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Belief In Evolution Doesn't Measure Science Literacy 772

Posted by Soulskill
from the also-doesn't-measure-temperature-or-blood-pressure dept.
cold fjord writes: "Dan Kahan at the Yale Law School Cultural Cognition Project says, 'Because imparting basic comprehension of science in citizens is so critical to enlightened democracy, it is essential that we develop valid measures of it, so that we can assess and improve the profession of teaching science to people. ... The National Science Foundation has been engaged in the project of trying to formulate and promote such a measure for quite some time. A few years ago it came to the conclusion that the item "human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals," shouldn't be included when computing "science literacy." The reason was simple: the answer people give to this question doesn't measure their comprehension of science. People who score at or near the top on the remaining portions of the test aren't any more likely to get this item "correct" than those who do poorly on the remaining portions. What the NSF's evolution item does measure, researchers have concluded, is test takers' cultural identities, and in particular the centrality of religion in their lives.' Kahan also had a previous, related post on the interaction between religiosity and scientific literacy."
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Belief In Evolution Doesn't Measure Science Literacy

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  • Wait a sec (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eclectro (227083) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @08:17AM (#47106983)

    There is no "belief" for evolutionary principles. It is not a system of religious thought.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @08:17AM (#47106985)

    But it sure measures the amount of faith people want to put into "a wizard did it" as a valid explanation of something.

  • Re:Wait a sec (Score:3, Insightful)

    by msauve (701917) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @08:21AM (#47107013)
    There's the fact of evolution (that it occurs), and the belief of evolution (exactly what path it followed to get to the present). People often confuse the two, because they're grouped under "theory of evolution."
  • Re:Wait a sec (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @08:23AM (#47107025) Journal

    There is no "belief" for evolutionary principles. It is not a system of religious thought.

    Not terribly relevant in most cases: virtually nobody can personally validate, or even hit the primary sources, for more than a tiny fraction of what we collectively know. Their relationship with the rest is pretty much a belief state (though, of course, there is a very significant difference between "I believe X because recognized X experts suggest that X is the best available theory, given their understanding of the data" and "I believe X because $HOLY_BOOK says so.")

  • by Drethon (1445051) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @08:26AM (#47107055)
    There is a certain amount of faith required that our models accurately show how things happened when it is over a time span that is impossible for us to actually observe. Though there is a difference between educated faith and blind faith.
  • Re:Wait a sec (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pla (258480) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @08:31AM (#47107111) Journal
    There is no "belief" for evolutionary principles. It is not a system of religious thought.

    You can still "believe" in true things. I fully expect the average Joe's belief in how electricity makes their lights work as substantially similar to belief in $Deity - They have no clue at all about the underlying principles at work, and just blindly repeat the same things their parents did out of indoctrinated habit.

    Ask ten random people whether TVs "attract" lightning (as opposed to your antenna simply counting as the highest good conductor in the immediate area), and you'll probably weep for humanity at how many of them say "yes".
  • Re:Wait a sec (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Opportunist (166417) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @08:32AM (#47107125)

    Actually, people can "believe" in science. Just as they can believe in anything else, including religion. Most people actually do that.

    They hear that some scientist found out something awesome. Like, say, how a laser works. And they might use a DVD player which incidentally use a laser, without having the slightest clue just how that thing works, or what the science behind it is. For all they care, or know, it could as well work with pixie dust and magically operated by faeries.

    The difference is that they have the option not to believe but to test what is scientifically produced. They can build their own laser (time, money and skill provided) and it WILL work.

    It's not that easy for stuff that you can ONLY believe.

  • Missing the point (Score:3, Insightful)

    by conquistadorst (2759585) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @08:34AM (#47107137)
    His point on this item:

    What is embarrassing, though, is for those who don't understand something to claim that their "belief" in it demonstrates that they have a greater comprehension of science than someone who says he or she "doesn't" believe it.

    I've witnessed and do witness over and over. Whether it's about evolution, dark matter, global warming, etc. It's just a basic fallacy of human nature. I know something you don't (even though I'm not privy to a complete understanding of how it works) therefore I must be smarter than you and you must be dumb... but don't you dare challenge me any questions on it because I will get super pissed. Kind of the applied definition of "ignorance" in action.

    Or in other words, believing in science others have painstakingly proven for you is not an automatic cure for ignorance. When you put it that way, it's common sense isn't it?

  • Re:Wait a sec (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @08:38AM (#47107175)

    Scientific Theory = A model of how something works, able to make predictions.
    Scientific Law = A set of equations, stating in mathematics what a Scientific Theory states in plain language.
    Scientific Hypothesis = An idea of how something might work, without a way to make or test predictions. It will eventually move on to become a theory, or get shut down.

