RESEARCH ARTICLES on Acceptance of Evolution

New England Faculty and College Students Differ in Their Views About Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design and ReligiosityNEW just published (online access) in Evolution Education and Outreach, December 18th 2010 [PDF]

Statistics NE Faculty vs Students Evolution

Figure 1. Percentage of New England faculty (Fac) versus college students from public secular (Pub), private secular (Priv) and religious (Rel) institutions who think evolution is: A = definitely true, B = probably true.

Statistics NE Faculty vs Students Religion

Figure 2. Percentage of New England faculty (Fac) versus college students from public secular (Pub) and private secular (Priv) institutions who consider the following statements about religiosity to be either true (black part of the bar) or false (color): A = faith in God is necessary for morality, B = religion is very important in my life, C = I pray at least once a day.


“On the Theory of Evolution versus the Concept of Evolution: Three Observations”NEW just published (online access) in Evolution Education and Outreach, December 15th 2010 [PDF]

“Integrating horizontal gene transfer and common descent to depict evolution and contrast it with common design” published in the Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology 2010 [PDF]

Read comment about the article above by staff writer from the Discovery Institute Casey Luskin (click on him) and also by Intelligent Design ideolog Michael J. Behe (click on him).

Also read Introduction: Protistan Biology, Horizontal Gene Transfer, and Common Descent Uncover Faulty Logic in Intelligent Design [PDF] to Pre-ISOP meeting workshop (International Society of Protistologists), June 11-13 2009, “Horizontal Gene Transfer and Phylogenetic Evolution Debunk Intelligent Design” by Dr. Avelina Espinosa, professor at Roger Williams University.



“Acceptance of evolution increases with student academic level: A comparison between a secular and a religious college”published in Evolution Education and Outreach 2009 [PDF]

“Assessment of Biology Majors versus Non-majors views on evolution, creationism and intelligent design”published in Evolution Education and Outreach 2009 [PDF]

Why editorials?

Dr Guillermo Paz-y-Mino C image four evolution literacyDr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. contributes with editorials on science, technology and the environment to periodicals, newspapers, newsletters and specialized science magazines. He conducts research on the patterns of acceptance of evolution by college students and university professors in the United States, particularly in New England. He considers it crucial to communicate science to the public and promote science and evolution literacy. He is an Assistant Professor of Biology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (UMassD).

Links: G. Paz-y-Miño C. profile and affiliation to the Department of Biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (UMassD)

Can Atheists Be Our Leaders? – Editorial The Standard Times – Nov 6, 2010

Can Atheists Be Our Leaders?

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Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. — © 2010

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth 

Aatheistsand agnostics are among the most educated citizens in the United States. They rank highest not only in knowledge about science, American history, literature, politics and the role of religion in public life, but also in awareness about world religions. 

religionUsing a 32-question survey on religious knowledge, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a non-governmental organization based in Washington D.C., interviewed 3,400 adults during May and June of 2010. A 78-page report of the significant findings was released this past Sept. 28 (Inset Logo from the Pew Report available online). 

Knowledge about religion correlated with level of education. Responders holding a post-graduate degree knew, on average, 22 out of the 32 questions in the survey; college graduates responded correctly to 20 questions; those attending college were right about 17 to 19 questions; and the high-school-educated — or less — were correct in only 10 to 12 questions

Atheists and agnostics followed by Jews and Mormons ranked consistently higher in the overall assessment of their religious literacy than evangelical Protestants and Catholics. 

US CongressIf atheists and agnostics are highly educated, would Americans elect them as their leaders? Apparently not; according to a Gallup Poll (2007), atheists rank last with only 45 percent voters to favor them in a potential presidential election, followed by homosexuals, who would theoretically receive 55 percent of support, or candidates of “72 years of age” (57 percent), or who are “married for the third time” (67 percent), or Mormon (72 percent), Hispanic (87 percent), a woman (88 percent), Jewish (92 percent), black (94 percent, it already happened), or Catholic (95 percent). (Photo inset the United States Congress in Washington DC, Photo © G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2010).

Sixty-seven percent of liberals would vote for a qualified atheist if he or she runs for president of the United States, but only 29 percent of conservatives would do it. Indeed, political ideology determines voting preferences for a “non-traditional candidate,” and atheists rank last regardless of being among the most literate Americans. Moreover, liberal, moderate and conservative voters would prefer any other type of candidate over an atheist (Gallup Poll, 2007). 

