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Christian and Muslim Teachers and Students' Views of the Theory of Evolution: Implications for Science and Higher Education. Saouma BouJaoude Center for Teaching and Learning & Science and Math Education Center American University of Beirut. Why Investigate Evolution?.

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Saouma boujaoude center for teaching and learning science and math education center

Christian and Muslim Teachers and Students' Views of the Theory of Evolution: Implications for Science and Higher Education

Saouma BouJaoude

Center for Teaching and Learning &

Science and Math Education Center

American University of Beirut


Why investigate evolution

Why Investigate Evolution?

  • The renowned biologist Dobzhansky stated: ‘‘Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.’’

  • UK ‘‘curriculum beyond the year 2000’’ has considered evolution one of the theories essential for students to learn because of its well-connected ‘‘explanatory story’’ of the natural and living world

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Acquiring a scientific viewpoint

Acquiring a scientific viewpoint

  • The acquisition of a scientific viewpoint is not at heart an epistemological issue, nor is it a simple matter of rational conceptual change

  • Research has shown that the rationality commonly ascribed to inquiry in science learning is subject to other factors that determine how humans integrate knowledge from different sources into their conceptual framework.

  • These factors are rooted in a “cluster of prior ideas, beliefs, values, and emotions [that] serves as the initial set of interpretive categories”

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Acquiring a scientific viewpoint 2

Acquiring a scientific viewpoint (2)

  • It is the potential match between these existing cognitive commitments and the new information which determines how the student will respond to the instructional inputs

  • Several researchers in science education have tried to capture this cluster of ideas.

  • Cobern defined an individual’s worldview as “the culturally-dependent, implicit, fundamental organization of the mind which is composed of assumptions which predispose one to feel, think, and act in predictable patterns”

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Acquiring a scientific viewpoint 3

Acquiring a scientific viewpoint (3)

  • Most of the revolutions in the history of science involved challenges to existing worldviews.

  • The Darwinian revolution is an example of a paradigm that met (and is still meeting) strong resistance.

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Acquiring a scientific viewpoint 4

Acquiring a scientific viewpoint (4)

  • Darwin’s Origin of species and the assumptions it endorsed for explaining the diversity of life forms did not just present a new explanatory framework.

  • His propositions demanded a complete rethinking of human’s concept of the world and of themselves

  • The explanation of life from a purely materialistic approach presented a dramatically different worldview from the prevalent one at the time.

  • The vigorous response to Darwin’s theories was the result of their philosophical implications, which shook major beliefs shared by the general culture of his time.

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Acquiring a scientific viewpoint 5

Acquiring a scientific viewpoint (5)

  • Darwin’s ideas challenged four “pillars of the Christian dogma”:

    • A belief in a constant world,

    • A belief in a created world,

    • A belief in a world designed by a wise and benevolent creator

    • A belief in the unique position of man in the creation.

  • The dominant Judio-Christian account of origins, based on the book of Genesis in the Bible, states that God created the heavens and the earth and what is in between.

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Acquiring a scientific viewpoint 6

Acquiring a scientific viewpoint (6)

  • For Muslims, a similar account is also present in the holy Quran.

    • Many chapters of the Quran include verses about creation. The following are two verses that contain the creation of earth, humans, and animals:

    • “We have indeed created man in the best of mold” (Surah At- Tin, Ayah 4), and

    • “Allah has created every animal from water: Of them there are some that creep on their bellies; some that walk on two legs; and some that walk on four. Allah creates what He wills, for verily Allah has power over all things” (Surah An-Nur, Ayah 45).

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Studies on which the presentation is based

Studies on which the Presentation is Based

Dagher, Z., & BouJaoude, S. (1997) Scientific views and religious beliefs of college students: the case of biological evolution. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 34, 429-455.

Dagher, Z., & BouJaoude, S. (2005). Students’ perceptions of the nature of evolutionary theory. Science Education, 89, 378-391.

Hokayem, H. & BouJaoude, S. (2008). How College students in Lebanon perceive the theory of evolution. The Science Education Review, 7 (2), 53-56.

BouJaoude, S., Asghar, A., Wiles, J. R., Jaber, L., Sarieddine, D., and Alters, B. (2011). Biology professors' and teachers' positions regarding biological evolution and evolution education in a Middle Eastern society. International Journal of Science Education, 33, 979-1000.

BouJaoude, S., Wiles, J. Asghar, A., & Alters, B. (2011). Muslim Egyptian and Lebanese students' conceptions of biological evolution. Science and Education, 20, 895-915.

