Northwestern College Offers One Hell of an Education

Published by Minnesota Atheists on

By Eric Jayne

Photo of Eric leaning on a table in a listening pose.

How is it that a well educated biology teacher refuses to accept the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection? How is it that otherwise articulate and intelligent people believe in ghosts, angels, demons, and literal interpretations of bible stories? In his book Why People Believe Weird Things, Michael Shermer posits that “smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.” I can think of no better institution supporting Shermer’s hypothesis than Northwestern College in Roseville.

Not to be confused with Northwestern University—the Big Ten conference school in Illinois—Northwestern College (NWC) is a liberal arts college that “exists to provide Christ-centered higher education equipping students to grow intellectually and spiritually” ( The school proudly boasts that Billy Graham served as the school’s president for five years beginning in 1947. Currently, according to the NWC website, more than 3,000 students are enrolled among more than 50 undergraduate and graduate programs and that one in ten students was home schooled. In addition to their Christ-centered academic endeavors, the university also owns 16 different Christian radio stations that cover markets in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Florida, and Minnesota (including KTIS 98.5 here in the Twin Cities).

Like Bethel University in Arden Hills, and many other biblically fundamental Christian colleges, NWC requires students and faculty to complete a personal faith statement where the applicant affirms his/her devotion to “Jesus Christ as [his or her] personal Lord and Savior.” NWC appears to turn up the ecclesiastic craziness a couple of notches from Bethel, but this might be simply because NWC shares more information on their website than Bethel. According to the NWC 2009-10 catalog, biology is taught as a way for students “to understand how they relate to the creation.” Students also have the benefit of NWC’s unique pedagogical approach that encourages confused students to sit down with their biology professors “and pray about God’s direction in [their] life” ( Perhaps that’s an approach Dr. PZ Myers might consider implementing in his biology class?  

It should come as no surprise that NWC is well represented on the Discovery Institute’s Dissent from Darwin project—a list of scientists who signed a statement produced by the institute declaring they are skeptical of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. It’s worth noting that the vast majority of the list’s scientists are NOT biologists and that there are less than 800 total signatories. To put the Discovery Institute’s list in perspective, the National Center for Science Education started a list titled Project Steve, named after Stephen Jay Gould. The list consists of scientists named “Steve”—which represents only one percent of all scientists—who accept Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and label intelligent design as “irresponsible creationist pseudoscience”. As of December 2009 the Project Steve list has over 1,100 signatures.  

One of the few biologists on the Dissent from Darwin list is NWC Professor Bruce Simat, who testified in the 2005 Kansas evolution hearings as a proponent of teaching Intelligent Design in public school science classrooms. The spring 2006 NWC periodical, Pilot, proudly claims that Simat helped create the NWC biology curriculum and degree program which allows biology majors to earn roughly a quarter of their biology credits by attending Michigan’s Au Sable Institute for a five-week summer program. One can only imagine the unique education biology students receive at Au Sable since the institute identifies its mission as “the integration of knowledge of the Creation with biblical principles.” Students who attended Au Sable will surely be prepared for this year’s NWC honors biology course titled “Was Darwin Right? An Analysis of Creation and Evolution.”  

Undoubtedly, NWC is an indoctrination machine that is skilled at defending and teaching weird beliefs. Perhaps the weirdest belief held at NWC is found in their doctrinal statement (the foundation of the school’s educational programs): premillennialism. Basically, premillennialism is a fundamentalist view based on the bible book of Revelation where it is believed that Jesus will physically return to earth and battle “the Antichrist,” who will appear as a revered political/religious leader. After seven years of the Antichrist’s shenanigans, Jesus will defeat the Antichrist as well as Satan then proceed to raise the righteous from the dead and reign over an earthly kingdom (established in Israel, of course) for 1000 years. When the 1000 years—or “millennial age”—are up Satan will come back once more with demons from the four corners of the earth (the earth is square?) to battle God only to be permanently defeated and tossed into an eternal lake of fire, along with all nonbelievers. Sure it’s weird, maybe even crazy, but it can’t be denied: the faculty at NWC offer one hell of an education.

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