More Stats, a Response to “Why Evangelicals (allegedly) can’t be Evolutionists”

January 27, 2010

In his last post, James started the first of our discussions concerning the essays recently posted by the Biologos Foundation. To give everyone a heads up (in case you want to read ahead and not be seeing the essay first though my glasses), I will be posting next on Mark Noll’s essay entitled “Evangelicals, Creation, and Scripture: An Overview.”

There isn’t too much to respond to regarding James’s post, since it was mostly stating the data found in a survey, but I thought I would sling some more statistics your way. Susan sent me a link to a survey by the Association of Religion Data Archives in 2004 on beliefs concerning evolution in the general population, also divided by religious categories. I found it interesting. To summarize, people were asked to rank their belief in the following statement, “Human beings developed from earlier species of animals.” Within the general population, 15% said “definitely true,” 29% said “probably true,” 15% said “probably not,” and 39% said “definitely not.” About 2% couldn’t choose or didn’t have an answer. When the survey is broken into more specific categories, belief in evolution is significantly less common in those who identified as protestant, and is also strongly lower among those who claim to attend church weekly (69% say definitely not). Belief in evolution is also noticeably correlated with education. Specifically those with college and graduate degrees are much more likely to belief in evolution. I also find it interesting that there is a trend with age (at least for the ‘definite’ answers) such that older people are less likely to accept evolution.

I decided to see how these numbers compared with others out there. Quickly I found a 2009 Pew Research poll on religion and science, and another on religious belief among scientists. Again I will summarize what I thought was most interesting. First off, americans overwhelmingly think that science benefits society (84%), and this is fairly independent of religious identification. 55% of the general public said that they perceived conflicts between religion and science, whereas only 36% said that science conflicted with their religious beliefs. Among the general public, 61% believed in some kind of evolution (22% said it was guided by a supreme being). This is slightly higher than the other survey. I don’t know if this reflects differences in the questions asked or a change between 2004 and 2009 (perhaps a result of all of the recent press on this issue?). Among scientists, 97% believed in evolution (8% said that it was guided). When the public was divided by religious affiliation, the lowest levels of belief in evolution are among evangelical protestants. Catholics and mainline protestant more or less line up with the general public.

The poll among scientists was sent to members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. I’m not sure how well this group represents average scientists, but it’s at least a start. To me this survey was actually a bit startling. People answered whether they “believe in God,” “believe in some higher power,” “believe in neither,” or “don’t know/won’t say.” The general public responded with 83%, 12%, 4%, and 1% in those categories, respectively. In fairly stark contrast, members of the AAAS responded with 33%, 18%, 41%, and 7% to the answers above. Scientists are less likely to believe in God. I also find it interesting that the percent who “don’t know” is much higher among scientists. I think that the tendency towards skepticism among scientists makes them both less likely to accept a religious faith and less likely to say that they know for sure. Also of interest is that there is a trend with age. Older scientists are less likely to believe in God or a higher power than young ones. I suspect that this evidences the cultural shift from the modern world to the postmodern in which religion is much more acceptable.

I hope that you found these numbers interesting. Some of them were surprising to me. I encourage you to look at the links above as there are a lot more things there I didn’t discuss. It’s also a lot easier to see the statistics in nice colored graphs. The data certainly indicate that there are strong divides on these issues – particularly between evangelical Christians and scientists. I think that’s why we’re writing this series.

-Matt, the elder brother

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Why Evangelicals (allegedly) can’t be Evolutionists:

January 23, 2010

As Matt pointed out in his most recent post, one of our objectives as we complete our series on Science and Religion is to take a look at the Biologos project and the recent series of papers that has been published by this organization.  In this post, I’m going to take a look at the paper by Bruce Waltke entitled “Barriers to Accepting the Possibility of Creation by Means of an Evolutionary Process”.  To read this paper, either find it in the larger list of papers linked above, or click here.