    Contrast with:
    Theory = An idea of how something MIGHT have happened
    Law = A set of rules enforced by the police

  • by Dr. Manhattan (29720) <sorceror171@gmai l . c om> on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @08:42AM (#47107205) Homepage
    A scientific theory ties together a broad range of observations into a coherent model and makes testable predictions, that have since been tested and found to be accurate. It's still called the germ theory of disease, after all. Or the theory of Relativity, which you use every time you use a GPS. Without Relativistic corrections, the whole system would drift to the point of uselessness within six hours.
  • Re:Wait a sec (Score:4, Insightful)

    by philip.paradis (2580427) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @08:44AM (#47107231)

    Selection of genetic traits over generations based on fitness/utility is a fact, not a theory. This process has been directly observed over time in the wild in various species, and is the entire foundation for selective breeding activities undertaken by humans for crop and livestock improvement over several thousand years. By pushing layman's version of the term "theory" and framing evolution as a single claim, you do a gross disservice to the scientific process and truth. Please educate yourself [wikipedia.org], as the topic covers a tad more in breadth and depth than you're implying.

    It's worth mentioning that special relativity [wikipedia.org] is a theory, and yet mass-energy equivalence [wikipedia.org] is a demonstrated fact. Again, please stop diluting the discourse.

  • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @08:45AM (#47107243)

    No, you've misrepresented the data. Right in the summary:

    "People who score at or near the top on the remaining portions of the test aren't any more likely to get this item "correct" than those who do poorly on the remaining portions."

    "What the NSF's evolution item does measure, researchers have concluded, is test takers' cultural identities, and in particular the centrality of religion in their lives."

    They're trying to measure "scientific literacy" (which is a stupid term). The answers to the evolution question don't correlate with the answers to the other questions because it's measuring something different. They've concluded it's measuring people's inclination to believe in religion, presumably over science. That would seem to be an important factor in scientific literacy, so the evolution question is actually capturing something that is missed by the other questions.

  • Re:Wait a sec (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GrumpySteen (1250194) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @08:47AM (#47107251)

    it has not been promoted to the level of law (in the sense of the law of gravity or the law of thermodynamics

    The funny thing is, we know less about gravity than we do about evolution.

    We know that there is something that causes attraction between objects and can make predictions based on our observations of that effect, but we can't explain with any certainty how it actually works or why it exists. There are a variety of competing theories [wikipedia.org], but we don't have enough evidence to determine if any of them is even close to correct.

    Thanks to the development agriculture, selective breeding, the sacrifice of billions of fruit flies and the
    abundance of fossil evidence we've uncovered, we actually understand evolution far better than we understand gravity.

    The thing is... it's a lot harder to deny the existence of gravity when someone can throw you off a cliff to prove it.

  • by MillerHighLife21 (876240) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @09:06AM (#47107433) Homepage

    Short of actually being able to understand and verify every single piece of data that has gone into proving it - like it or not you take it on faith. Faith is a measure of trust in your sources in the same way that people respond differently to news from different outlets. I can walk outside and prove gravity. I cannot do the same with evolution.

    The basic fact of most information we receive on a daily basis is that we trust it until we have a reason to question it. Evolution has zero effect on the daily lives of anybody outside of investigative curiosity. If somebody has their life changed by God (and it happens all the time) they'll spend a huge part of the rest of their lives searching for answers and understanding...and that will give them cause to question evolution because the Bible makes a tremendous amount more sense when reading it AFTER something like that happens to you. If you're not the slightest bit religious, you have no reason not to simply accept it because it doesn't affect you at all. Plus you can use it as a cognitive tool to reinforce your belief that religious people are all simply dumber than you because they don't fully agree with something that you claim to know as a fact, even though you're simply trusting your sources.

    I generally don't bother arguing the point because people don't accept information that contradicts their world view and being able to verifiably prove something from that perspective from one side or the other won't have any affect on the lives of...anyone. It's just something useless to argue about. Getting into "arguments" where nobody is going to change anyones mind and you believe you are correct serves no other purpose than to boost your own ego.

    Try to wrap your mind around this and see it from another perspective. If you KNOW God is very real (not believe; God has directly impacted your life in a tangible way...you KNOW) then come at the question from that side. If you know God is real your entire perspective on the Bible and everything in it changes specifically because any questions you may be able to have about it to try to cast doubt on its text go out the window...because ultimately you know the most important part of it is very real and that changes your entire perspective on it.

    One of my favorite quotes:
    "The test of first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." - F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Many people like to assume that people just go sit in a service or read a book and are magically convinced to believe. That's naive. There is also this idea that people lack the critical thinking to question it. That's also naive since those questions are the first thing that everybody asks. It takes a lot of ego to assume every single person in those pews hasn't questioned it, strongly. Especially the ones who donate huge sums of money to it.

