Evangelical Christians, as was suggested by Madeira (2007).

Finally, to evaluate the significance of differences in student responses, data were subjected to Pear­son’s chi-square (.2) statistical analysis, with signifi­cance assigned to p < 0.05. 

2. Results and Discussion

Analyses of the students’ responses to each item are presented below. 

a. Importance given to chance in the evolution of species (item B.42)

Global view

As shown in Figure 2, only a little more than half (56%) of the biology students assigned importance to chance in the evolution of species (composed of 23% giving ‘high importance’ + 33% giving ‘some importance’). 

These results show an important contrast with general knowledge that is considered to be well established in the scientific community, where it is believed that most of the evolution molecular variation result of chance (Licatti, 2005; Futuyma, 2002) and that accidental natural phenomena, such as meteors, can contribute to evolution (Futuyma, 2002). Despite the relevance of chance to the evo­lutionary process, it is noticeable that some people have difficulty understanding that new and com­plex characteristics can result from evolutionary mechanisms (Carrol, 2006). Therefore, it is easy to disregard chance when biological evolution is conceived of as an intentional process aiming at the improvement and survival of living beings (Liporini, Periotto, 2014).

Furthermore, Sepulveda, El-Hani (2004 p. 170) argue that poor discussion of the concept of chance in biological instruction on evolution ‘contributes to the students’ consideration of the supposedly ‘ran­dom’ feature of the natural selection mechanisms as a counter-intuitive aspect to their understanding and assumption of the Darwinian Theory.’ A relevant epistemological obstacle to the understanding of evolutionary theory is that students take humans as ‘perfect beings’ and, consequently, the fruit of a Creator (Santos, Bizzo, 2000). It has been found that even within a religious environment and among believers in the Christian God, it is possible students and teachers can accept concepts that are contra­dictory to religious beliefs, such as the idea that chance is crucial for the evolutionary development of species (Sepúlveda, El-Hani, 2004).

2nd, 4th and 6th term groups

The results for this question ‘importance given to chance in the evolution of species’ obtained from the groups of students at the three moments (2nd, 4th and 6th terms) are presented in Figure 3. The .2 test indicated significant differences (p < 0.05) between the three groups on this question. Indeed, only 47% (26% + 21%) of the 2nd term students assigned im­portance to chance in the evolutionary process and more of the 4th and 6th term students considered it important, at 62% (12% + 50%) and 62% (29% + 33%), respectively. However, these values remain low overall, indicating that more attention should be given to evolution in teacher training for biology teachers at the University Center of Formiga. Similarly, work should be done at other Brazilian universities to determine how far instruction should be improved. 

These results differ from those by Souza, Matsuo and Zaia (2009), who found no differences in stu­dents’ perception of evolution over the entirety of a biology teachers’ training course.

Religious groups

The analysis of data by religion (Catholic, Evangel­ical and Agnostic/Atheist), shows, as expected, that all Agnostic/Atheist biology students (100%, 60% + 40%) assign importance to chance in the evolution of species (Figure 4). The data further show that a much larger percentage of Catholics (60%, 20% + 40%) assigned importance to chance in evolution than Evangelicals (27%, 18% + 9%).

These results agree with those by Madeira (2007), who considers that Evangelical groups are often more resistant than Catholics to accepting scientific knowledge on issues related to biological evolution.

According to the categories outlined by Barbour (1990), the students’ conceptions in relation to the ‘importance given to chance in the evolution of species’ are to be understood as belonging to the independence category. In fact, most respondents who are religious could also acknowledge the im­portance of chance in evolutionary processes. These data contradict the results obtained by Carneiro, Rosa (2003), who claim that students have diffi­culty understanding the role of chance in biological evolution.

It should be noted that only a little more than half of the students (56%; Figure 2) agreed that chance is important in evolution. This indicates that the students should be categorised in the conflict cat­egory, as many do not accept the role of chance, which is one of the fundamental premises of evo­lutionary theory, possibly because of the tension that this factor produces in relation to the role of an omnipotent creator. Further, in-depth studies, including interviews with students, are required to understand more clearly the reasons why some religious students nevertheless do accept chance as an important factor in biological evolution.   

b. Importance given to natural selection in the evolution of species (item B.43)

Global view

By contrast to the weak valuation that the partici­pants gave to the role of chance in the biological evolution (56% - see Figure 1), great importance was assigned to natural selection (96%, 85% + 11%), as shown in Figure 5. 

