Evolution and personal religious belief: Christian biology-related majors' search for reconciliation at a Christian university



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Kansas State University


The goal of this study was to explore how Christian biology-related majors at a Christian university perceive the apparent conflicts between their understanding of evolution and their religious beliefs, and how their faith, as a structural-developmental system for ordering and making meaning of the world, plays a role in the mediating process. This naturalistic study utilized a case study design of 15 participants specified as undergraduate biology-related majors or recent biology-related graduates from a midwestern Christian university who had completed an upper-level course on evolution. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews that investigated participants' faith and their views on creationism and evolution. Fowler's theory of faith development and Parks' model of college students' faith was extensively used. Additional data were collected through an Evolution Attitudes Survey and a position paper on evolution as an assignment in the evolution course. Data analysis revealed patterns that were organized into themes and sub-themes that were the major outcomes of the study. Most participants were raised to believe in creationism, but came to accept evolution through an extended process of evaluating the scientific evidence in support of evolution, negotiating the literalness of Genesis, recognizing evolution as a non-salvation issue, and observing professors as role models of Christians who accept evolution. Participants remained committed to their personal religious beliefs despite apprehension that accompanied the reconciliation process in accepting evolution. Most participants operated from the perspective that science and religion are separate and interacting domains. Faith played an important role in how participants reconciled their understanding of evolution and their personal religious beliefs. Participants who operated in conventional faith dismissed contentious issues or collapsed dichotomies in an effort to avoid ambiguity and perceived tensions. Participants who operated in young adult and adult faith tended to confront their perceived tensions and worked towards reconciling their understanding of evolution and their personal religious beliefs. The rich description of this naturalistic study lends heuristic insight to researchers and educators seeking an understanding of the complex processes by which Christian biology-related majors approach learning about evolution and seek reconciliation between their understanding of evolution and their personal religious beliefs.



Evolution, Faith, Fowler

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Doctor of Philosophy


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Lawrence C. Scharmann; John R. Staver