Do religious colleges teach old-earth geology and evolution?

Popular wisdom holds that old-earth geology and evolution remain somewhat controversial in the scientific community, and, in particular, that many scientists question evolution. But on this count popular wisdom is quite mistaken — only a fraction of 1% of qualified scientists believe there are reasonable grounds to question the basic tenets of these theories. See Scientists-evolution for a detailed analysis.

Along this line, conventional old-earth geology and biological evolution (in particular, the theory that all biological species alive today are descended from common ancestral organisms, having diversified and proliferated over many millions of years, largely if not exclusively due to the forces of mutations and natural selection) are taught matter-of-factly at all public universities in the U.S. and other first-world nations. This includes states, such as Texas, that have recently attempted to pass legislation undermining the teaching of evolution in high school curricula.

But what about the many colleges and universities, in the U.S. and elsewhere, that are affiliated with religious organizations? What do they teach their students?

Here too, facts differ from popular opinion. As Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education recently noted, old-earth geology and evolution are taught matter-of-factly at every major religious-affiliated university in the U.S. This includes universities, such as Baylor University (Baptist), Brigham Young University (LDS), Southern Methodist University (Methodist) and the University of Notre Dame (Catholic), that are flagship universities of their respective Christian denominations, as well as Yeshiva University, the premier Jewish university in the U.S.

Furthermore, the research and instructional programs in these fields are generally first-rate. For example, the Baylor College of Medicine was recently ranked #25 in biological sciences program by U.S. News and World Report. The biological sciences graduate program at Notre Dame was recently rated #13 in the U.S. by one rating program and #4 by another. Brigham Young University has a strong program in bio-informatics, and is also well-known for its extensive dinosaur fossil collection.

So what about smaller universities affiliated with religious movements, such as the numerous universities affiliated with evangelical organizations? Here too, conventional geology and evolution are typically taught, without apology, by well-trained, fully credentialed scientists who were educated at leading universities, and who themselves are accomplished researchers in many cases.

Typical of relatively conservative colleges is Wheaton College, which is affiliated with and funded by mostly evangelical Christian groups. While some at the college grapple with evolution and how it can be reconciled with scripture and with the larger notion of Christian theology, the departments of geology, biology, and related fields generally teach fairly conventional scientific theories fairly matter-of-factly, although there remains some tension between scientific faculty and their sponsoring organizations.

So while it is true that at some smaller evangelical colleges there is a certain amount of tension over old-earth geology and evolution, most of these colleges, according to biologist Karl Giberson, “are not scientific backwaters that reject evolution.”

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