Although most students accepted the importance of the role of natural selection in the process of bio­logical evolution, there was a small group of 4% (2% + 2%, Figure 5) who gave little or no importance to it. This matches the results of Bishop and Anderson (1990), who found that some students, even if a tiny number, have difficulty understanding the principles of this mechanism in the evolutionary process.

These results, however, differ from those of Al­meida (2012) among secondary school students, where only 38% reported that natural selection is directly linked to the evolution of the species, indicating that more in-depth knowledge of bio­logical evolution is necessary to allow for a proper understanding of the role of natural selection in evolution. 

Natural selection is considered crucial to evo­lution by the scientific community (Pereira, 2009); Ridley (2004, p. 4) adds that ‘a beautifully simple and easily understood idea - evolution by natural selection - can be scientifically tested in all fields.’

2nd, 4th and 6th term groups

Analysis of the data at the three moments (2nd, 4th and 6th terms) showed statistically significant differences (p < 0.05) among the three groups. In Figure 6, it can also be seen that more importance to natural selection in evolution was given with the progres­sion in the teacher-training course. Indeed, 100% of the 6th term (95% + 5%) and 100% of the 4th term (94% + 6%) students assigned importance to natural selection, but among the 2nd term only 89% (68% + 21%) assigned it important. These results (Figure 6), in contrast to chance (Figure 3), indicate that the training course improved knowledge, opening students’ minds to a more scientific vision of the role of natural selection in evolution. This is of great relevance, as some studies have found insufficiencies in how evolution is approached in teacher-training courses in Brazil (Valença, Falcão, 2012).

Religious groups

Similar to Figure 4 (about the importance of chance in biological evolution) the analysis by religion indicated that 100% of Agnostic/Atheist students assigned high importance to the role of natural selection in evolu­tion. All Catholic students did so as well (90% + 10%) (Figure 7). By contrast, only 81% (63% + 18%) of Evangelicals assigned importance to natural selection. These results, once again, agree with those of Madei­ra (2007), who considered Catholicism to be more flexible in relation to evolution than Evangelicalism.

The fact that most students who declared them­selves to be religious assigned importance to natural selection in the evolution suggests that on this ques­tion, the independence category of Barbour (1990) applies to this population. 

c. Importance given to intelligent design in the evolution of species (item B.44)

Global view 

Item B.44 (‘importance given to natural selection in the evolution of species’) investigates student conceptions of the importance of intelligent design in the evolution of species. The intelligent design hy­pothesis is a creationist view that does not consider that living beings could have developed by chance, natural selection and other natural phenomena, instead asserting that a being must be responsible for any evolutionary process (Sanches, 2007). Behe (1997), a strong proponent of the intelligent design hypothesis, claims that there must have been a de­signer that drove the evolution of species. This move­ment is considered by the international scientific community to be harmful to the acceptance of evo­lutionary theory (Shanks, 2004; Silva, 2017). It is strongly opposed, especially by US researchers, and teaching it in school has been prohibited by legal means in that country (Ayala, 2016).

Figure 8 shows that more than half of biology students (58%, 26% + 32%) considered intelligent design to be important in evolution. Other studies have found a strong and increasing tendency to accept intelligent design among Brazilians (Silva, 2017; Silva, Mortimer, 2014). 

Students’ responses indicate that they have dif­ficulty separating their religious beliefs from their consideration of more controversial scientific topics. Intelligent design has been considered as a type of intermediary between science and theology (Demb­ski, 1999), with a claim to a kind of compromise with science: ‘the presentation and defence of the Intelligent Design argument as a strictly scientific theory is an assumed position from the 1990s on the basis of nineteenth-century arguments’ (Engler, 2011, p. 238). It has been suggested that students who accept intelligent design can follow this line of reasoning to approximate religiosity to scientific topics; the risk here lies in the possibility that these students deny the basic assumptions necessary to understand biological evolution, such as the role of random mutation (Ayala, 2017).

