Intentions and beliefs in students' understanding and acceptance of biological evolution



We examined the intersection of students' understanding and acceptance of evolution and their epistemological beliefs and cognitive dispositions. Based on previous research, we hypothesized there would be a relation between understanding and acceptance. We also hypothesized that students who viewed knowledge as changing and who have a disposition toward open-minded thinking would be more likely to accept the scientific explanation of human evolution, and that beliefs and dispositions would not be related to acceptance of a topic that is generally perceived as noncontroversial. Ninety-three undergraduate students enrolled in a nonmajors biology class completed measures of their (a) content knowledge of evolution and photosynthesis and respiration; (b) acceptance of theories of animal evolution, human evolution, and photosynthesis; and (c) epistemological beliefs and cognitive dispositions. Although our findings did reveal a significant relation between knowledge and reported acceptance for photosynthesis, there was no relation between knowledge and acceptance of animal or human evolution. Epistemological beliefs were related to acceptance, but only to the acceptance of human evolution. There was no relation between students' epistemological beliefs and their general acceptance of animal evolution or photosynthesis. Three subscales, Ambiguous Information, Actively Open-Minded Thinking, and Belief Identification, were significantly correlated with understanding evolutionary theory. We argue these findings underscore the importance of intentional level constructs, such as epistemological beliefs and cognitive dispositions, in the learning of potentially controversial topics. © 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 40: 510–528, 2003