    The reality is that life change happens much more often than most people would like to admit and hearing enough people you know give testimony about that life change creates trust in the information, even if it has not happened to you personally yet. This is buoyed by the fact that those people are telling you this because they want you to be able to receive the same help that they did. There is no financial motive. There is no other incentive than sharing their experience of something they didn't previously believe which they now feel obligated to express for the betterment of those around them.

    Writing those people off, however, takes a tremendous amount of hubris. I never take any issue with a person who has questions. I only take issue with people who think they have all the answers.

  • Re:Science (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drosboro (1046516) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @09:10AM (#47107479)

    I don’t think you’ve got your definition of “believing” quite right - there’s no reason to require “belief” to be unsubstantiated. In fact we very often hear scientists say things like “I believe that [x], and here’s why”. To “believe” just means to hold something to be true.

    In fact, philosophers have long defined “knowledge” as “justified true belief”. There’s lots of variations on that theme, and arguing about whether that’s a right definition - but the argument is not about the “belief” part as much as the “justified” and “true" parts.

    So, it is in fact incorrect to say that science eliminates the need for believing - what it does, however, is provide reasons or justification for our beliefs.

  • Re:Wait a sec (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bacon Bits (926911) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @09:25AM (#47107617)

    No, you misunderstand.

    Everything you think is true is something you believe. If someone says, "1+1=2," you say, "Yes, that is true." What you really mean is, "Yes, I believe that to be true." Certainly, things are true or false absent of any belief, but when we're asking about whether or not an individual thinks something is true or false, we're exactly talking about belief. We're not talking about accuracy of scientific or mathematic laws, theories, or models. We're talking about the nature of knowledge, perception, and human understanding.

    Think of it this way. For thousands of years humans believed that when they saw a sunrise that the sun had revolved around the earth on a crystal sphere. That's what their knowledge of the universe told them was true, so that is what they believed, and that's what their knowledge told them they saw. That was as true to them as the truth you belive in when your knowledge tells you that the earth is held in orbit by gravity and rotates to bring the sun back into view. The fact that your knowledge might be more accurate or might have more evidence behind it is irrelevant. Your belief that it is true, or belief that it is false, or fundamental misunderstanding of what is truly going on doesn't change what's really going on. Nevertheless, knowing who agrees with your beliefs and therefore agree with what the common knowledge tells us about the universe can be valuable.

    You can do the same thing with any scientific model. Consider big bang vs steady state theory. Did you know that, to this day, scientific papers are published in journals relating to the steady state model of the universe? Consider the model of the atom. We've gone from the plum pudding model, to the ring model, to the Bohr model, which is still the most commonly taught model, I believe. None of them really represnt the atom that well, of course, but people still imagine the Bohr model when you say "atom" to them. That's not what an atom actually is or looks like, but that is what people believe.

  • Re:Wait a sec (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @09:40AM (#47107769) Homepage

    Your use of the phrase 'sky wizard' shows that you have never taken the time or had the impetus to learn what our Lord and Savior Jesus H Christ died for on the cross and that you will be damned for all eternity in a blazing corona of flames. I hope that your smugness for the time your are here on earth in physical form provides adequate fodder to keep your mind occupied for your eternal damnation that is your future.

    You're probably just a random troll, but in case you're not ...

    Any entity which can create the vast, complex and wondrous universe that I see around me and live in is not going to be some petty, childish idiot bent on vengeance and scaring me with bed time stories, and demanding blind obeisance to metaphor and mis-interpretation by puny humans.

    If such a god exists, he/she/it/they will be capable of much broader thinking than those who claim to represent him/her/it/they.

    If not, to hell with him.

    Now, go put away your childish things.

  • Re:Wait a sec (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Calydor (739835) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @09:46AM (#47107835)

    It is the belief that Darwin's Theory of Evolution (with later minor revisions and adjustments) is the explanation of how evolution works. As long as something is a theory you are open to other explanations, but you can believe that this particular theory is the right one due to overwhelming evidence that still does not prove it as hard irrefutable fact.

  • Re:Wait a sec (Score:5, Insightful)

    by countach (534280) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @10:00AM (#47108031)

    Technically it is "a" scientific explanation, not "the" explanation. It may be the most prominent, most widely accepted etc etc. But there is no such thing as "the" explanation for anything, unless there is literally nobody who disagrees. There are a number of sub-theories within evolution for a start. "The" explanation for continents in the 19th century repudiated continental drift as bunkum. Everything is tentative.

