Southeastern Section - 64th Annual Meeting (19–20 March 2015)

Paper No. 3
Presentation Time: 8:50 AM


SALTER, Rachel L. and FORCINO, Frank L., Geosciences and Natural Resources Department, Western Carolina University, 331 Stillwell Building, Cullowhee, NC 28723,

The interplay between religious beliefs and evolution acceptance is well documented. However, Americans’ understanding of the theory of evolution is still difficult to ascertain. In order to improve evolution education, educators and researchers must do a better job of mitigating the educational obstacles that have contributed to current gaps and misconceptions in the public’s understanding of evolution. States in the southeast (SE) US are of particular interest because they tend to have a higher level of conservatism, which correlates with lower evolution acceptance. In addition, SE states historically have had less rigorous evolution education standards. In this study, we compared evolution understanding in the SE to non-SE states. In addition, we searched for relationships between evolution understanding and religiosity.

This study utilized one trait gain and one trait loss question from the Bishop & Anderson Open Response Instrument (ORI). The responses were graded using the published coding rubric. The survey was administered using Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) to 298 participants, 70 from the SE and 228 from non-SE states. MTurk is an online survey tool; the demographics of participants are slightly more diverse than an average sample of Internet users and significantly more diverse than typical American college samples. Overall scores were low (21% SE, 22% non-SE). There was no difference in scores between the SE and non-SE states (p = 0.40). There was a difference in a complementary study when using a multiple-choice instrument. The differences found using the multiple-choice items may be due to the ability of participants to guess or spot vocabulary, whereas the free response test looks for more nuanced knowledge. The trait gain score (24%) was significantly different than the trait loss score (18%, p <0.001). Participants with only a high school education scored lower, which may relate to how evolution is being taught at the high school level. Religiosity was a predictor of non-SE scores but not scores in the SE states (r2 = 0.02, p = 0.02). Regardless of location, there are still many strides to be made in teaching evolution. The low overall scores across the entire country indicate there is a need to overhaul evolution curriculum, not just in the SE but in the entire US.