Twenty million Americans, or 7 percent, are either certain that God does not exist (atheists), or are not sure about it (agnostics), which contrasts with the high levels of religiosity among most of the general population. Seventy-three percent are convinced of the existence of a deity, 14 percent think that God probably exists and have little doubt about it, and 5 percent believe in God but have a lot of doubt about it (Gallup Poll, 2006). Religiosity, however, decreases with educational attainment; highly educated people are less religious than the least educated. 

According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project (2007), 57 percent of Americans think that God is necessary for morality, yet there is no indication that atheists and agnostics are less moral than the general or religious populations. 

OutCampaingIn fact, the list of world-prestigious American intellectuals who have admitted to be atheists or agnostics is impressive. Here are some from the 19th and 20th centuries: Ralph Waldo Emerson (author and poet), Henry David Thoreau (philosopher), Andrew Carnegie (philanthropist), Mark Twain (author), Pearl S. Buck (author), Thomas Edison (inventor), Clarence Darrow (lawyer), Carl Van Doren (English professor and biographer of Benjamin Franklin), and Ernest Hemingway (novelist). 

The list above does not include the 93 percent of the current and prominent members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (Larson and Witham, 1998), neither the 70 percent of the 630,000 faculty teaching full-time at colleges and universities in the United States who admit to be nonbelievers (Ecklund and Scheitle, 2007; Gross and Simmons, 2009). 

oedLike any highly educated citizens, atheists and agnostics are probably concerned about illiteracy trends in the United States, and not only regarding world religions knowledge — where they ranked highest above all believers — but also international trends on the ranking of our youth in mathematics, reading and science, where the United States placed 26th, 15th and 21st among 57 other nations, respectively (data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, reports 2003/9). 

And we can forecast that atheists and agnostics, who rank top in understanding the legal separation between church and state (82 percent, according to the Pew survey), would support the teaching of evolution in public schools and oppose the smuggling of intelligent-design creationism into the education curriculum. 

It is time for our modern societies to accept the open participation of atheists and agnostics in building our democracies, more so if — as demonstrated by national polls — they are among the most educated citizens. Their lack of religious affiliation and identity should not discourage them from contributing to significant public service as secular humanists, nor should it deter the public from electing them.

The human experience consists in building equality for all and, in this particular case, in hearing the voice and benefiting from the talent of the nonbelievers. — © 2010 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved

On Whales and a Whaling Museum – Editorial The Standard Times – Sep 30, 2010

“Perhaps all cities should first be explored by visitors through the eyes of museums, and later be walked and valued for their details. The Whaling Museum of New Bedford is such a shepherd; it brings sight to the modern “Ishmaels” who can come to discover the shared ancestry between humans and whales or to understand the legendary madness connecting whalers to whales.”

On Whales and a Whaling Museum

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Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. — © 2010

To be reassured that evolution is true one just needs to visit the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Three mounted skeletons of a 50-foot North Atlantic right whale, a 40-foot humpback, and a 70-foot juvenile blue can impress anyone curious to compare human bones to those of whales. The vertebrae are identical in shape, the rib cage is a magnified version of a human’s, and the forelimbs are shortened into appendices like “fins,” each with digits. Only vestigial hips remain. The legs have disappeared during 35 million years of “sea galloping,” thus passing on to the tail the job of thrusting the animal.

Humpback whale, photo © G. Paz-y-Miño C. Massachusetts Bay 2010

The skulls of whales differ much from those of primates, like ours, but every component is present. The orbits and cheek bones surround tiny eyes in respect to the large head, and the rostrum or face — made of the upper maxilla and nasal bones — is conspicuously protruded to meet the jaw, which, in the baleen whales like the trio above, has no teeth, only tough skin to hold up corneous plates made of hair-protein, evidence of ancestral furred relatives. Such whales gulp water to sieve shrimp, squid or fish.


The apparent lack of forehead is remarkable in cetaceans (whales and dolphins). During evolution, the frontal bone retreated toward the back of the skull and, in some species, created a boat-shaped cavity which stores wax, and the museum exhibits a fourth magnificent specimen to account for this, a toothed sperm whale (photo © G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2010, above). This 50-foot skeleton emerges over a silhouette of the whale’s flesh sketched on the floor next to a giant squid, its favorite prey.

