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Belief In Evolution Doesn't Measure Science Literacy 772

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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by msauve ( 701917 )
      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, Informative)

        by dave420 ( 699308 ) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @08:54AM (#47107309)
        No - evolution is the observed phenomenon, and the theory of evolution is the explanation of said phenomenon.
        • easy're cutting off your nose to spite your face

          we don't need to exaggerate scientific claims to counter arguments, ever...

          "belief" is too complex of a human action to describe with scientific level certainty, so the notion is useless to this discussion...people "believe" things strongly yet directly contradict their beliefs with action depending on the situation...the word is not fit for comparison

          no one has "observed" evolution in the same way we observe a snake molting or a comet

          it's just a f

          • People directly observe evolution every single day. Just go to your local university's undergraduate fruit fly lab. You can see it, test it, measure it, validate it. They've done fruit fly experiments where they have caused speciation (i.e. producing two branches of evolutionary fruit flies lines that cannot re-produce with one another)
            • yeah...see your comment is the problem

              by your definition, watching a lab tech fertilizes a human egg with sperm in a dish is the same as watching two people fsk

              in another context (not evolution) your description of what constitutes "direct observation" is not proper for comparison

              you're exaggerating and you ***DONT NEED TO***

              it's like you're padding your resume for a job where you're the only applicant

              also, the condescending tone is alienating..."just go to your local university...fruit flies! obse

      • No, not really. “Belief” is just “holding something to be true” - and in general, most people believe things because they have “reason to believe”, in the form of evidence. It’s actually very difficult to believe something you have no evidence whatsoever for. Both the evolutionary scientist and the religious person may hold beliefs (things taken to be true) around evolution that are based on “reasons” or “evidence” - it’s just a ques
    • 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.")

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by rmdingler ( 1955220 )
        Yes. Most folks who subscribe to the principle theory of man evolving from a more primitive state believe what they do in deference to the respect they have for the experts who have studied the science, not because they've studied the science themselves.

        Once you are aware of evolution, it is easy to see it in everyday existence, but you subscribe to it because the information was made available to you. "Hmmm, that makes sense. I believe that." God worshippers undergo a similar belief in information present

        • And yes yes, there are loads of otherwise intelligent people who are deeply religious because of their nurturing environment. If the whole family respects and honors a belief, it can be difficult to overcomoe this early brainwashing, to the point of ignoring all Bayesian inference.

          While you may have identified some segment of religious people, there is a large segment, especially falling in the "otherwise intelligent" category, that you have decided do not exist: Those people that hold their religious / spiritual beliefs because of their own subjective experience. This, in fact, is the essence of virtually every religious movement or reawakening in history (Scientology and other scams not withstanding). Sometimes people's experience is so profound they are able to guide other people

      • "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."

        I don't know that the difference is as epistemologically different as you make out. You believe an expert because he perhaps witnessed some experiment or gathered certain pieces of evidence, and you believe that he did so. You believe $HOLY_BOOK because it purports to be an eyewitnesses sayin

        • 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.

    • I think that is a rather limited view. It may not be a religious system of thought, but it is based on various philosophies and systems of thought. Empiricism, naturalism, and so forth are subjects of belief, like it or not. If you dig deep enough, belief is at the bottom of everything.

    • 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.

    • by mfh ( 56 )

      Science eliminates the need for believing -- holding an unsubstantiated opinion.

      • 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.

        • Let's call it "Big B Belief" for taking things on faith, and "little b belief" for positing that something is true.
    • There is no "belief" for evolutionary principles. It is not a system of religious thought.

      You can believe that evolution happened, or that we were all made by the magical sky wizard.

      Just because you believe evolution is real and actually happened, you may or may not know a damn about science.

      Some people do not believe evolution is a real thing or that it happened.

      What part are you missing?

    • 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.

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

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

      Well, to play devil's advocate for a moment, that would leave "belief" up to the opinions of the individual.

      Imagine Alice and Bob are both physical anthropologists. They both agree that evolution is the parsimonious explanation for the fossil record, but Alice believes it actually happened; Bob, an evangelical Christian, thinks of it as a useful model.