In this paper, Waltke is trying to understand the barriers to accepting a theory of God-inspired evolution that exist in the minds of the “typical” evangelical today.  In order to answer this question, he wrote a survey and submitted it to heads of evangelical seminaries across the US (those whose presidents belong to the Fellowship of Evangelical Seminary Presidents (FESP)), asking them to consider having their faculty participate in the survey study.  Although he admits that his list could have been improved and wasn’t exhaustive, he proposed the following 12 barriers, and participants in the survey were asked to agree or disagree with each of these statements.  You can skim them here and see the results, or continue to the discussion of each barrier individually below:

  1. The creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2, when interpreted by the grammatico-historical method [hereafter assumed], cannot be harmonized with creation by the process of evolution.
  2. The creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2 and the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 cannot be reconciled with the extended period of time demanded by creation by means of an evolutionary process
  3. God’s sentence of death and decay on the creation in connection with Adam’s Fall cannot be harmonized with the theory of creation by the process of evolution.
  4. The theory of creation by the process of evolution does not harmonize with the doctrine of Adam’s headship over the whole human race.
  5. The Institute of Creation Research, founded by Henry Morris, has presented sufficient scientific evidence to reject the theory of creation by the process of evolution.
  6. The Reasons to Believe Ministry, represented by Hugh Ross, has presented sufficient scientific evidence to reject the theory of creation by the process of evolution.
  7. Apologists such as those of the Intelligent Design Movement, fathered by Phillip E. Johnson, have made a sufficient case to reject the theory of evolution and to replace it with a theory of intelligent design.
  8. Ken Ham rightly argues “Scientists only have the present—they do not have the past,” ruling out the possibility of science to theorize the history of origins.
  9. The apparent age of the universe can be explained by reckoning that God created the universe with apparent age.
  10. The Gap Theory (i.e., the destruction of an original creation) explains the geological/fossil record) hinders me from accepting the theory of creation by evolution.
  11. The Framework Hypothesis (i.e., the days of Genesis are artistically arranged and not literal) hinder me from accepting the theory of creation by evolution.
  12. None of the above. I can accept the theory of theistic evolution.

Results from Survey

Notice that barriers 1-4 are purely theological/exegetical barriers, whereas barriers 5-11 are scientific.  One important note about the participants: everyone who started the survey finished, so there are no partial surveys.

First, let’s consider the theological barriers, starting with (1) and (2).

(1) The creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2, when interpreted by the grammatico-historical method [hereafter assumed], cannot be harmonized with creation by the process of evolution.
(2) The creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2 and the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 cannot be reconciled with the extended period of time demanded by creation by means of an evolutionary process

Most people who cite these reasons for rejecting evolution talk about interpreting Genesis literally.  For more discussion on interpreting the creation accounts of Genesis, see two of my previous posts, “Looking at the Text: Part I” and “Looking at the Text: Part II”.  These two barriers seem very similar to me, because they both stem from the so-called literal reading of Genesis.  (1) refers, though, to the creation account, whereas (2) refers also to the genealogies.  To agree with (1) is to say, that’s not how the Bible says God created the universe.  (2) says that there’s no way God could have created the universe by evolution, because the gaps in the genealogies aren’t big enough.  44% of the participants cited (1) as a barrier, but only 23% considered (2) a barrier.

The next two theological barriers are much deeper in a way.

(3) God’s sentence of death and decay on the creation in connection with Adam’s Fall cannot be harmonized with the theory of creation by the process of evolution.
(4) The theory of creation by the process of evolution does not harmonize with the doctrine of Adam’s headship over the whole human race.

Barrier (3) adheres to the traditional view that Adam’s sin brought death and decay into the whole world, not just the human race.  In order for evolution to be true, there must always have been death and decay, at least in some form, until man emerged.  Barrier (4) supposes that the process of evolution calls into question the historicity of Adam and the introduction of sin into the world through him, which in turn calls into question the redemption brought into the world by the last Adam (Christ).  34% considered (3) a barrier; 28% agreed with barrier (4).

Now to the scientific barriers.  Barriers (5) – (7) refer to three popular Christian scientific alternatives to evolution.

