Evolution and its meaning in the future of organisms and the human being is a subject widely discussed in scientific and non-scientific literature. In the 19th century, Charles Darwin contributed a crucial idea to understand how species originate: natural selection. Since then, the debates have continued. His book From Him On the Origin of Species , published in 1859, opened the door to learning about and understanding biological evolution.
Evolution is a fundamental field of modern biology that has great social relevance today. Their discoveries help us understand and respond to climate change, drug resistance, epidemics and pandemics, food safety issues, and controversies in modern medicine.
This makes knowledge of evolution an ideal model for investigating approaches that improve the state of scientific literacy in general.
But do we know the level of knowledge and acceptance of evolution in different educational settings? And the factors that influence their acceptance or rejection? Is this knowledge homogeneous in the different countries? Are evolution and natural selection widely accepted?
The results published on this topic in recent years are ambiguous and show that there is a wide variety of measurement problems. These difficulties are due, in part, to the lack of standardized methods, especially for cross-country comparisons.
The situation in Europe is very diverse due to cultural differences, educational systems and fragmented research communities. Studies with significant results are few and lack standardization .
Students accept evolution, but their knowledge varies
To correct these deficits, the project within the framework of the European Action COST ” EuroScitizen: building on scientific literacy in Evolution ” has proposed among its objectives a standardized, validated and complete study on these issues through an education questionnaire on evolution .
Three variables have been analyzed in the study:
- Acceptance of evolution.
- Knowledge of evolution.
- Degree of religious belief in the different confessions.
The survey involved 9,200 first-year university students (with or without secondary school biology studies) from 26 European countries.
In the study we found that, despite the different cultural contexts and educational systems of European countries, first-year university students, in general, tend to accept evolution. However, their knowledge varies significantly.
It is found that, in general, students lack substantial knowledge on this subject. Even if they are enrolled in a study program related to Biology.
Biology students know evolution better than others, and they accept it. Those who do not study Biology also accept it.
The study also points out the influence of different religious beliefs, both for acceptance and for knowledge of evolution. Highly religious students are significantly less accepting of evolution than nonreligious students. Furthermore, highly religious countries tend to show less awareness of evolution.
Spain appears with an average level of religious beliefs, but ranks third at the European level –above the average– both in acceptance and in knowledge of evolution. This is good information about the level of our educational system, which has been including the subjects of Biology, Philosophy and Scientific Culture already in Secondary Education.
How to improve knowledge of evolution
The paper recommends that, in addition to increasing knowledge about evolution in teaching, the relationship between evolution and religion should be emphasized when promoting its acceptance. For example, through reasoning and argumentation.
This is a sensitive topic to approach with students, and teaching at this level is challenging, partly cultural. According to our model, an increase in knowledge about evolution and interest in biological topics increases the acceptance of evolution. The effect of age and sex, as well as the fact of being or not enrolled in a university program related to Biology, are relatively insignificant.
The results of the extensive study indicate that, despite all their differences, most European education systems for secondary and higher education are conducive to the acceptance of evolution, at least in university students.
In the sample of cases analyzed, the differences in knowledge between countries do not reflect either the degree to which school curricula cover evolutionary biology or the percentage of students taking biology.
To elucidate the influence of these factors, future studies should investigate the role of the different European curricula, as well as identify developmental concepts that are particularly problematic or underrepresented in teaching, and analyze in more detail the role of religious beliefs in education. teaching of evolution.
Essential for scientific literacy
Evolution is the backbone of modern biological studies. It provides a unifying framework in which scientists from different branches and subdisciplines ask questions about the living world. A basic understanding of core evolutionary concepts is essential for biological education and scientific literacy, and has been underlined by the Council of Europe.
In this sense, different European scientific organizations promote and work on the teaching of evolution as a fundamental scientific theory. The project “ EuroScitizen: building on scientific literacy in Evolution ” also makes an effort to analyze curricula, textbooks, messages in scientific exhibitions and the media to improve the contribution of formal and informal education to the understanding of the evolution and the scientific literacy of the European public on this subject.
Only in the light of evolutionary knowledge can we really understand the advances in biological and medical research, and the risks that biodiversity decline and climate change bring.
Author Bio: Immaculate Yruela Guerrero is a CSIC Scientific Researcher atAula Dei Experimental Station (EEAD – CSIC)