Twice a week Ore Phillips sets up shop at the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Coffman Union to spread his message on where humans came from.
Phillips is the president of Maranatha Christian Fellowship âÄî a student group promoting creationism to students on campus. For decades, the group, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, has worked to spread its message at one of the largest scientific research institutions in the country.
As students progress through their college careers, religious beliefs change drastically, according to a 2010 Gallup poll. The polls showed only 22 percent of postgraduates nationally believe in creationism, compared to 47 percent of high school students.
Phillips believes itâÄôs up to him and his group to maintain studentsâÄô faith in creationism throughout college. The volume of information about evolution compared to that about creationism on campus, he said, can overwhelm the beliefs of students.
âÄúWe like to get the discussion going,âÄù said Grant Buse, MaranathaâÄôs adviser and a University graduate, adding he wanted âÄústudents to openly consider alternatives to evolutionary theory.âÄù
The topic of creationism versus evolution is a âÄúvery popularâÄù one among students, Buse said.
Maranatha uses grant money to periodically hold seminars at Coffman with guests who speak about challenges to evolutionary theory.
Hundreds of students âÄî skeptics and supporters alike âÄî attend these seminars and drag group discussions on for hours into the night, Buse said.
âÄúA lot of secularists and atheists attend to debate us,âÄù he said.
The initial student reactions to creationism and intelligent design are often negative, Buse said, but discussions usually progress into constructive debate âÄî something he welcomes.
âÄúWe want to give students a fighting chance to see another side,âÄù Phillips said.
Most Mondays and Thursdays, Maranatha has an information table set up in Coffman where students visit to talk about evolutionary theory and creationism.
The groupâÄôs flyers, some detailing alternative views on the history of the dinosaurs and creationist challenges to evolution, are popularly requested both by students who find them âÄúsillyâÄù and those who are genuinely interested, Buse said.
Buse doesnâÄôt want to see creationism taught in the science classroom since he views that as a place meant exclusively for âÄúempirical evidence,âÄù but he does support teaching the âÄúscientific challengesâÄù to aspects of evolutionary theory on campus.
âÄúHow did we all get here? Where does that answer lead us? These questions are fair to ask,âÄù he said.
He sees professors and science instructors as marching in âÄúlockstepâÄù on evolutionary theory and wants to bring alternative views to the campus outside the classroom.
âÄúItâÄôs an important discussion,âÄù he said.
Phillips said itâÄôs difficult to discuss creationism in science classes, since few students are bold enough to respectfully challenge a professor in class and also because the subject is rarely addressed.
âÄúComing from a creationist perspective, thereâÄôs not a lot of tolerance for any kind of challenge [against evolution] whatsoever,âÄù he said.
The UniversityâÄôs College of Biological Sciences includes creationism and intelligent design into its curriculum âÄî both in introductory science courses and entire classes dedicated to the subject. The classes focus on the history of the concept and its scientific rebuttals.
But other student groups âÄî like Campus Atheists, Skeptics and Humanists âÄî frequently sponsor debates on topics related to science and religion, and some members have attended Maranatha seminars to engage in discussion.
âÄúThey attempt to promote biblical literalism at a well-respected research university by cloaking [creationism] in scientific-sounding words,âÄù said Chelsea Du Fresne, co-chair of CASH.
âÄúThe scientific community here does not feel obliged to give them a second glance,âÄù she said.