  • Re:Wait a sec (Score:5, Insightful)

    by i kan reed (749298) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @10:00AM (#47108033) Homepage Journal

    No, it doesn't. That is in no way an idea that can be attributed to Christianity. Neither is an original idea of Christian philosophers(we definitely see it discussed by Plato), nor is it directly in the bible to show a fundamental connection.

    What you're doing is a pretty dumb thing: "Intuitively true thing must come from my religion, and since it's intuitively true, it must validate that religion"

  • Re:Wait a sec (Score:3, Insightful)

    by billy3 (1152353) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @10:06AM (#47108099)
    Natural Selection is the scientifically verified observed phenomenon. Evolution is an extrapolation on that concept. I do *believe* that evolution occurs, I just understand the (important) distinction between what we do observe and what we theorize. Learn to compartmentalize people! Passion should drive you to excel, not make you get into pissing contests.
  • Re:Wait a sec (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @10:54AM (#47108709) Homepage Journal

    Mmmm. Gotta argue with that. I mean, it almost sounds reasonable, but I'm not sure that you are saying exactly what you meant to say.

    "The" explanation, would actually be "proven beyond any possible doubt". Such proof, of course, would require a time machine, and a LOT of observation and recordings from eons past.

    The fact that some "consensus" has been reached, or that no one has a reasonable argument against an explanation doesn't make it "the" explanation.

    And, wouldn't it be funny as hell, if we DID send a time machine back, and as it drifted further and further back, we gathered shitloads of evidence that evolution really is real - BUT, there was also an entity at the beginning that started it all off? Then, EVERYONE would all be embarrassed! Yep, evolution is real, alright, but I've not given up on intelligent design, either.

  • Re:Wait a sec (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Copid (137416) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @11:01AM (#47108815)
    I think the point is that there's a difference between "predicting" something and observing and describing it. You could just as well say that Helios is real because the story of Helios predicts that the sun will rise and set every day. More likely, people noticed the sun rising and setting well before anybody thought to create Helios. His story isn't a prediction. It's a story that was written to match the data.
  • by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @11:05AM (#47108863) Homepage Journal

    If the theory of evolution is accurate at all, then yes, there HAVE been transitions from one kind of animal to another. Monkeys, apes, and humans, are supposed to have a "common ancestor" after all. That ancestor was almost certainly "ape-like", but he wasn't an ape, or a monkey, or a human. Yes, of course he's in the same family as all of us, but he was something else, or rather, WE are all something else. Reach back far enough, and someone has to explain where the hell the first mammal came from, after all. Was he hatched from an egg? What KIND of egg?

  • Re:Wait a sec (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dryeo (100693) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @11:17AM (#47109049)

    Evolution says nothing about how it all started so even if there was an intelligent designer it doesn't matter as far as theory of evolution is concerned. What it does do is raise the question of where the intelligent designer came from and how it evolved.

  • Re:Wait a sec (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TubeSteak (669689) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @11:30AM (#47109259) Journal

    >quote>I don't know that the difference is as epistemologically different as you make out.

    Reproducibility and falsifiability.
    Just because I don't go around reproducing every bit of science that I "believe" is true,
    that doesn't suddenly make my acceptance of its truth = religious beliefs.

  • Re:Wait a sec (Score:5, Insightful)

    by advid.net (595837) <slashdot@a d v i d . n et> on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @12:04PM (#47109625) Journal

    [..] you can believe that this particular theory is the right one [...]

    This is not a belief, since I wouldn't say that I *believe* that it is the right one, no...

    I would rather say that I'm convinced and that I agree with the reasoning of this theory, given the facts and using logic.

    And it is by far the best, and in fact the only one that is still valid and was reinforced during a century of observations, also with predictions comforted by new observations.
    There is no other theory left about evolution, and this one was remarkable for its scientific validation.

    With all those facts and observations, if you still have doubts, then you must also have some about any theory, even wonder is Earth is flat or not, who knows ?
    And have absolute doubt, question even reality...
    You can, if you want.

    BTW, "believe" might be an ambiguous word in English, like "Free" (Libre or Gratis?), this can be confusing for some people.
    Do they say "believe" for "having the belief" - with faith - or just "thinking it's right and valid" - no faith needed - as it can be used casually.
    Mixing the two is really confusing.

  • Re:Wait a sec (Score:4, Insightful)

    by clickety6 (141178) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @12:40PM (#47110015)
    Jesus the human may not have been a fictional character.

    Jesus the son of God most certainly is.

  • Re:Wait a sec (Score:5, Insightful)

    by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @01:00PM (#47110247)
    Belief is a state of mind in which you hold a proposition to be true, for whatever reason you do so. So if you think that theory X is correct on basis of logical reasoning, it's automatically also a belief.

Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.

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