In a recent study, researchers found that the only group of students who improved in their acceptance of evolution was the group of students who were the least religious.TimVickers, Wikimedia CommonsThe study, said to be the first in-depth analysis on the acceptance of evolution in this region, is expected to publish this week in the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach.

Co-authored by Dr. Leslie Rissler, a UA professor of biological sciences, and two of her graduate students, Sarah Duncan and Nicholas Caruso, it used data gathered from questionnaires answered by approximately 3,000 UA students.

“Religion is much more important than all the other measured educational variables, combined, in influencing their views on evolution,” said Rissler.

Most previous studies on evolution views were done in the Midwest and Northeast, Rissler said, and hearing many of her students say the topic was avoided in their high-school science classes helped prompt the study, she said.

“I’ve had many, many students who have said, ‘We didn’t talk about it at all. My teacher literally said, I’m taking this section, and we’re moving on because I’m not dealing with it.’”

The study also looked at whether students’ acceptance of evolution increased following exposure to the topic in college classrooms.

“The only group of students who improved in their acceptance of evolution was the group of students who were the least religious,” Rissler said.

The degree of religiosity among surveyed students was based on self-reported frequency of church attendance. Of the 2,999 students who responded to the survey requests during 2010-2011, 76 percent identified themselves as Christian, 3 percent as non-Christian, but religious, and 21 percent as not religious. Thirty-two percent said they attended religious service weekly, 26 percent nearly weekly or monthly and 42 percent seldom or never.

Other survey results included:  science majors were more accepting of evolution than non-science majors; students who were taught evolution or neither evolution nor creationism in high school had significantly higher acceptance rates of evolution than those taught both evolution and creationism or just creationism; and many religious students appeared to reject evolution because of their faith even though they understand that the scientific community accepts evolutionary theory as valid.

UA’s department of biological sciences is part of the College of Arts and Sciences, the University’s largest division and the largest liberal arts college in the state. Students from the College have won numerous national awards including Rhodes Scholarships, Goldwater Scholarships and memberships on the USA Today Academic All American Team.