Brownell and Barnes said the study revealed additional important points. It showed that many instructors perceive barriers, such as lack of training or context of the coursework, that cause them to avoid talking about evolution and religion in the classroom. Additionally, personal beliefs about the role God plays in evolution seem to impact what they are actually teaching. Many instructors say they believe evolution and religious beliefs are in conflict, so rather than discuss this with students who may be religious, they stick to only teaching facts about evolution.

“Many science instructors believe they can simply give facts about evolution, but research has shown that we have to attend to the emotional components and religious beliefs our students have,” said Barnes. “Clearly, this is not a black-and-white issue. We have to come together in the middle somehow — no more extremes,” added Barnes.

This study included instructor participants from ASU, University of Arizona, Northern Arizona University and 10 Arizona community colleges. It included professors who identified themselves as agnostic and atheist, as well as Catholic, Jewish, Protestant and “questioning.”

Brownell and Barnes said the next step is to investigate this issue on a national level. This study focused on professors teaching biology in Arizona, which is listed in a 2013 Gallup poll as being in the lower one-third of religious states in the U.S. The pair is currently studying how religious students in the classroom perceive the topic of evolution and religion. They are also investigating what instructors and students believe “acceptance” to mean in regards to evolution. 

National Science Foundation (NSF) grant #091011 and an NSF Fellowship #DGE-1311230 supported this research project.

Sandra Leander

Assistant Director of Media Relations, ASU Knowledge Enterprise

480-965-9865