The ‘belief-comprehension’ question on evolution

Here is an interesting post from one of Dan Kahan’s students (emphasis in original):

I agree with Smith, however, that we should not go so far as to seek or require belief – or perhaps, I might say, “complete belief.” It is not and should not be the goal of a science class to completely overhaul students’ worldview, religion and all.

What we are seeking is for students to believe something like:

“Evolution, which says x, is the best supported scientific way of understanding the origins of various species, the way species adapt to their environment, etc etc.” (A conclusion similar to Smith 2004.)

And this requires an understanding of evolution, in the strong sense of understanding, which encompasses comprehension of justification. One may even argue that this type of belief follows necessarily from strong understanding: that is, if you understand mechanism of and scientific basis for evolution, and the comparative paucity of scientific explanation for other theories of species’ origins, then you will necessarily believe that “Evolution, which says x, is the best supported… etc, etc.” This could be a neat logical maneuver to employ because it means that we can avoid talking about the need for students to “believe in” evolution – which carries a lot of nasty cultural baggage – and just talk about understanding instead.



1 Comment

  1. Interesting. It’s interesting that people don’t seem so hung up on other theories. Of course there’s no perfect analogy. But there are other best-supported theories for which it’s ok if you don’t think that’s how it happen though you understand why many people do (amount of evidence). A good example is the Big Bang Theory.

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