MelvilleHerman Melville‘s 1851 edition of “Moby-Dick” rests ahead this specimen, on a glass plinth, almost challenging the beast to resume the chase, to dive into the old book and confront Ahab’s obsession again — that of “wild vindictiveness” against Moby Dick for having reaped away the captain’s leg — to bear harpoons piercing its back, to smite the Pequod and drown its crew, and to spare only Ishmael so that he drifts on a coffin — carpentered for his ill-with-sweatings friend Queequeg — and survives to narrate how the whale defeated all.

“Be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh,” is encrypted on the cenotaph of “Captain WM. Swain, Master of the Christopher Mitchell of Nantucket … [who] after fastning to a whale, was carried overboard by the line, and drowned [on] May 19th, 1844.” This dramatic epitaph on marble at the Seamen’s Bethel — built in 1832 and still upright a few steps away from the museum — is analogous to those that daunted Melville while attending services in the early 1840s.

In his romantic novel, Melville imagined the pulpit of the Seamen’s Bethel (photo © G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2010, below) as the bow of a whaler’s ship, from which Father Mapple sermonized (watch video), “Beloved shipmates “¦ what is [the] Chapellesson that the book of Jonah teaches? “¦ the sin was in his “¦ disobedience of the command of God “¦ by seeking to flee from him “¦ He [thought] that a ship “¦ will carry him into countries where God does not reign “¦ A dreadful storm [came] on, the ship [was] like to break “¦ And Jonah “¦ dropped into the sea “¦ seething into the yawning jaws awaiting him; and the whale [shot] “¦ his ivory teeth “¦ Jonah prayed unto the Lord out of the fish’s belly “¦ the whale vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.”

The potential fury of whales and the obsession of whalers with killing them are historic. The Essex, which left Nantucket in 1819, was wrecked a year later by a sperm whale. The survivors ate the corps of shipmates while sailing small whaleboats 3,000 miles back to South America, ironically avoiding the Marquesas Islands, only 1,200 miles west from the Essex’s sinking waters, where “cannibals could devour them.” And the museum displays panels with estimates of whale massacres during the 18th through 20th centuries: 1 million sperm whales, 384,000 blues, 275,000 humpbacks, 92,000 bowheads, and 10,000 North Atlantic rights.

Whales were hunted for their oil, wax and baleen. Nothing was wasted. The collection of ornaments, utensils and capricious art on ivory, at the museum, accounts for that (photo © G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2010, below). Prosperity of the American colonies and the Industrial Revolution of the young republic (1820-1860) were fueled by the slaughtering of whales, and this ecocide must not be forgotten.


Perhaps all cities should first be explored by visitors through the eyes of museums, and later be walked and valued for their details. The Whaling Museum of New Bedford is such a shepherd; it brings sight to the modern “Ishmaels” who can come to discover the shared ancestry between humans and whales or to understand the legendary madness connecting whalers to whales. — © 2010 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved


(Above: the two major groups of whales  as depicted at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Whashington DC, photo G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2010; click image to access site).

Ancient Whale Evolution Literacy

Ancient whale has shown a key step in the evolution in filter-feeding whale’s enormous mouths (illustration by C. Buell, click on image to access source at BBC Nature article).

Faith Healing versus Medical Science – Editorial The Standard Times – Sep 2, 2010

Faith Healing vs. Medical Science

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Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. — © 2010

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

“If a sense of disease produces suffering, and a sense of ease antidotes it, disease is mental. Hence the fact in Christian Science that the human mind alone suffers, and the divine mind alone heals it.”

ChurchThis metaphor belongs to Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910), author of “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” (1875) and founder in 1879 of the Church of Christ, Scientist, whose modern, cathedral-like headquarters — the Mother Church (photo © G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2010, left), completed in 1904 — emerged in downtown Boston rivaling in architecture the Trinity Church, the Holy Cross Cathedral, and even the Massachusetts Statehouse.

During a three-year search for the “divine laws of life” within the Bible, Eddy compiled passages about healing and envisioned a cure method based on prayer, which by the end of the 1880s propagated among the students at her Massachusetts Metaphysical College, a short-lasting enterprise (1881-1889). Her charismatic personality seeded the Christian Science Journal (1883), the Christian Science Sentinel (1898), the Herald of Christian Science (1903), and the Christian Science Monitor (1908), currently a dynamic online news survivor of historic financial struggles.

