Study: Biology professors are biased against Evangelicals

First published in a CMI newsletter, June 2020


by , CMI-US

As CMI has documented, science started in a Christian world view, and most of the founders of modern science were biblical creationists. But now, “Christians are one of the most underrepresented groups in science,” according to researchers at Biology Education Research Lab at Arizona State University.1 They conducted three studies to find out why.

Perceived and actual bias

This first study was about perceived bias, and they note that a majority of both Christian and non-Christian undergraduate biology students thought “discrimination against Christians is a problem in science.” A third thought that discrimination was “not rare”, and 19% thought that this discrimination was serious enough to deny them “equal opportunities for achievement.”

This widespread perception should not have been a surprise. There are a number of high-profile academics who misuse their positions to attack Christianity and promote their own religion of atheopathy. And they receive little pushback from their peers.2 But still, the researchers wanted to find out if the perceptions of bias matched actual bias.

The second study tested how academic biologists rated applications for Ph.D. programs that signaled an atheist, generic Christian, or “no religious identity”. They found that atheistic biologists didn’t rate a Christian lower in competence or likeability than “no religious identity”, but did rate the atheist applications higher.

However, some mentioned that they would not like an “Evangelical” or “Fundamentalist”, one who takes the Bible as authority. They note just what we have: that there is a conflict between the Bible and evolution, but also note what we have lamented: some professing Evangelicals accept evolution.

Proven actual bias against Bible-believers

So they conducted a third study that where an application for a Ph.D. program signaled overt Evangelicalism—but said nothing about evolution. And indeed, they concluded: “Scientists perceive evangelical students as less hireable, less competent, and less likeable.” Furthermore, these scientists denounced evangelical Christianity as “rigid and unchanging” and “discourages diversity of viewpoints”. They didn’t note how atheistic evolutionists are also very rigid and intolerant of dissenting views.

Study recommendations

The authors concluded that there is widespread perception of anti-Christian bigotry among scientists. So they thought it was in the best interest of science to counteract this perception. This includes encouraging Christian participation. Notably lacking was a course in the Christian foundations of science, and they advocated presenting examples of Christian evolutionists.

What should we do as parents and pastors?

Many polls have documented that at least two-thirds of youth who grew up in church homes lose their professed faith when they reach college. A major reason is that they are exposed to evolutionary indoctrination, and are woefully under-equipped.

As the trio of studies shows, there is the additional reason: they face actual intimidation and bias from academics. And they will be in an atmosphere where Christophobic hostility is perceived.

However, it doesn’t need to be that way! In our DVD Fallout!, we show that if kids are equipped with good answers in the church and home, they are far more likely to have a real biblical worldview of their own. And they will be all the better for it: e.g. they will be better scientists if they understand the reasons why science exists in the first place.

But CMI doesn’t simply want to provide information—we want people to use it wisely. That’s why we produced the Creation Survival Guide. This is mainly a list of things both to do and not to do, so students won’t needlessly put a big target on their backs. It also has testimonies of creation scientists, and others who experienced hostility and how they handled it.

Salt and light

This has wider application. Christians also work honorably in offices and in trades. Actual and perceived bias is likely not as strong as in the universities, but it still exists. Meanwhile, Jesus said that His followers should be “the salt … ” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13–15).

Salt in His day was mainly a preservative, retarding decay—we are supposed to act against moral decay. The light is our ongoing witness, in word and deed, to the reality of Christ in us. Ultimately our light is a reflection of Jesus who is the true “light of the world” (John 1:4–9, 8:12, 9:5). Furthermore, a light can help spot danger and direct us to safety, as with a lighthouse or car headlights.

We can be better salt and light by following these biblical commands that complement each other so well:

  • but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15)
  • We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, (2 Corinthians 10:5).

These two commands are among the main driving forces for our ministry. We want others to be equipped to be salt and light. Often it can be as simple as leaving a Creation mag in the workplace or buying gift subs for college aged students. And there are plenty of other resources.

But when anyone asks me, “What should I buy for my family member or friend?” my answer is, “Whatever you will read or watch first”! It reminds me of the airplane instructions of what to do if oxygen masks appear: put your own on first, so you will be equipped to help others.

Update: a 2021 follow-up study called Christianity a “Concealable Stigmatized Identity (CSI) among biology graduate students”:

… found that many Christian graduate students believe the biology community holds strong negative stereotypes against Christians and worry those negative stereotypes will be applied to them as individuals. We found that students conceal their Christian identities to avoid negative stereotypes and reveal their identities to counteract negative stereotypes.

In addition to perceiving that there is a negative stigma against Christians in biology and anticipating stigma about their Christian identities if they were to reveal it, many participants also described actually experiencing stigma against Christians in biology.

In summary, we identified that Christian students in biology reported a cultural stigma, anticipated stigma, and experiences of stigma against Christians in biology. Students said they perceived that those in the biology community think Christians are unintelligent, socially conservative, intolerant of other groups, and unaccepting of science. Students often had worries about what people in the biology community would think if they were to reveal their Christian beliefs, and many students described actually experiencing a stigma against Christians, often in the form of jokes or negative remarks about Christians. These experiences confirm that Christianity can be experienced as a CSI in biology.3

The study recommended:

These stigmas against an identity in the context of academic biology are alarming and are a barrier for creating inclusive educational spaces for all students, but particularly students who identify as Christians. We encourage biologists to be thoughtful and considerate that, even if they do not agree with certain belief systems, these beliefs are not necessarily in conflict with scientific thinking. Discrimination and hostile remarks about Christians are not appropriate in the professional setting of academic biology. As academia continues to grapple with ways in which to be more inclusive, these conversations often focus primarily on gender, race/ethnicity, and generation status/income. However, it is paramount that inclusive spaces are inclusive for all individuals, and we encourage biologists to reflect on their definitions of inclusion so that they may include religious individuals such as Christians.

Given these findings, we suggest biologists avoid holding and expressing negative stereotypes about Christian students, who hold diverse beliefs and perspectives.3
Published: 22 December 2020

References and notes

  1. Barnes, E.M. and 3 others, Are scientists biased against Christians? Exploring real and perceived bias against Christians in academic biology, PLoS One, 29 Jan 2020. Return to text.
  2. Klinghoffer, D., Scientists perceive evangelical students as less hireable, less competent, and less likeable, evolutionnews.org, 31 Jan 2020. Return to text.
  3. Barnes, E.M. and 3 others, Christianity as a Concealable Stigmatized Identity (CSI) among Biology Graduate Students, CBE—Life Sciences Education 20(1), 14 jan 2021. Return to text.