Creationism and Evolution Beliefs among College Students

By Barnes, Ralph M.; Keilholtz, Lesleh E. et al. | Skeptic (Altadena, CA), Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Creationism and Evolution Beliefs among College Students


Barnes, Ralph M., Keilholtz, Lesleh E., Alberstadt, Audrey L., Skeptic (Altadena, CA)


Abstract

FIVE HUNDRED AND NINETY-ONE college students at three colleges were questioned about their beliefs about the age of the earth, the origin of humans, and the origins of all living things. Survey results indicate that few college students are sympathetic to the teachings of Young Earth creationist or Intelligent Design organizations. Commonly held beliefs included gap creationism, natural evolution, and a form of theistic evolution in which descent with modification occurs through completely natural processes. The survey results also indicated that beliefs regarding origins are more complex than is sometimes thought, and that it is not uncommon for an individual to have beliefs that are inconsistent and contradictory. Statistical analyses were used to determine how factors such as religiosity and the manner in which a person interprets religious texts predict belief in evolution and belief in the age of the earth.

Introduction

When it comes to creationism, two groups spend the most time in the spotlight. Young Earth creationist (YEC) groups such as the Institute for Creation Research, Answers in Genesis, and Creation Ministries International teach that the earth only came into existence in the last 10,000 years and that all distinct "kinds" of life were created directly by a supernatural process during a very short period of time. A more recent approach, the intelligent design (ID) movement, is championed by The Discovery Institute. Unlike YEC groups, the Discovery Institute does not publicly promote the idea that the earth is 10,000 years old. Some associated with the Discovery Institute reject the reality of macroevolution (1) while others accept that macroevolution occurred, but claim that it had to have been caused or directed by an intelligent (i.e., supernatural) designer and that it could not have been the result of purely natural processes. (2)

In addition to the YEC and ID positions, there am also gap creationists, day-age creationists, and progressive creationists. Those who believe in evolution can be divided into groups such as theistic and materialistic evolutionists. One purpose of the current survey is to discover just how much support YEC and ID groups have among college students. Unfortunately, the wording and options used in many polls and surveys do not allow for the differentiation of the various positions on origins. The current survey is intended to provide a dear picture of exactly what college students believe about origins and the degree to which their beliefs reflect those promoted by high-profile creationist organizations.

In order to explore origins beliefs in some detail, the current survey includes questions about the age of the earth, the origin of humans, and the origin of all living things. The current survey also questioned respondents on their religious affiliation, religiosity, and literalness (the degree to which they feel that the book their religion is based on is meant to be taken literally regarding claims about the natural world). Because the current survey was given exclusively to college students, data on their field of study was also collected.

The Survey

The survey was administered to 591 college students at three U.S. colleges. (3) A large majority of respondents were at or near the beginning of their college experience: freshmen (48.1%); and sophomores (23.4%). (4) Although most of these students were too early in their college careers to have declared a major, they were asked their intended or actual major: 20% indicated hard science, 32.5% indicated social science, and 47.5% indicated "other." In terms of religious affiliation, 67.7% identified themselves as Christians, 9.8% identified themselves as agnostic, and 4.9% identified themselves as atheists. Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, and Hindu each accounted for less than 3% and the rest (11.7%) identified themselves as "other. …

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