(5) The Institute of Creation Research, founded by Henry Morris, has presented sufficient scientific evidence to reject the theory of creation by the process of evolution.
(6) The Reasons to Believe Ministry, represented by Hugh Ross, has presented sufficient scientific evidence to reject the theory of creation by the process of evolution.
(7) Apologists such as those of the Intelligent Design Movement, fathered by Phillip E. Johnson, have made a sufficient case to reject the theory of evolution and to replace it with a theory of intelligent design.

Each of these barriers basically says: “Theory X is more plausible than evolution.”  (5) refers to Young Earth Creationism (six-day creation, OT genealogies show age of earth 6,000-10,000, the flood formed earth’s topography); (6) refers to Old Earth Creationism (big-bang cosmology conflated with a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2, but each “day” is a long period of time).  (7) refers to the most recent theory of Intelligent Design (evolution doesn’t occur on the molecular level-“irreducible complexity”).  19% considered (5) a barrier, 8% (6), and 36% (7).  Note how the results for (5) correlate to the results for (2) (23%) because of the genealogies.  Whereas OEC used to be the fad for “scientific” Christians, ID seems to be taking its place (23% v. 8%).  For more on these specific views, read Matt’s first post in these series, “A Creation Story”.

Barriers (8) and (9) are also two that you hear a lot:

(8) Ken Ham rightly argues “Scientists only have the present—they do not have the past,” ruling out the possibility of science to theorize the history of origins.
(9) The apparent age of the universe can be explained by reckoning that God created the universe with apparent age.

(8) is the age-old “agnostic” response to evolution that says that hypothesizing about the past isn’t science.  (9) is just an ad hoc response to what science tells us, sort of like “Well despite the evidence, it only looks like it happened that way”.  I’m not too surprised that these barriers didn’t get very much support: only 18% and 19%, respectively.  It would be interesting to see how this statistic would change, though, for a wider population of evangelicals.  I suspect it would be higher, but these barriers, once popular, seem to be going out of vogue.

Barriers (10) and (11) are a little odd, but for different reasons.

(10) The Gap Theory (i.e., the destruction of an original creation) explains the geological/fossil record) hinders me from accepting the theory of creation by evolution.
(11) The Framework Hypothesis (i.e., the days of Genesis are artistically arranged and not literal) hinder me from accepting the theory of creation by evolution.

Barrier (10) is an old version of YEC that says that God waited a long time between Genesis 1:1 and the rest of creation.  Not really popular anymore, it sought to explain the fossil record in light of the creation account.  Only 6% considered this a barrier.  (11) is odd, because when people talk about “artistic” or “metaphoric” interpretations of Genesis, they usually are trying to support OEC or something else, but Waltke included it, because he has heard people give this reason as a barrier to accepting evolutionary theory.  Only 7% considered this a barrier.

Statement (12) on the survey wasn’t a barrier, but a statement that “I can accept the theory of theistic evolution.”  46% of the participants agreed with this statement, more than on any other statement.  One of the things that Waltke points out that he learned from his survey, which was attempting to define the barriers to accepting evolution for the “typical” evangelical seminary professor, is that there is no such thing as “typical.”  The world of evangelical academia is divided fairly evenly.  An observation I made from this survey is that ID has taken over much of the support that used to be given to YEC, OEC and other theories.  Also, the theological/exegetical barriers were all given more support than the scientific ones (excluding ID), which makes me think that in the minds of many evangelicals, this debate is primarily a theological one.

On another note, I’d be interested to know which of these barriers you find strongest.  Or if there is another one you think should be included, what is it?

-James, the younger brother


The Tower of Babel, The Babel of Science, and the Science of Truth: My Response.

January 21, 2010

In response to Matt’s post, I am struck by the scientific thinkers who would like to replace religion with science. As Matt said:

Among scientists, you have the distinctly anti-religious voices who often view science as a replacement for religion.
Entre la Espada y la Pared

This really reminds me of C. S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, and in particular, the third book: That Hideous Strength.  Written almost 70 years ago, it is interesting how much insight and foresight Mr. Lewis had in this book.  The underlying idea of this final volume in the trilogy is that Man is trying to overcome death through science, and the plot centers around these scientists, who bring the head of a corpse back to life by hooking it up to various tubes and wires.  Christianity preaches life after death; science hopes to eliminate death altogether.