2nd, 4th and 6th term groups

The statistical analysis of the data obtained from the three groups of students (2nd, 4th and 6th terms) showed significant differences (p < 0.05) between them. In Figure 9, it is clear that the biology teachers’ training course contributed to the improvement of students’ knowledge. Indeed, a continuous decrease in the importance assigned to intelligent design was observed from the 2nd term (89%, 68% + 21%), to the 4th term (69%, 44% + 25%) and the 6th term (57%, 19% + 38%). Even so, a little less than half (43%, 19% + 24%) of the students in the 6th term persisted in asserting the importance of intelligent design in evolution.

Previous studies have found indicate that longer and better-designed presentation of the scientific concepts of evolution may interfere with the influ­ence of religiosity on the understanding of scientific topics (Silva et al. 2014) while also reducing the confusion between robust and evidence-based sci­entific theory and the intelligent design hypothesis (Pennock, 2003).

Nevertheless, a little less than half (43%, Figure 9) of the students in the 6th term persisted in consider­ing the idea of intelligent design to be important for biological evolution. Similarly, in a study of students in a biology teacher-training course at a large Brazil­ian university, Souza, Matsuo, Zaia (2009) noticed that the simple presence of the subject of biological evolution in the led to no significant change in the decrease in the influence of religion in the construc­tion of concepts related to the subject. He noted that this resistance to evolutionary theory might have harmful consequences for teaching practice, as these students, who are future teachers, may distort the instruction of biological evolution through presen­tations based on ideas of intelligent design (Souza, 2009). Further study is required to investigate this undesirable possibility.

Religious groups

Data according to students’ religion showed that 0.0% of agnostic/atheist students assigned high im­portance to the role of intelligent design in evolution, but 20% of them did grant some importance to it (Figure 10). Catholics assigned more importance (65%, 35% + 30%) to intelligent design than Evan­gelicals (54%, 18% + 36%) did.

One interpretation of these results would be that religious students can accept scientific knowledge without abandoning their religiosity (Ávila, 2008). Padian, Matzke (2009) further argue that intelligent design is a theological concept that confuses people about the biological idea of evolution. This is, for example, what is described by Ayala (2007), who strongly criticises the religious approach of intelli­gent design in science and education (Silva, 2016).

Francisco José Ayala (2007), a theistic evolution­ist, considers that belief in an intelligent designer is blasphemous because human beings and every other organism have many defects that are the fruits of evolutionary processes. According to Ayala (2007), Darwin’s discovery of evolution and natural selec­tion is a gift for religion because it grants the ability to explain the evil that exists in the world without the need to attribute it to a creator.

Most religious students (Catholics and Evangeli­cals) granted intelligent design an essenctial place in the idea of evolution, expressing a mixture of concepts and elements participating in both religion and science. Because these students are seeking to accommodate scientific and religious knowledge to form their idea of the topic, they fall into the inte­gration category, as delineated in Barbour (1990). It is, however, important to highlight that those who are religious but do not accept an important role for intelligent design in evolution fall into the Barbour category of independence.

Those in the independence category can teach evolutionary theory with no constraints. However, those that fall into the integration category, accord­ing to Amaral (2013), exhibit a teaching strategy to allow them to smuggle creationism into the aca­demic environment in disguise, under the term intelligent design. It is crucial to explore how such future teachers intend to work in the classroom and learn whether they consider intelligent design, which is not a hypothesis that has been confirmed scientifically, should be used in the instruction of evolution. 

d. Importance given to GOD in the evolution of species (item B.48)

Global view

The students’ responses to the fourth and last question analysed in this study (B.48) are shown in Figure 11. A large majority of biology students (86%, 63% + 23%) assigned importance to God in evolution.

These results indicate that the surveyed students were heavily influenced by their religious beliefs. In a previous study of students studying in a similar course, also in Brazil, Sepúlveda and El-Hani (2004) perceived two aspects in particular that influence coexistence between science and religion: one that deliberately denies this knowledge and another that unites the vision of a theistic world to scientific themes in an integrated way. In another study with students on a psychology course, Guerriero (2000) found that students who profess a religion study and discuss the theme of biological evolution in a way that tries to accommodate the divine into their speech, finding to greater or less influence of a Cre­ator in biological evolution.

