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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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  • 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.
  • by Dr. Manhattan ( 29720 ) <> on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @09:29AM (#47107657) Homepage

    This doesn't necessarily mean that he disagrees with evolution and mutation as a mechanism for change or that there is common DNA across a large number of species.

    BTW, I couldn't let this one go. It's not just 'a large number'. It's the same DNA code across all organisms we know of. There are a couple of exceptions - but they edit the code back to the 'standard' one before the proteins are transcribed.

    And the pattern of 'common DNA' confirms common descent to a ridonkulous degree [].

    Books used to be copied by scribes, and (despite a lot of care) sometimes typos would be introduced. Later scribes, making copies of copies, would introduce other typos. It's possible to look at the existing copies and put them into a 'family tree'. "These copies have this typo, but not that one; this other group has yet another typo, though three of them have a newer typo as well, not seen elsewhere..." This is not controversial at all when dealing with books, including the Bible.

    Now, this process of copy-with-modification naturally produces 'family trees', nested groups. When we look at life, we find such nested groups. No lizards with fur or nipples, no mammals with feathers, etc. Living things (at least, multicellular ones, see below) fit into a grouped hierarchy. This has been solidly recognized for over a thousand years, and systematized for centuries. It was one of the clues that led Darwin to propose evolution. (Little-known fact: Linnaeus, who invented the "kingdom, phyla, genus, species, etc." classification scheme for living things, tried to do the same thing for minerals. But minerals don't form from copy-with-modification, and a 'nested hierarchy' just didn't work and never caught on.)

    Today, more than a century later, we find another tree, one Darwin never suspected - that of DNA. This really is a 'text' being copied with rare typos. And, as expected, it also forms a family tree, a nested hierarchy. And, with very very few surprises, it's the same tree that was derived from looking at physical traits.

    It didn't have to be that way. Even very critical genes for life - like that of cytochrome C - have a few neutral variations, minor mutations that don't affect its function. (Genetic sequences for cytochrome C differ by up to 60% across species.) Wheat engineered to use the mouse form of cytochrome C grows just fine. But we find a tree of mutations that fits evolution precisely, instead of some other tree. (Imagine if a tree derived from bookbinding technology - "this guy used this kind of glue, but this other bookbinder used a different glue..." - conflicted with a tree that was derived from typos in the text of the books. We'd know at least one tree and maybe both were wrong.)

    The details of these trees are very specific and very, very numerous. There are billions of quadrillions of possible trees... and yet the two that we see (DNA and morphology) happen to very precisely match. This is either a staggering coincidence, or a Creator deliberately arranged it in a misleading manner, or... universal common ancestry is actually true.

    (Single-celled organisms are much more 'promiscuous' in their reproduction and spread genes willy-nilly without respect for straightforward inheritance. With single-celled creatures, it looks more like a 'web' of life than a 'tree'. But even if the tree of life has tangled roots, it's still very definitely a tree when it comes to multicellular life. Which is the area that people opposed to evolution most worry about anyway.)

  • by Urkki ( 668283 ) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @10:33AM (#47108423)

    The theory of evolution interprets this observed phenomenon and posits the completely unobserved transition between kinds of animal.

    "posits the completely unobserved transition between kinds of animal"

    Well, no, there's no transition between "kinds of animal" really. I suppose you could say such transitions happened when different "kingdoms of life" appeared (we really have no clue how exactly that went down, just wild speculation), but not between animals. Or to put it another way, cat will not have evolutionary transition to a dog, just to a different cat. From this follows, humans, cats and dogs are just different tetrapods. Earlier tetrapods had "transitions" to cats (still tetrapod), dogs (still tetrapod) and humans (also still tetrapods).

    To repeat, there is no transition between "kinds of animal" in the theory of evolution. And rest of your post kinda falls apart from this simple misunderstanding.

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

    by schlachter ( 862210 ) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @10:46AM (#47108597)

    there is no such thing as "the" explanation for anything, unless there is literally nobody who disagrees

    Even if "everyone" agrees, there is still no such thing as "the" explanation in that it is still not infallible. For example, if everyone believed in Jesus, that wouldn't make him any less fictional.

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

    by gameboyhippo ( 827141 ) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @11:17AM (#47109051) Journal

    lol... I love it when atheists say that Jesus is fictional. It's low hanging fruit to debunk since the existence of a man named Jesus who was crucified in the first century is one of the most verified humans in antiquity. Saying that Jesus is fictional is as bad as believing in geocentrism. In fact, many atheists encourage their fellow unbelievers to stop saying nonsense like "Jesus is fictional" since it is such low hanging fruit for an apologist to debunk.

  • Agreed. (Score:4, Informative)

    by mmell ( 832646 ) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @12:33PM (#47109945)
    The existence of the human now known as Jesus of Nazareth is a historical fact. His divinity however is wide open to debate. Not intelligent debate (in my experience), but debate.

    For the record, my ancestors killed him a couple millennia ago. Trust me, when we kill 'em they stay dead.

    Now, back to the main point - evolution is a theory, like Einstein's theory of general relativity. It's not a fact like "two plus two equals four", it's a theory. It has been tested in laboratory experiments with lower life forms and appears to have produced accurate predictions. It explains observed phenomena well and has not been contradicted by any documented observations to date. It is not accepted as scientific fact. It remains a theory.

    And . . . I do believe in Darwin's theory of evolution. That theory most certainly exists. I happen to believe that it is a correct theory which explains the state of life on our planet.

  • by perpenso ( 1613749 ) on Wednesday May 28, 2014 @03:13PM (#47111705)

    Why does your faith in G*d preclude accepting Darwin's theory of evolution as valid? Genesis tells us what G*d did, not how she did it.

    Various Christian denominations and churches accept evolution, accept cosmology, accept genetics, ... Hell the Big Bang Theory was introduced by a Catholic Priest while teaching at a Catholic University.

Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based on excellence of performance. -- James Bryant Conant