      We all have a number of useful models in our head we know are untrue, or rather mostly untrue. I have a number of inconsistent models of the atom in my head,

    • You do realize everyone has Faith, right?

      If you didn't have faith in your beliefs, then why do you even have them in the first place ??

    • Yes yes, that's nice and all. Actually it's kind of a dickbag move by an antagonistic atheist with a bone to pick against the religious types and it's this sort of behavior that makes the ignorant religious get in a huff and brews an anti-science sentiment. I get the sentiment, but you're technically wrong.

      People certainly "believe" in evolution.

      Just the same way that you believe that 1+1=2.

      You're not going to say something crazy like you DON'T believe that 1+1=2, right? Cause that's crazy talk. 1+1 obviou

  • 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: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Drethon ( 1445051 )
      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.
      • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @08:39AM (#47107183)

        It's not really faith. I, coming from a mathematics background, would rather call it interpolation. You have a few findings that you have, these are (more or less) well dated and they tell you some kind of timeline. What you do now is fill in the blanks. As science progresses and we find more, fewer blanks need filling, and some of the stuff that people filled in will have to be erased and reworked because what we found contradicts what they envisioned.

        That's the main difference between a scientific and a faith based system, not so much the steps "research" is done, but rather their order.

        Science goes
        observation of nature
        pondering of meaning
        formulation of theory
        more observation of nature
        adjustment of theory

        Religion goes
        creation of holy text (aka "truth")
        observation of nature
        pondering how observation can be interpreted to fit holy text
        more observation of nature
        discarding observations that don't fit holy text

        The main difference is that science adjusts its theory to fit the findings, religion accepts or rejects the discoveries depending on whether they fit into the holy scriptures.

        • Religion doesn;t really observe nature, if it did, it would find that its interpretation of it was at odds with reality i.e. its fucking cruel and it doesn;t care
      • 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 liv

    • While it may be flabbergasting that someone may believe they are here because a "wizard" this study seems to reveal that many sheeple don't believe in said "wizard" but have no true foundation for this other than that is what their peers believe. Many do not have any understanding of how evolution actually works yet believe in it therefore making the question less of a scientific question and more of a religious or lack of question.
    • But it sure measures the amount of faith people want to put into "a wizard did it" as a valid explanation of something.

      No it doesn't. If you want to measure something like that, you take a poll on something like that. Here are some recent figures []:

      74% of Americans say they believe in God, 72% believe in miracles, 68% believe in heaven and angels, 65% believe in the resurrection of Jesus, 58% believe in the devil, 57% believe in the Virgin birth, etc.

      Meanwhile, the same poll found only 29% say they "don't believe in" evolution, and 25% "aren't sure." If you combine those responses, you still only get to 54%, which is l

      • Sorry, typo -- 26% (not 24%) believe in witches... not that it matters much.
      • Statistics are very dependent on how you ask, what you ask, and what ELSE you ask. If they really asked the whole bunch in the same survey (i.e. UFOs, miracles, astrology, witchcraft, etc), I don't doubt that you'd get a higher turnout of people believing in god than when simply only asking that question. This is due to some psychological effect where people don't want to give one "kind" of answer to a whole survey (people don't like to say "yes" or "no" to every question asked). I'd take that whole thing w

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

      I think this is a flawed perception of how people think. Religious people's thinking is the product of cultural and familial influences that are proven to have great impact on the way one perceives the world. Its not as simple as "want to put" a wizard in as an explanation, like its some multiple choice decision. Its more like a lens through which things are viewed. Their choices are not the same as yours.

      I know some firmly religious people that are off the charts smart. I'm not religious, but I don't t

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

      Not completely accepting one scientific theory, does NOT imply that you default to supernatural explanations...

      Hell, how did intelligent people *LIVE* before Darwin came along? Did their heads explode when someone asked them how humans came to exist? Or was Darwin the first atheist EVER, and scientists came to exist only after he was born?