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College students 1

College Students 1

Dagher, Z., & BouJaoude, S. (1997) Scientific views and religious beliefs of college students: the case of biological evolution. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 34, 429-455.

Lilly Conference, November 2013


College students 1 methods

College Students 1: Methods

  • Undergraduate biology majors enrolled in a required senior seminar in a private university in Beirut, Lebanon.

  • Not all students enrolled in the course had taken an evolution course, as it is not a requirement in the program.

  • Sixty-two of the students (out of a total of 76) enrolled in this course responded to a questionnaire administered during a class period within the first 2 weeks of the spring semester of 1995.

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College students 1 methods1

College Students 1: Methods

  • In the preliminary analysis, the authors summarized student responses to the three questions, then identified 15 students for subsequent semi-structured interviews intended to clarify and elaborate their answers. The authors’ selection of interviewees was guided by their interest in including students with diverse religious backgrounds, and students who held representative views pertaining to personal perceptions of conflict.

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College students 1 results

College Students1: Results

  • Personal Positions toward Evolution. The four major positions that emerged reflect views of students who

    • Accepted evolutionary ideas using arguments from an evolution or reconciliation perspective;

    • Did not accept evolutionary ideas presenting arguments from a religion or antievolution perspective;

    • Reinterpreted the theory presenting arguments from a compromise perspective; and

    • Were neutral, reflecting either a non-committed or a confused perspective.

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College students 1 results1

College Students 1: Results

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College students 2

College Students 2

Dagher, Z., & BouJaoude, S. (2005). Students’ perceptions of the nature of evolutionary theory. Science Education, 89, 378-391.

Lilly Conference, November 2013


College students 2 methods

College Students 2: Methods

  • This study explored how some college students understand the nature of the theory of evolution and how they evaluate its scientific status.

  • Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 college biology seniors in which they were asked to explain why they think evolution assumes the status of a scientific theory, how it compares to other scientific theories, and what criteria do they use to determine if an explanation is scientific or not.

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College students 2 results

College Students 2: Results

  • Students’ responses encompassed five themes that include evidence, certainty, experimentation, method of theory generation, and prediction.

  • Those themes focused on the theory’s empirical dimension which seemed to be derived from a generic and simplistic model of physical science theories that valued direct evidence. Demanding that evolutionary theory conform to this model reveals a misunderstanding of its nature.

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College students 3

College Students 3

Hokayem, H. & BouJaoude, S. (2008). How College students in Lebanon perceive the theory of evolution. The Science Education Review, 7 (2), 53-56.

Lilly Conference, November 2013


College students 3 methods

College Students 3: Methods

Data for this study were collected from 11 junior and senior college biology students enrolled in a course on evolution at a university in Beirut, Lebanon. The class included 15 students, but 4 students chose not to participate in the study. The participants belonged to Christian and Moslem religious groups. In addition, the course instructor was a participant

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College students 3 methods1

College Students 3: Methods

  • The data were collected using questionnaires and semi-structured interviews.

  • The two questionnaires were entitled Measure of Acceptance of Theory of Evolution (MATE) and Test of Preferred Explanations (TOPE) which is used to determine students’ presuppositions about causality.

  • Students were interviewed once

  • The course instructor was interviewed three times

  • One of the researchers attended almost all class sessions

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College students 3 results

College Students 3: Results

  • Students could be classified into three categories: Those who accepted the theory completely, those who were uncertain, and one who rejected the theory

  • All students recognized the importance of concrete evidence in scientific research but disagreed about the nature of evidence for the theory of evolution

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College students 3 results1

College Students 3: Results

  • Among the 11 students, 5 considered religion and science as separate entities, 4 considered them in conflict, while 2 considered them in harmony (complementary).

  • Only 2 students acknowledged that the relationship between science and religion affected their opinion regarding the theory

  • None of the students claimed that they were atheist but all, except S3 and S10, thought that they did not have personal conflicts with scientific and religious knowledge.

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Biology teachers and professors

Biology Teachers and Professors

BouJaoude, S., Asghar, A., Wiles, J. R., Jaber, L., Sarieddine, D., and Alters, B. (2011). Biology professors' and teachers' positions regarding biological evolution and evolution education in a Middle Eastern society. International Journal of Science Education, 33, 979-1000.

Lilly Conference, November 2013


Biology teachers and professors methods

Biology Teachers and Professors: Methods

  • Participants were20 secondary private and public school biology teachers (80% females) and 7 university biology professors (25% females) teaching a local private university.