In this vein, I am reminded of Genesis 11 and the Tower of Babel.

Genesis 11:4 (ESV)
4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

In this story, mankind is gathering together its strength to make a name for itself, a name that is equal to God (“with its top in the heavens”).  This is parallel in my mind to C. S. Lewis’ description of science trying to eliminate death (defy the order established by God), as it is also parallel to science trying to not only undermine religion, but replace it.   Notice God’s response to the builder of the Tower of Babel:

Genesis 11:6-7 (ESV)
6 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down there and confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

God doesn’t allow his established order to be thwarted indefinitely by man.  Regardless of how we respond to him or what we think about him, he is still there, and he’s still God.  It’s comforting to me to remember that the babel of scientists crusading for their cause of atheism doesn’t have an effect on the actual state of affairs in the universe.  It is tragic, though, that by disobeying and defying God, we miss out on his blessings.  This is captured best in my mind by the irony in That Hideous Strength of overcoming death.  Eternal life on earth is desirable, but not considering the fact that it precludes eternal life in heaven.  By defying God’s established order, we may gain something, but we will surely miss something even greater.

So if that is my first response, I guess it is to the scientific fundamentalists, if I can call them that.  My other response would be to the so-called “religious fundamentalists.”  I say “so-called”, because I consider myself a fundamentalist, if that means that I believe the Bible is true, but this term is commonly used as a pejorative for narrow-minded Christians.  I feel like it is the duty of Christians, and in particular Christian academics (in this case, scientists), to interface with the world and not ignore it.  It is foolish to ignore the truth God has given us through the Bible.  But it is also foolish to ignore the truth God has given us through his creation, even if it carries less authority and is harder to interpret.  Nevertheless, Paul draws from the “Book of Creation” in his argument in Romans 1:

Romans 1:19-20 (ESV)
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

The gap between science and religion, which as Matt has pointed out, shouldn’t really have to be a gap, has been created by extremists on both sides of the picture.  We don’t need to compromise our faith, but we also don’t need to build up a faith that is compromisable.  We shouldn’t be scared of finding out “the truth” from science as if there is any way that God is not God, and we also can’t blindly ignore its findings.  There is a need for more dialogue, not more division.  I’m not saying you have to agree with any particular view, or even that you have to abandon the literal one.  I just wish there were a true dialogue, and that believers in conservative Christian churches didn’t have to feel like they are committing heresy by considering what science has to say.  We are called to be in the world, but not of the world.  Although this makes us separate from the world, it also means we have to genuinely interface with it, and this includes the scientific community.  I just wonder how we can do this in such a way that we express Christ’s love through our actions instead of making the divide deeper and harder to cross.  I’m excited to see if the remainder of this series on Science and Religion helps us move in that direction.

-James, the younger brother


Entre la Espada y la Pared

January 11, 2010

A somewhat whimsical title for a post on faith and science, it translates literally as “between the sword and the wall” – think “rock and hard place.”  However, I feel that it is an apt description for the place that many scientists who are also people of faith find themselves. In popular culture, the advocates of religion and science are often viewed as locked in a mortal battle.  Perhaps this is unsurprising, as in any discussion the shrillest voices are the ones most likely to be heard.  Among scientists, you have the distinctly anti-religious voices who often view science as a replacement for religion.  Among the earliest of such voices was Thomas Huxley.  In an essay on Darwin’s Origin of the Species Huxley wrote,

“Extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science as the strangled snakes of Hercules; and history records that whenever science and orthodoxy have been fairly opposed, the latter has been forced to retire from the lists, bleeding and crushed if not annihilated; scotched, if not slain.”

