Using a Reconciliation Module Leads to Large Gains in Evolution Acceptance

Too many students reject the theory of evolution because they view it as incompatible with their religious beliefs. Some have argued that abandoning religious belief is the only way to help religious individuals accept evolution. Conversely, our data support that highlighting faith/evolution compatibility is an effective means to increase student acceptance. We surveyed students enrolled in entry-level biology courses at four religiously affiliated institutions. At each university, teachers gave students a presentation that demonstrated potential compatibility between evolution and faith within the teachings of each university’s respective religious affiliation. Students were asked to evaluate their own beliefs about evolution both before and after this instruction. After instruction at each university, students showed significant gains in evolution acceptance without abandoning their religious beliefs. These results demonstrate that giving religious students the opportunity to reconcile their religious beliefs with the theory of evolution under the influence of intentional instruction on the compatibility of belief and evolution can lead to increased evolution acceptance among religious students.


FIGURE 1. Pre and post essay distributions at each institution. Horizontal stacked bars indicate the proportion of essays that fell into each of the broad categories before (pre = prompt 1) and after (post = prompt 2) intervention. “Full Acceptance” refers to any response in which the student expressed an acceptance of evolution with no indication of any rejection of individual components (e.g., human evolution). “Limited Acceptance” refers to any response in which the student acknowledged that evolution occurs but took specific issue with one or more components of the theory (most common components included human origins and speciation events or macroevolution). “Rejection” refers to any response in which the student denied the validity of evolution. Other refers to any response that could not be categorized into any of the first three.


What if your goal is increased acceptance of Christianity and the Bible? Is there any data on that?

The idea here is that they can accept both at the same time. The information given wasn’t anti-Bible, so all movement was not away from the Bible.

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Question that’s been on my mind lately:

Is evangelism a higher value than truth?

What I mean is, if you knew that telling a non-believer a lie, and them believing it, would cause them to accept Christ, would you do it?

Or more consistent with this study, if you knew that a Christian believer would leave the faith unless they believed a lie, is it better to lie to them so they retain their faith?

None of us are arbiters of truth in disputed domains. This is a disputed domain, and there is a great deal of freedom in this area of dispute, at least from a Scripture and religious point of view. We are allowed to be wrong, and that’s a good thing, because none of us are never wrong.

This really does seem to confirm that the main obstacle to evolution acceptance is a perceived threat to religious beliefs. In other words, the reason so many people reject evolution isn’t that the evidence isn’t good enough, it’s that they’re religious, they perceive a conflict, and that their religion is simply much more important to them. For such a person as long as they are convinced that evolution is in conflict with their religion, no evidence will ever suffice.

Now depending on what exactly their religious beliefs are, they might even be right. If they have very deeply entrenched pre-conceptions about their religion (and about evolution), whatever conflict there might be will never be reconciled to their satisfaction. But I suspect most people actually just hold a sort of vague view of their own religion (how many religious people really spend much time pondering questions such as at what level or to what extend they believe God intervenes in natural history?), and given the right primers, or the subject broached by the right person, their religious views are sufficiently malleable to be able to square them with evolution.


The former is not a part of the Ten Commandments, while the latter is. Seems pretty clear to me…


Well that doesn’t answer my question.

Should we pursue truth as a greater goal than evangelism or evangelism as a greater goal than truth?

I likely don’t have to tell you how atheists respond when they suspect us of “lying for Jesus.”

This would be clearer if you would explain what specific lies you are asking about. I’m not sure anyone understands the substance of your question.

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I have encountered people who, having been caught in a lie, maintained that lying is acceptable if it brings people to God. They might have been lying about that too. :wink:

In my experience with atheists, many relate that it was discovering the lies told by people they trusted that caused them to leave their faith.

Honesty is the best policy.


I have a colleague who teaches apologetics. Much of his material uses outdated science, such as the DNA-protein paradox. While he doesn’t exactly lie, he certainly doesn’t tell the whole truth when it comes to science. I’ve tried talking to him about it, but he’s not interested in updating his material. He told me that it’s not his responsibility to present all sides (or even more than one side) of an argument. I think this is both unethical and counter productive. While it might not be his job to present “the other side,” he acts like there isn’t one. A quick Google search will turn up literally hundreds of sites that dispute his claims. His website is also full of bad logical arguments which, again, can be destroyed with a simple search. He seems like a smart enough guy, so I don’t know if he actually believes what he writes or if he sees the problems but writes it anyway. It bothers me to no end.


