Utilizing implicit perceptions of cultural similarity in teaching evolution – how religious students' perceptions of their instructors influences acceptance of evolution in the classroom

Thursday 2:00pm E Building 202
Oral Session Part of Thursday Oral Session A

Session Chairs

Elizabeth Petsios, Baylor University
Brendan Anderson, Paleontological Research Institution
Suzanne, Baylor University
Non-acceptance of biological evolution is prevalent in U.S. adults, including in college students across all disciplines. Previous studies have shown that even among college biology majors, non-acceptance of evolution is highly correlated with the student religiosity, and primarily stems from the perception of conflict between concepts in biological evolution and religious teachings. Tackling perceptions of non-compatibility between religion and evolution is therefore key to increasing levels of evolution acceptance and consequently engagement of students in STEM field across diverse religious, ethnic, and racial identities. Instructors teaching evolution at religiously affiliated institutions of higher education may be uniquely situated to discuss and exemplify compatibility options between evolution and religion by being implicitly perceived as culturally in-group by religious students and therefore potentially more effective in influencing student attitudes. In this study, we aimed to measure student perceptions of instructor religiosity in courses involving evolution at a religiously affiliated university, and if/how these perceptions influence student attitudes. Our survey was distributed to students enrolled in Biology, Geology, and Teacher Education courses at a religiously affiliated university, and included instruments to measure degree of evolution acceptance (I-SEA), perception of conflict between religion and evolution (PCORE), and perceptions of instructor religiosity. We found no significant change in I-SEA nor PCORE scores between early and late semester respondents and generally high perception of instructors as religious among religious students. We found significant correlation between I-SEA and PCORE, but that neither was significantly correlated with perceptions of instructor religiosity. Our results suggest that student attitudes towards evolution are robust to both instruction on concepts and implicit perceptions of instructor religiosity in those courses. This suggests that instructors may need to take a more active role in tackling perceptions of conflict between religion and evolution in students to increase levels of evolution acceptance in their classrooms.