Thomas Huxley’s grandson, Julian Huxley, continued in this vein and writes,

“In evolutionary thinking there is no need or room for the supernatural. Man can no longer take refuge in the arms of a divinized father figure whom he has himself created. Nor can he escape from the responsibility of making decisions by sheltering under the umbrella of Divine Authority.”

“The truth will set us free. Evolutionary truth frees us from subservient fear of the unknown and supernatural, and exhorts us to face this new freedom. It shows us our destiny and our duty. The evolutionary vision is enabling us to discern the outline of the new religion that will arise to serve the needs of the coming era.”

Here we see not only a rejection of the compatibility of religion and science, but also a hint that in the future, he thinks science will take religion’s place.  On the side of religion, we see similarly  confrontational voices, such as that of Henry Morris, one of the founders of the young-earth creation movement, who says,

“There are only two basic world views: the God-centered world view and the man-centered world view, creation and evolution. There is no evidence whatsoever that evolution of one kind of organism into a more complex organism has ever occurred. There is no scientific evidence that the earth is old. Satan himself is the originator of the concept of evolution. Divine revelation from the Creator of the world states that He did it all in six days several thousand years ago. The Bible is a book of science! It contains all the basic principles upon which true science is built.”

The apparent dichotomy that has been espoused by such voices has had a number of negative consequences.  For believers, it may leave them wondering if they have to leave science behind in order to maintain their faith.  I believe that it has fostered an unhealthy distrust and distaste for science within the church.  For non-believers, this dichotomy is likely to push them further from faith.  If they believe they have to reject science in order to believe in a Creator, I think this makes them not only less likely to come to faith, but also less likely to take a person of faith seriously.  A scientist-believer finds himself stranded between these two worlds.  Each regarding him with suspicion, not fully at home in either.

I think it is fair to say that most scientists who are Christians do not feel that there need be a clash between faith and science.  There are many Christian scientists who take both their faith and their science seriously.  The scientists quoted above, and their modern cohorts, are making philosophical or even theological statements, not scientific ones.  It is not clear that these sorts of claims are backed by the science at all, and while they may be some of the loudest voices, they don’t necessarily represent the typical scientist.  On the other hand, the young-earth creationists are also promoting a fairly non-traditional interpretation of scripture, one that I see no need to accept (see e.g. James’s previous post).  In fact, there are strong textual and theological reasons why one might not want to interpret the creation story as 6 literal days.

This post is primarily a teaser, to get people thinking on this issue again (for our previous posts, see here). In the next series of posts, I plan to discuss many more of the details (hopefully with some help from James).  What are the difficult issues in reconciling Christianity and the creation story from science, particularly evolution?  Largely this is spurred by a number of conversations I’ve had lately with a variety of folks on these issues.  Additionally, however, I recently discovered a great web resource on this subject, the BioLogos Foundation website.  Tentatively, I plan on structuring these posts around a set of essays recently released as the product of a workshop they held this fall, which gathered evangelical scientists, pastors, and theologians to discuss many of these issues. It should provide interesting material for discussion.

After quoting some of the extreme voices on the relationship between religion and science, I’d like to close with a few other words for thought, to demonstrate that there is a strong middle ground in this discussion.

“Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wondrous universe, including man with his capacity of looking backwards and far into futurity, as a result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a theist.” -Charles Darwin, from his Autobiography

“I don’t think that there’s any conflict at all between science today and the Scriptures. The Bible is not a book of science. The Bible is a book of Redemption. I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man. Whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man’s relationship to God.”  – Billy Graham, from Personal Thoughts of a Public Man.

C. S. Lewis also had no problem with origin via evolution.  In The Problem of Pain he writes,

“For long centuries, God perfected the animal from which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all of the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated [. . .] Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say “I” and “me,” which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past [. . .] We do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state. But sooner or later they fell. Someone or something whispered that they could become as gods [. . . ] They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, “This is our business, not yours.” But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were, and eternally must be, mere adjectives. We have no idea in what particular act, or series of acts, the self-contradictory, impossible wish found expression. For all I can see, it might have concerned the literal eating of a fruit, but the question is of no consequence.” – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

-Matt, the elder brother