OrganLike most spiritual therapies, Eddy’s “pray healing” faded, although the enormous Mother Church of Christ Scientist she inspired still breathes in the heart of Boston through a majestic golden pipe organ (photo © G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2010, left), which gives the impression of resounding even in silence.

In fact, deity-mediated physical and mental well-being are inconsistent with modern medicine. However, the positive effects of the “relaxation response” — a mind-and-body state of calmness which is elicited during meditation and monotonous behavior like chanting or bead-praying — on the recovery from depression, anxiety, insomnia or pain seem biologically rooted and scientifically measurable.

The Institute for Mind Body Medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital has sponsored the most compelling research on the relaxation response (RR). Cardiologist Herbert Benson described RR in 1974 as changes in metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and brain chemistry triggered during the meditative state.

RelaxationResponoseBookRR counters the fight-or-flight response, conceptualized by Harvard physiologist Walter Cannon in 1915 as an animal’s ability to cope with danger via, not surprisingly, opposite mechanisms to RR. In essence, the fight-or-flight response excites stress response, while the relaxation response calms, thus bringing the organism to homeostasis.

Benson and his collaborators ignited three decades of investigations on RR which included the physiological changes that occur during RR, the cognitive-behavioral and psychological variables associated with it, and the diversity of meditation methods. Most recently, gene expression induced by RR has been the focus of Benson’s exploration. In all scenarios, Benson and his colleagues have been cautious to insert RR as another variable into the complex equation of mind-body health.

Indeed, good research often demystifies popular certainty. In a 2006 study of the therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer in 1,800 cardiac bypass patients, sponsored by the Templeton Foundation — famous for surpassing the Noble Prize by granting $1.5 million to explorers of life’s spiritual dimensions — Benson and his team reported a higher incidence of complications among patients who knew Christian devotees were praying for their recovery, in contrast to patients uncertain about receiving such prayers, who convalesced.

The data published in the American Heart Journal disappointed supporters of proximal or distant pray-mediated healing.

The Templeton Foundation, however, further committed $150,000 to study the effects of prayer on auditory and visual impairments in rural Mozambique, and religious studies professor Candy Brown, from Indiana University, embraced the task. In the September 2010 issue of the Southern Medical Journal, Brown and collaborators report 24 cases of improvement in hearing and/or vision after intercessory prayers.

The authors themselves confess the flaws of the study: unknown source of the impairments, unconfirmed diagnosis of ear or eye malfunction, patients’ cultural habituation to healers, no control group, and a sample size 75 times smaller than that of Benson’s. In sum, much enthusiasm and poor science, but the authors go on to state that prayer “may be a useful adjunct to standard medical care … in contexts where access to conventional treatment is limited.”

Benson’s research on RR has brought into scientific scrutiny the belief of pray healing and provided a rational explanation for the sense of joy, well-being and calmness induced by meditation and its equivalents.


Graphene  (click picture for photo credit and information about graphene)

At times of nanotechnology medicine, where single-atom-thick sheets of carbon (graphene) can be injected into a body with the mission of cauterizing cancerous breast tissue if stimulated by laser (Nano Letters, 2010), or when vaccination can immunize an entire country and prevent human papillomavirus (HPV) from spreading among sexually active teenagers, or when evolutionary principles enlighten our understanding of disease and cure, pray healing cannot replace nor supplement, in urban or rural communities, scientific medicine. — © 2010 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved


In the interest of teaching “both sides,” I thought I’d give equal time to the theory of evolution…
Watch video about graphene (“The Story about Graphene” from the University of Manchester):

To Deny Evolution is To Deny History – Editorial The Standard Times – Aug 7, 2010

To Deny Evolution is To Deny History

[click on title to be redirected to The Standard Times]

Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño C. — © 2010

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth 

 History is evolution and evolution is history.

DarwinGPCCharles Darwin  (photo © left G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2010, British Museum of Natural History, London) felt enthralled when discovering the benefits of earthworms to archeology. In his 1881 book, The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms,” he dedicated a chapter to “the part which worms have played in the burial of ancient buildings.” Darwinianly, he wrote —¦ archeologists are probably not aware how much they owe to worms for the preservation of “¦ ancient objects.”

Indeed, while tunneling in the dirt, earthworms soften the substrate and hide artifacts that otherwise would remain on the surface. Iron arrowheads, probably from the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, were, according to Darwin, preserved in this fashion by the aid of worms.

