Evangelical Evolutionists Meet, Little Progress Against Creationism and a Literal Adam, Conservatives Diss Science
The most sobering moment for attendees of the Biologos “Theology of Celebration” conference in New York City, March 20-22, came when David Kinnaman of Barna Research presented findings on what U.S. Protestant pastors believe about creation. More than half profess a 6-day, 24-hour creation of life. Fewer than one in five, on the other hand, follow Biologos in affirming an evolutionary process as God’s method of creation.
Knowing that they are in a minority among Protestants did not limit the gathering’s enthusiasm. About 60 participants came by special invitation, with the proviso that their names would not be publicized without permission. This was intended to encourage open conversation on sensitive topics. Attending were such luminaries as N. T. Wright, Alister McGrath, John Ortberg, Tim Keller, Scot McKnight, Os Guinness, Joel Hunter, and Andy Crouch. Prominent scientists included Ian Hutchinson of MIT and Jennifer Wiseman, senior project scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope. Forty-one pastors and parachurch leaders participated.
[…] This year’s program centered on concerns for the church—especially for young people who feel torn between science and the Bible.
Few Christian colleges or seminaries teach young earth creationism (YEC), participants noted during discussion groups. But less formal, grassroots educational initiatives, often centered on homeschooling, have won over the majority of evangelicals. “We have arguments, but they have a narrative,” noted Tim Keller. Both young earth creationists and atheistic evolutionists tell a story tapping into an existing cultural narrative of decline. To develop a Biologos narrative is “the job of pastors,” Keller said.
In other words, this group of theologians, teachers, and scientists admit that the grassroots efforts of religious groups, some (such as Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis) operating outside of ecclesiastical authority, are the major influences in the laity’s understanding of origins. That some of the attendees to this year’s Biologos meeting wanted their attendance to be low profile ought to be a sign of how powerful the literalists are in American Protestantism.
And, as the Barna study shows, many Protestant pastors continue to believe and teach literal creationism.
I want to emphasize that this is not just an academic religious subject, but one which affects our society through political decisions. This struggle over a literal interpretation of Genesis coincides with a revealing trend in our society:
Conservatives, particularly those with college educations, have become dramatically more skeptical of science over the past four decades, according to a study published in the April issue of the American Sociological Review. Fewer than 35 percent of conservatives say they have a “great deal” of trust in the scientific community now, compared to nearly half in 1974.
“The scientific community … has been concerned about this growing distrust in the public with science. And what I found in the study is basically that’s really not the problem. The growing distrust of science is entirely focused in two groups—conservatives and people who frequently attend church,” says the study’s author, University of North Carolina postdoctoral fellow Gordon Gauchat.
In fact, in 1974, people who identified as conservatives were among the most confident in science as an institution, with liberals trailing slightly behind, and moderates bringing up the rear. Liberals have remained fairly steady in their opinion of the scientific community over the interim, while conservative trust in science has plummeted.
Interestingly, the most educated conservatives have led that charge. Conservatives with college degrees began distrusting science earlier and more forcefully than other conservatives, upending assumptions that less educated people on the whole are more distrustful of science.
Gauchat attributes the changes to two forces: Both science and conservatives have changed a lot in 40 years. In the post-WWII period, research was largely wedded to the Defense Department and NASA—think the space race and the development of the atomic bomb. Now the scientific institution “has come out from behind those institutions and been its own cultural force.” That has meant it is increasingly viewed as a catalyst of government regulation, as in the failed Democratic proposal to institute cap-and-trade as a way to reduce carbon emissions and stave off climate change.
“People are now viewing science as part of government regulation,” Gauchat says. […]
I will also point out that many highly religious people who are “college educated” are getting degrees from religious schools. So the pool of college educated “conservatives” may be growing in “education” profile that way, too.
The paper in focus:
This study explores time trends in public trust in science in the United States from 1974 to 2010. More precisely, I test Mooney’s (2005) claim that conservatives in the United States have become increasingly distrustful of science. Using data from the 1974 to 2010 General Social Survey, I examine group differences in trust in science and group-specific change in these attitudes over time. Results show that group differences in trust in science are largely stable over the period, except for respondents identifying as conservative. Conservatives began the period with the highest trust in science, relative to liberals and moderates, and ended the period with the lowest. The patterns for science are also unique when compared to public trust in other secular institutions. Results show enduring differences in trust in science by social class, ethnicity, gender, church attendance, and region. I explore the implications of these findings, specifically, the potential for political divisions to emerge over the cultural authority of science and the social role of experts in the formation of public policy.
In the American political landscape today an entrenched segment of anti-modernists are flexing their electoral muscle on a variety of subjects, from abortion to education to law enforcement, and their worldview is self-admittedly in direct conflict with the modernists.
An example comes from the small Orthodox Presbyterian Church denomination (which has sprung forth several of the Dominionists/Reconstructionists over the past 4 decades) and their prolific writers. The March 2012 edition (PDF) of their magazine New Horizons is focused on this issue, with articles such as “‘All Mankind, Descending from Him …’?” where the whole nature of the science of physical anthropology is attacked:
The view that questions whether Adam is the first human being from whom all others descend is itself questionable in its general approach to Scripture in at least two respects. Both reflect adversely on the clarity of Scripture. First, scientific findings are being given priority in the sense that they are seen as necessitating a rejection and consequent reinterpretation of what has heretofore been considered certain, as well as basic, biblical teaching. In that regard, let’s not suppose that we are faced here with yet one more ‘Galileo moment,’ where Christians need to adjust their thinking and get on board with science. Plainly at issue here is not an aspect of our ever-changing understanding of the physical workings of our environment and the universe at large, but perennial and unchanging matters that are basic to who we are as human beings—what it means to be created in God’s image and the kind of relationship with him that that entails. [emphasis added]
Wow, imagine that - science at times necessitating a rejection of “what has heretofore been considered certain”!
And then this writer has the self-blind temerity to suggest that this is not a Galileo moment?
Another article in that OPC magazine, titled “Evaluating the Claims of Scientists”, where the writer (Vern Poythress), after a lengthy dismissal of science not unlike the many other dismissals written by the legion of creationists before him, writes:
The world around us tells us to accept the latest scientific pronouncements as the product of experts who know much better than we do. As Christians, we must not overestimate our knowledge or our expertise. But we have in the Bible a divine message that we can trust. We ought to use its guidance. The Bible criticizes modern science for its idolatry. Assumptions about the nature of law and assumptions about what counts as an explanation or what counts as relevant evidence play a major role in science. [emphasis added]
The “Bible criticizes modern science for its idolatry”? Really? How does a collection of books written 1500 years (at the latest) before what we call modern science arose, a collection of books without lips or fingers with which to type, do anything but lay there? Oh, it doesn’t. The truth is this: Vern Poythress is the one accusing modern science of idolatry, not some inanimate collection of books.
Therein is the clue to the ultimate double hubris of these creationists: not only to they write extensively about science, a subject about which they so demonstrably know little, but they also take on the authority of the very God they claim wrote those books!
In other words, these otherwise highly educated creationists are no different than any other religious loon who claims some sort of special revelation and assignment from “God”.
And what is true for the subject of origins is then replayed in all the other segments of our political and social discourse, from abortion to health care to self defense to all manner of troublesome hot-buttons.