I wish that I could say that I find this surprising. Your colleague would seem to be the very stereotype of the negative impression that many atheists have of apologists.

I cannot help but think that this is a bad thing, both for apologetics, and for meaningful communication across the religious divides.

The trite explanations are laziness or disinterest in how atheist view him and his endeavor. A third explanation might be pragmatism. A view (rightly or wrongly) that those who are sufficiently skeptical to do the “simple search” are beyond the ability of his knowledge of science and skill with logic to convince, and therefore that effort spent on improving either his science or his logic would bring no benefit to his endeavor.

I have long suspected that apologists, unconsciously if not consciously, may view their endeavor as palliative rather than curative.

From an evolutionary perspective, when there seems to be little or no selective pressure towards more up-to-date scientific claims and more rigorous logical claims, we have to ask if there is any adaptive benefit.


I observe that many apologists and proselytizers act because they feel it is “God’s work” necessary for their own salvation. They don’t give a darn if they do the work badly.

The same is often true about atheists attacking religious beliefs.



He freely admits that apologetics are to convince the faithful rather than convert the unbelievers. The problem, IMHO, is that he doesn’t see that many of the faithful - or at least the ones who know how to do a Google search, find his answers unsatisfying. Which is how the end up in my office. I tread lightly, saying “Dr. X has one way of looking at it, but the way I see it…”


Having spent about equal time in both camps (atheist and theist), that’s the impression I get with most apologetics and ID/creationist arguments. The vast majority of the apologetic arguments that are meant to convert atheists miss the mark by a wide margin because they don’t even consider what an atheist actually believes or how they think. Instead, they are usually focused on making Christians feel better about being Christians.

This also makes me wonder how badly I am missing the mark with ID/creationists. Just like anyone else, I focus on evidence that would convince me, but is that the best approach? As other posters have mentioned, it may not be about the evidence.


I don’t think it’s just apologists. I see many idealists (and have known a few up close) who think that ‘fighting the good fight’ is more important than having a practical, achievable plan. That viewpoint tends to result in far more collateral damage than solid achievements.

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I don’t imagine many Christian apologists sell a whole lot of books to atheists. This is precisely why I don’t like apologetics. If I were an atheist, and I walked up to two apologists in the middle of an argument, let’s just say it’s presup versus evidential or something like that, and I didn’t know what they were arguing about, what I would hear is a lot of interesting stuff about epistemology, philosophy, theology and all the rest. But then I might interrupt them at some point and say, “Hey guys this sounds like a really great discussion. May I ask what you are arguing about?” And if they then turned to me and said, “We’re arguing about the best way to convert nonbelievers to Christianity,” I think I would be greatly disapointed and walk away, leaving them to argue with each other.

Atheists do care about philosophy, sometimes even about theology, biblical criticism. Those are disciplines that have appeal to atheists. But framing an entire discipline around how to convert people is paradoxically not likely to interest the very people you’re trying to convert.

This is my experience with nonbelievers as well, including apostates. In fact, I’ve known some who actually did study apologetics when they started having doubts and questions and found many of the arguments to be disingenuous.

My feeling is that people are not machines and they can go any which way. An argument that helps one person might hurt somebody else. I think that Christianity and the Bible ultimately teaches that we should pursue God not men, truth not popularity. And that seems to me to be the right course given the diversity of human opinion.

Since @swamidass doesn’t want to answer my question, I thought of another one.

Suppose hypothetically in twenty to thirty years ID is the dominate paradigm in biology and evolutionary theory has been abandoned at least as a unifying theory explaining diversity, do you think that would be better for the gospel, worse or no change?

I have a hard time seeing how that would not be beneficial for the gospel.

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The movie “God is not Dead” is a perfect example of what I am talking about, if you need examples. If you show that movie to a group of 100 atheists the Earth might slow its rotation due to the power of the combined eye rolls.

It also wouldn’t shock me to find the same wish fulfillment and ego stroking in some atheist material, or in some material that speaks out against creationism. We are all susceptible to to the same psychological traps.

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But may I ask, do you think that ID has been making actual inroads to the mainstream, or even finding acknowledgement for that matter?

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