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Keywords:

  • Intelligent design;
  • science education;
  • teaching evolution

Poor public perceptions and understanding of evolution are not unique to the developed and more industrialized nations of the world. International resistance to the science of evolutionary biology appears to be driven by both proponents of intelligent design and perceived incompatibilities between evolution and a diversity of religious faiths. We assessed the success of a first-year evolution course at the University of Cape Town and discovered no statistically significant change in the views of students before the evolution course and thereafter, for questions that challenged religious ideologies about creation, biodiversity, and intelligent design. Given that students only appreciably changed their views when presented with “facts,” we suggest that teaching approaches that focus on providing examples of experimental evolutionary studies, and a strong emphasis on the scientific method of inquiry, are likely to achieve greater success. This study also reiterates the importance of engaging with students' prior conceptions, and makes suggestions for improving an understanding and appreciation of evolutionary biology in countries such as South Africa with an inadequate secondary science education system, and a dire lack of public engagement with issues in science.