    • All teachers held undergraduate degrees in biology

    • Seventy percent of the teachers were Muslim (5 Shiite, 5 Druze, 4 Sunni) while the rest were Christian (3 Catholic, 3 Orthodox).

    • All professors had biology doctorates. Approximately 60% of the professors were Muslim (2 Sunni, 1 Shiite, 1 Druze), 2 were Christian, and 1 agnostic.

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Biology teachers and professors methods1

Biology Teachers and Professors: Methods

  • Data came from 25-45 minute, semi-structured interviews with the teachers and professors. Interviews were audio-taped later transcribed for analysis.

  • The codes developed by Dagher and BouJaoude were used to analyze data related to participants’ positions regarding evolution and the relationship between these positions and religious beliefs

  • No new categories emerged during data analysis which was conducted by three researchers who discussed and reached common understandings of the codes.

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Biology teachers results

Biology Teachers: Results

  • Nine out of the 20 teachers accepted the theory of evolution. They were either Christian or Druze.

  • Five rejected the theory and were Sunni or Shiite Muslims.

  • Three Sunni and shiite Muslim teachers reinterpreted the theory arguing from a compromise perspective and suggesting that evolution did not include humans, citing verses from the Quran to support their positions.

  • Three teachers did not want to commit to any position regarding the theory.

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Biology professors results

Biology Professors: Results

  • 4 out of the 7 university professors accepted the theory of evolution; 2 were Christian, 1 Shiite, and 1 Druze.

  • 3 of the 7 professors reinterpreted the theory arguing from a compromise perspective. Two of them were Muslims and argued that evolution did not include humans.

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High school students

High School Students

BouJaoude, S., Wiles, J. Asghar, A., & Alters, B. (2011). Muslim Egyptian and Lebanese students' conceptions of biological evolution. Science and Education, 20, 895-915.

Lilly Conference, November 2013


High school students background

High School Students: Background

  • Egypt and Lebanon are two Middle Eastern countries with a majority of Muslims and sizeable Christian communities.

  • Islam is the official religion of Egypt and approximately 90% of all Egyptians are Sunni Muslims while the rest are primarily Coptic Christians.

  • Lebanon has no official religion, but Muslims (Sunnis, Shiites, and Druze) comprise the majority of the population. However, the country does have a substantial Christian community (approximately 35%).

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High school students background1

High School Students: Background

  • Lebanon and Egypt present opportunities for science education researchers to investigate the interaction between students’ conceptions of evolution and their religious beliefs.

  • Additionally, the diversity of Islamic sects in Lebanon (Sunni, Shiite, and Druze) provides opportunities to investigate the possible differences between these sects regarding conceptions and attitudes toward biological evolution.

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Evolution in the secondary biology curricula of egypt and lebanon

Evolution in the Secondary Biology Curricula of Egypt and Lebanon

  • Teaching of evolution is treated differently in Egypt and Lebanon.

    • The theory of evolution does not appear currently in the official Lebanese biology curriculum

    • The theory of evolution is included as one complete unit in the Egyptian secondary level biology curriculum and textbooks.

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High school students participants

High School Students: Participants

  • Participants in this study were

    • 94 Egyptian students (63% females and 37% males; 85% Muslim and 16% Christian; average age 17.5 years) and

    • 865 Lebanese students (49% females and 51% males; 73% Muslim and 27% Christian; average age 17 years). Egyptian students came from nine schools in Cairo and Upper Egypt

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Data sources

Data Sources

  • The data source for this study was a survey that examined secondary school students’ scientific and religious understandings of evolution.

  • The survey aimed to measure participants’ extent of agreement or disagreement to a set of statements on a five-point Likert scale.

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High school students data sources

High School Students: Data Sources

  • The survey administered to Lebanese students included 43 questions. Students filled out either the French or the English version depending on the language in which they were studying science.

  • The first seven questions asked students about their grade level, sex, religion, religious sect, the extent to which evolution was covered in their class, where they heard about evolution, how often they prayed, and how religious they considered themselves. 

  • The next 36 questions asked students to respond to statements regarding evolution using a five-point Likert-type scale (Strongly disagree, disagree, undecided, agree, and strongly agree).

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High school students data sources1

High School Students: Data Sources

  • Egyptian students completed a survey that was the same as the one filled out by the Lebanese students; however, it was translated to Arabic because the medium of science instruction in Egypt is Arabic.

  • Cronbach alpha was 0.76 for the Egyptian survey and 0.82 for the Lebanese survey.

