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Published in: Evolution: Education & Outreach, Volume 2, Number 4, December, 2009. p. 655-675


Acceptance of evolution among the general public, high schools, teachers, and scientists has been documented in the USA; little is known about college students’ views on evolution; this population is relevant since it transits from a high-school/parent-protective environment to an independent role in societal decisions. Here we compare perspectives about evolution, creationism, and intelligent design (ID) between a secular (S) and a religious (R) college in the Northeastern USA. Interinstitutional comparisons showed that 64% (mean S + R) biology majors vs. 42/62% (S/R) nonmajors supported the exclusive teaching of evolution in science classes; 24/29% (S/R) biology majors vs. 26/38% (S/R) nonmajors perceived ID as both alternative to evolution and/or scientific theory about the origin of life; 76% (mean S + R) biology majors and nonmajors accepted evolutionary explanations about the origin of life; 86% (mean S + R) biology majors vs. 79% (mean S + R) nonmajors preferred science courses where human evolution is discussed; 76% (mean S+R) biology majors vs. 79% (mean S + R) nonmajors welcomed questions about evolution in exams and/or thought that such questions should always be in exams; and 66% (mean S + R) biology majors vs. 46% (mean S + R) nonmajors admitted they accept evolution openly and/or privately. Intrainstitutional comparisons showed that overall acceptance of evolution among biologists (S or R) increased gradually from the freshman to the senior year, due to exposure to upper-division courses with evolutionary content. College curricular/pedagogical reform should fortify evolution literacy at all education levels, particularly among nonbiologists.