Some Still Doubt Evolution


Monday, July 3rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


BOSTON (AP) — Scientists have made enormous progress building upon the theory of evolution in the 140 years since it was first proposed by naturalist Charles Darwin.

But some are particularly puzzled by one unsolved mystery: Why do so many people continue to have their doubts?

A Gallup Poll conducted last year found that 47 percent of Americans believe God created human beings, while 49 percent accepted the theory of evolution — that mankind developed over millions of years from more primitive species.

``I think all that shows is that most Americans are woefully badly educated in science, which is our fault, not theirs,'' said Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould.

Scientists, who almost universally accept evolution, believe all the evidence is on their side. Facing activists who want creationism taught alongside evolution in public schools, they say they'll have to make a stronger case to the public.

Gould is one of several prominent scientists involved in a new Evolution Education Research Centre, based at Harvard and McGill University in Montreal. The premise is that Americans and Canadians — about half of whom also have their doubts about evolution — aren't being convincingly taught the science that supports the theory.

``If students understand well evolution, but for religious reasons say `I still cannot accept that because of my religious beliefs,' then we in the educational community say we respect that,'' said Brian Alters, a McGill science-education professor who is leading the center. ``But that is not the case, we usually find.''

Linda Holloway, who was chairwoman of the Kansas Board of Education when it voted last year to remove most references to evolution from the state's curriculum, said she welcomed efforts to teach evolution more effectively.

``I think that's great. I think this whole discussion is great,'' she said. ``Evolutionists are putting out their information and people who have different viewpoints are putting out theirs. I think that's healthy.''

The center plans to disseminate its research through teachers conventions and seminars, and on a Web site. But the main target is university-level science education professors, who will train the next generation of high school teachers.

In a study of 1,200 college freshmen, Alters found 45 percent of those who doubted evolution had specific misunderstandings about some of the science that has been used to confirm the theory — for instance carbon dating techniques that determine the age of fossils.

``We need to find out why people don't understand evolution,'' Alters said. ``Then we need to craft lessons, activities, curricula to specifically address that.''

The debate over teaching origin theories dates back to 1925, when John T. Scopes was charged with violating Tennessee law for teaching evolution in high school. Scopes' conviction was later were overturned.

In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court barred states from requiring the teaching of creationism in public schools where evolution is taught.

The Kansas school board's decision last year rekindled the debate.

Alters and Gould both say Americans' attitudes toward the teaching of evolution are more complex than they first appear.

The Gallup Poll conducted last year also found 68 percent of Americans favored teaching both creationism and evolution in the public schools. By a margin of 55 percent to 40 percent, they opposed replacing evolution with creationism.

Those results were based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,016 adults, 18 years and older, conducted June 25-27, 1999. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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On the Net:

Harvard University list of evolution links: http://www.mcb.harvard.edu/BioLinks/Evolution.html

List of links on creationism: http://www.pathlights.com/other—sites.htm