  • by alphatel ( 1450715 ) * on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @08:19AM (#47107007)
    While Dan has certainly taken pains to show the many correlations between one subset and another, I think the most important one to consider is this:

    Those who firmly believe that a "God" was involved in the universe/mankind, were less likely to score at the upper tier [] of scientific knowledge. Everyone else drew mixed results.

    I also like this quote here:
    Nevertheless, the subgroup of such students who did back away from two particular beliefs hostile to naturalistic evolution (that the “living world is controlled by a force greater than humans” and that “all events in nature occur as part of a predetermined master plan”) consisted of the students who scored the lowest in critical reasoning skills.
    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      The point of a multi-question test is that the questions should measure different things - they won't all necessarily correlate well with each other. Measuring someone's inclination to believe religion over science would seem to be a valuable part of assessing their scientific literacy.

      • Um, you've just ignored the data in front of you - the data collected shows no correlation between "someone's inclination to believe religion over science" (ie their position on the evolution v creationism debate) and scientific literacy. There is no value in that measurement - it has no predictive power of the scientific literacy.

        • 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.

          • Yes, isn't believing in the truth of something that has been rigorously proved part of scientific literacy?

            What would happen if the ones that don't believe humans evolved were forced to deal with some of the unequivocal data that backs it up, like genetics, would they still deny it and cause practical problems?

            Further it raises the question as to who is trying to change the test, and why ;)

    • The main difference, independent of how "well" religious vs. non-religious people scored, would probably be how they accept those "scientific facts".

      I'm inclined to think that a non-religious person is more inclined to doubt what is presented to them if they see some kind of discrepancy with their own findings and hence more likely to make new discoveries.

    • Looking at the actual data ( [] ), it seems that answering the question in TFS with true is very much correlated positively with 'verbal ability', 'family income', 'formal education', 'science mathematics education', 'trend factual knowledge of science scale' (whatever that may be) and negatively with 'age'.
      The same pattern is visible in the other questions, just more pronounced.

      Considering the retarded way the 'uncorrelated' questions were posed, I can imagine that respondent

  • What an amazingly stupid TFA... In what world does belief in anything have scientific literacy as a prerequisite?

    A person can "believe" in evolution or general relativity or the Higgs boson the same way they can believe in Zeus or Jesus or the Easter Bunny. In the former set of cases, they hold true beliefs entirely by coincidence, with no more solid basis than those who adhere to the latter set.

    The difference between the two domains of belief comes from the demonstrability of the former as viable hypo
  • a belief is confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof. the scientific theory of evolution is grounded upon a mountain of scientific research so overwhelmingly exhaustive as to render it a fact of life, no different than gravity. What the study is comparing is overall scientific literacy as a product of the comprehension of a single scientific concept. those who willfully choose to disregard the science will, of course, be marred with an incredible bli
  • 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?

  • What is the point in a test that measures scientific literacy, if that test does not measure a person's commitment to the philosophy of science? A key indicator of an understanding of science is one's commitment to the scientific method. Evolution is a direct result of that commitment. When one eschews that commitment, what kind of literacy are we left with?
    • by tomhath ( 637240 )
      As I read it, some people let their religious beliefs trump the answers to questions about their scientific literacy. I don't think means they're less committed to the scientific method, just that they're more committed to something else (or want to appear that they're more committed).
  • Willfull blindness (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RichMan ( 8097 ) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @09:28AM (#47107653)

    What this says is people will accept science except where they feel it contradicts with their beliefs.

    Gravity - ok
    Electricity - ok
    Evolution - nope

    I think this says it all. Even with the one nope they have proven themselves not to be scientifically literate. They have proven that they have a rational space that cannot be challenged by science. No matter how rational you might otherwise be if there is a think-space where you refuse to be rational you are at root irrational.

    • If someone has a blind spot like that it doesn't mean they can't excel in fields that don't cross into that blind spot. Belief in evolution has zero bearing on whether you can accurately create a circuit diagram or write a program.

1 1 was a race-horse, 2 2 was 1 2. When 1 1 1 1 race, 2 2 1 1 2.