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High school students data analysis

High School Students: Data Analysis

  • Data from the questionnaires were analyzed to acquire frequencies and percentages of all questionnaire items for all students.

  • Then, data were analyzed by religion to investigate differences between the responses of Christian and Muslim students. Specifically, Egyptian data were analyzed by Muslim and Christian while Lebanese data was analyzed by Muslim, Christian and

  • Finally, data from Lebanon were analyzed by religious sect.

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High school students results

High School Students: Results

  • Approximately one-half of the Egyptians students said that they learned about evolution in class, possibly because evolution is part of the Egyptian curriculum, while a slightly lower percentage of Lebanese students did so (44%).

  • A higher percentage of Lebanese than Egyptian students heard about evolution from friends or from their families.

  • Only a very small percentage of students said that they heard about evolution in the Mosque or church.

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High school students results1

High School Students: Results

How was the theory of evolution covered in class?

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High school students results2

High School Students: Results

Where did you first hear about evolution?

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High school students results3

High School Students: Results

  • The majority of Egyptian and Lebanese students seem to be relatively religious, with 61.9% of Lebanese and 80.9% of Egyptian students saying that they prayed one or more times a day. Moreover, 66.4% of Lebanese and 82.0% of Egyptian students reported that they were moderately or highly religious.

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High school students results4

High School Students: Results

Lebanese and Egyptian Students’ Responses to Questions about their Religiosity

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High school students results5

High School Students: Results

How religious would you consider yourself to be?

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Results students understandings of the nature of science and evolutionary theory lebanon

Results: Students’ Understandings of the Nature of science and Evolutionary Theory-Lebanon

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Results students understandings of the nature of science and evolutionary theory egypt

Results: Students’ Understandings of the Nature of science and Evolutionary Theory-Egypt

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High school students summary of results

High School Students: Summary of Results

  • A higher percentage of Muslim than Christian or Druze students thought that their religion teaches that the first life and humans on planet Earth were created by God, not gradually but suddenly in their present human form.

  • Lebanese Muslim and Christian students differed in their perceptions of conflict between science and their holy books regarding human origins with more Muslims than Christians supporting the existence of a conflict.

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High school students summary of results1

High School Students: Summary of Results

  • A higher percentage of Muslim than Christian or Druze students thought that their religion teaches that the first life and humans on planet Earth were created by God, not gradually but suddenly in their present human form.

  • Lebanese Muslim and Christian students differed in their perceptions of conflict between science and their holy books regarding human origins with more Muslims than Christians supporting the existence of a conflict.

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High school students summary of results2

High School Students: Summary of Results

  • Lebanese students belonging to all Muslim sects as well as Egyptian Muslim students had similar misunderstandings regarding the nature of science and theories, but were different in that they seemed to be more favorable toward evolutionary science.

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High school students summary of results3

High School Students: Summary of Results

  • There were statistically significant differences between Lebanese students belonging to the three Muslim sects regarding acceptance of evolution with Druze students being more accepting of evolution.

  • Egyptian students had similar understandings of evolution to those of the Lebanese Sunni and Shiite students. However, a higher percentage of Egyptian students believed that mutations are always detrimental and that evolution means humans developed from monkeys.

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High school students summary of results4

High School Students: Summary of Results

  • A higher percentage of Egyptian students said that

    • Evolution is best learned from the holy book of their religion,

    • Evolution does not conflict with their religion,

    • Biology classes should include their religion’s explanation of animal and human history on Earth, and

    • Their thinking about evolution was influenced by their religious beliefs.

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High school students summary of results5

High School Students: Summary of Results

  • There were no significant differences between Lebanese Sunni, Shiite, and Druze students on items that targeted their perceptions of conflict between biological evolution and their religion.

  • Egyptian students were similar to Sunni and Shiite Lebanese students especially in that they agreed that accurate science should include religious ideas.

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Lessons learned from the research

Lessons Learned from the Research

  • Many students had misconceptions about the theory of evolution, even college students who had studied evolution.

  • Biology Teachers and university professors had alternative conceptions about evolution.

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Lessons learned from the research1

Lessons Learned from the Research

  • Students’, high school teachers’, and university professors’ conceptions about evolution are associated with their religious affiliations.

  • Conceptions of evolution are influenced by students’ religiosity (even though they had not studied evolution at school!).

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Implications

Implications

  • What are the implications of the research results on educational matters?

    • Is education at the school and university level having a profound impact on how students think and act or only what they know?

    • Are there indicators that students are autonomous and reflective thinkers?

    • Is education fostering a culture of dialogue and understanding?

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