Is Oklahoma really OK? A regional study of the prevalence of biological evolution-related misconceptions held by introductory biology teachersNon-mathematicians tend to have funny views about randomness. I mentioned before the Causalist-Statisticalist Debate about how some scientists emphasize randomness and some do not.
by Tony B Yates and Edmund A Marek
Biological evolutionary explanations pervade all biological fields and bring them together under one theoretical umbrella. Whereas the scientific community embraces the theory of biological evolution, the general public largely lacks an understanding, with many adhering to misconceptions. Because teachers are functioning components of the general public and most teachers experience the same levels of science education as does the general public, teachers too are likely to hold biological evolution misconceptions. The focus of this study was to identify the types and prevalence of biological evolution misconceptions held by Oklahoma high school introductory biology teachers and to correlate those findings with demographic variables. ...
Such a high misconception rate in teachers concerning the mechanism of randomness in evolution is disconcerting because there is probably no other misconception which better indicates a lack of understanding of evolution than the belief that evolution proceeds by random chance (Isaak 2003). With the environment selecting specific variations within populations, evolution in totality is a nonrandom process. However, randomness does play a role in pivotal evolutionary mechanisms including the origination of variations via both mutations and gene recombination (Smith and Sullivan 2007). As Dawkins puts it, ‘ … evolution is the nonrandom survival of randomly varying coded information’ (Dawkins 2009, p. W2).
Interpretations of quantum mechanics have similar confusions, with some arguing that randomness is essential to the theory, and others not.
Random chance is not a physical thing. It is just way of describing our inability to predict something. Dawkins is saying that he can predict the survival but not the DNA changes. But some DNA changes in a population are predictable, and some extinction events are not.
If this is the biggest misconception about evolution, then the teachers probably understand it pretty well.