2nd, 4th and 6th term groups

A test found statistically significant differences (p < 0.05) between the three-term groups, indicating that the course helped students understand biolog­ical evolution. In fact, a continuous decrease of the importance given to God was observed from the 2nd term (100%, 79% + 21%) to the 4th term (88%, 69% + 19%) and the 6th term (72%, 43% + 29%) (Figure 12).

These results indicate that as knowledge is con­solidated regarding biological evolution, students develop a closer understanding of biological evolu­tion and, consequently, can avoid possible religious and common-sense interference. It is important to emphasise that the percentage of those attributing importance to the role of God in evolution remains high, even in the 6th term (72%).

Religious groups

In a similar way to the responses to the intelligent design question (Figure 10), no agnostic/atheist stu­dents assigned high importance to the role of God in evolution, but 20% did give it some importance (Figure 13). By contrast, all Evangelicals (100%,90% + 10%) and a very high percentage of Catholics (90.0%, 63% + 27%) assigned importance to the role of God in biological evolution.

The results showed that all Evangelical and most Catholic students accepted the influence of a divine figure in evolution, indicating that they were able to integrate a mixture of concepts and elements participating in both religion and science. Therefore, these students would be categorised under integration category of Barbour (1990). However, it must be recognised that those Catholics who did express acceptance of the importance of God’s role in evolution fall into the independence category.

3. Final Remarks and Conclusions

As expected, these results, taken together, showed, that the agnostic/atheist students assigned great im­portance to the role of chance (B.42) and natural selection (B.43) in evolution and did not grant signifi­cance to intelligent design (Question B.44) or God (Question B.48) in it. By contrast, Evangelicals and Catholics believe more strongly in the importance of intelligent design and God in evolution than in the importance of chance or natural selection.

Because most Catholics and Evangelicals reported believing in a mixture of concepts and elements from both religion and science, they fall into the category of integration in the schema developed by Barbour (1990). The religious students that do not accept the importance of intelligent design in evolution are assigned the Barbour category of independence.

This study analysed biology students that will become teachers in a short time. It is known that the religion of the teacher may interfere in the pre­sentation of certain concepts in evolutionary theory, such as adaptation, common ancestry, chance and natural selection (Alexakos, Pierwola, 2013; Costa, Melo, Teixeira, 2011; Porto, Falcão, 2010). This is particularly relevant for those in the integration cat­egory, as they may teach the evolution process in a way that incorporates intelligent design. By contrast, the religious future teachers who were in the inde­pendence category should be able to easily teach evolutionary theory because they can separate re­ligion from science.

No direct association has been established be­tween the conceptions of a teacher to be about evo­lution and their teaching methods. Nevertheless, it is generally recognised that teachers experience chal­lenges in approaching this topic in school (Oleques, Bartholomei-Santos, Boer, 2011; Valença, Falcão, 2012); thus, evolution, which is an integrative topic, must be reinforced and approached in a compre­hensive manner in teacher-training courses for future biology instructors (Bizotto, Ghilardi-Lopes, Santos, 2016). Because the role of the teacher goes beyond teaching specific scientific contents, teachers can use the topic of evolution to make students aware of the different social views and learn how to respect them, even if they do not agree with them.

This study of the students in the biology teacher­training course at the University Centre of Formiga, Minas Gerais, Brazil, indicated that it is essential to expand students’ knowledge, opening their minds to a more scientific vision of the role of chance (B.42) and natural selection (B.43) in the biological evolution process. This is relevant to the future role that these students will play as teachers of biological evolution, which is required in the National Curricular Param­eters of Brazil. As teachers, they can influence their students’ construction of concepts related to evolution.

Due to the importance of biological evolution in the scientific context, it is crucial to carry out research in Brazil that supports the understanding of the perceptions of future teachers and in-service teachers, with the goal of improving the instruction of evolution and the avoidance of possible failures of the approach to evolution presented to students and, most importantly, to prevent any attempt to in­sert religious themes into science classes, including creationism and intelligent design. 


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