Superficial archeological ruins at Abinger (130-360s AD), Chedworth (350s AD), Brading (330s AD), and other vestiges of Roman occupation to Britannia have been concealed by the burring labor of earthworms. But Darwin clarified that —¦ the enormous beds of rubbish, several yards in thickness, which underlie many cities, such as Rome, Paris, and London “¦ have not been “¦ acted on by worms.”

As much as archeological information has been trapped underground — from earlier times located close to the surface to ancient epochs hidden deep — biological history is also preserved in the geological profile, from the Holocene (today) to the Cambrian (550 million years ago), when biodiversity fossilized vastly, and to the early Archaean (3.5 billion years ago), when colonial cyanobacteria carved rocks.

And as much as erosion disfigures the archeological record, the biological testimony is fragmentary to scientists. Both archaeological and biological treasures require ideal conditions for preservation. The majestic Roman Colosseum (photo © G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2010, below), for example, has battled gravity, rain and wind for two millennia.

Roman Colosseum

Similarly, human bones from the Upper Paleolithic still remained identifiable to paleoanthropologists after 35,000 years of entombment in Abri de Cro Magnon, in Southern France. Like the Roman Colosseum, the aged fossils had lost essential features, but they existed and were (are) real.

It is here, at the point of recalling the dawn of Rome and the death of life forms in the process of leaving progeny — like the Cro-Magnons — where human logic faces the test. Denying biological evolution parallels with repudiating history. The antecedents of the Roman Empire are connected to its people, whose prosperous culture, technological pride and understanding of government were linked, historically, to simpler beginnings of the human condition, when hunter-gatherers strategized daily survival.


Photo above from Human Origins Gallery at Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (click on image to access site)

No rational citizen of the contemporary world would challenge the existence of ancient Rome, but 40 percent of Americans, 18 percent of the British, and 20 percent of Italians, among residents of 34 other countries where public acceptance of evolution has been polled (Science, 2006), think evolution is false. This discrepancy between wide acceptance of Roman history and selective rejection of life’s past resides in the extra scrutiny imposed on the latter by religion.

In the United States of America, negative attitudes toward evolution correlate with three variables: religious beliefs, pro-life beliefs and political ideology. Conservative Republicans accept evolution less than progressive liberals and independents (30 vs. 60 percent, respectively) and frequency of religious practices is associated negatively with acceptance of evolution (24 percent among weekly church-goers vs. 71 percent for seldom or never, Gallup Poll, 2007).

Only science education improves evolution literacy; in fact, public acceptance of evolution in the United States increases from the high-school level (21 percent), to the some-college (41 percent), college-graduate (53 percent) and post-graduate levels (74 percent), reaching the highest among university professors (97 percent) (see histogram below). Young Earth Creationists, who believe that humans were designed in the present form within the last 10,000 years, coincide with the views of the least educated population of adolescents in their teens.

Statistics Acceptance Evolution

The left part of the Figure above comes from The Gallup Poll (2009), the right part (New England Faculty Study 2010) corresponds to Paz-y-Miño C. and Espinosa (2010).

In a May 2010 assessment (click on image below to access complete study) of 35 universities and colleges in the progressive New England states, where public acceptance of evolution is the highest in the nation — only 59 percent — my laboratory documented that 97 percent of the faculty vs. 78 percent of the students accept evolution, and that 82 percent of the faculty vs. 58 percent of the students think that evolution is true. Notably, 91 percent of the professors admit to being “very concerned” or “somehow concerned” about the controversy of evolution vs. creationism and its implications for science education.

GPC study TWO

As much as accepting the reality of the Roman Empire, or Darwin’s observations of the burring effects of worms on archeological remains, or the authenticity of the 17,000-year-old paintings by Cro-Magnons in the caves of Altamira, La Pasiega or Lascaux, admitting the veracity of biological history is a civilization’s responsibility.

Otherwise, denying the legacy of evolution becomes equivalent to rejecting one’s kin or the deep DNA ancestry that connects us to worms and cyanobacteria; it is like capriciously ignoring the exquisite ruins of the Roman Colosseum which still stand, only 2,000 years young, on a 4.6 billion-year-old Earth. — © 2010 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved.

Related article: Why the Notion that “The Theory of Evolution is Not an Explanation for the Origin of Life” is Wrong

Roman Colosseum Outside View(Above: Roman Colosseum outside view, photo © G. Paz-y-Miño C. 2010)