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.