Pastors and Evolution
Dr. James Emery WhiteJames Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
- 2012 Jan 12
The pastors have weighed in. At least those participating in a Lifeway Research survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors.
*72 percent do not believe God used evolution to create people. Of those, 64 percent categorized their disbelief as "strongly agree."
*82 percent believe Adam and Eve were literal people, of which 74 percent categorized their belief as "strongly agree."
Interestingly, the figures were split down the middle as to the age of the earth. When asked to weigh in on the statement, "I believe the age of the earth is approximately 6,000 years old," 43 percent disagreed, and 46 percent agreed.
So evolution "no," Adam and Eve "yes," young earth "maybe."
None of this was particularly surprising to me. It shows that pastors are overwhelmingly creationists, in one form or another, and well they should be.
And they are not terribly out of step with mainstream culture. A 2010 Gallup poll found that 40 percent of all Americans believe God created humans in their present form, 38 percent say God used evolution to do it, and only 16 percent think man evolved without any help from (a) God.
So 78 percent of all Americans believe in, at the least, a theistic process.
But here is what stood out to me: 1 out of every 5 pastors surveyed admitted that most of their congregation believes in evolution.
Translation? Even in the relatively inoculated culture of the typical church, a lot of people aren't buying the party line. Even more interesting: only a third of pastors (36 percent) teach on creation and evolution with any frequency, and an equal number (38 percent) teach on it rarely, if at all.
This must end.
The relationship between science and religion is easily one of the more pressing issues of our day, and pastors must engage the conversation with knowledge and wisdom.
At Meck, we recently completed a series titled "Mythbusting," playing off the popular Discovery channel series "Mythbusters," where we invited attenders to go online and vote on the subjects they most wanted to see examined in light of the Bible and external evidence.
We offered a number of ideas from which to choose, as well as the opportunity to "write-in" votes. We then took the top six to examine, working our way from the sixth most requested to the #1 most requested topic of all.
Here's how the voting ended:
6. Does God really answer every prayer?
5. Could a boat really hold two of every animal?
4. Can God really forgive anything?
3. Can there really be an antichrist and worldwide tribulation?
2. Does evolution disprove God?
1. Do Christians go to heaven, and everyone else to hell?
It was a fun series (if you're interested, you can get hold of it on the Message Downloads page of ChurchandCulture.org).
But when asked to explore their questions, our church (which experiences well over 70 percent of its total growth through the unchurched) were interested in evolution and God -- second only to heaven and hell.
I won't presume to try and persuade you how to teach on this matter, but I will challenge you to teach on it. It's decisive for our day, and integral to the spiritual search of many in your church.
I will, however, offer what I believe are some of the key discussion points, beginning with the four basic questions that people need covered, which are:
*What does the Bible specifically say about the creation of human beings?
*What is the relationship between science and religion?
*What is the heart of the tension between evolution and belief in God?
*If evolution is true, does it automatically disprove God?
Next, help them process the issues with a clear sense of the playing field, regardless where you/they land. Namely this fourteen-point playing field (please note, these are not listed in order of importance):
1. The Bible is unambiguous in its declaration that we were created by a Creator (Genesis 1, Psalm 139). Whatever the creative process entailed, it was supernaturally generated and guided by God.
2. Genesis 1 and 2 tell us that God did it, but not how. It is not, nor does it pretend to be, a scientific treatise.
3. In terms of the age of the earth, whether young or old, the Hebrew word for day ("yom") is not overly specific. And the text itself would seem to be more phenomenological than literal. As many have pointed out, it would be difficult to assume precise, twenty-four hour solar days when the sun and the moon were not even created until the fourth day.
4. You can believe in an old earth and not embrace evolution.
5. The Christian has nothing to fear from science because the God of the Bible is the God of creation. All true scientific discoveries simply illuminate the world God has made, which is why modern science began largely as the result of a Christian worldview. There were rules, laws and governing principles to be discovered because of a Creator.
6. Modern science is based on empirical evidence and testable explanation, but not everything falls into that category. If it is beyond our five senses to tangibly examine, then you cannot use something like science and the normal rules of "proof" to either prove or disprove.
7. The real conflict between science and religion is not science, but philosophy. The religion of modern science is what is known as reductive naturalism. "Naturalism" is the idea that nature is "all that is." "Reductive" naturalism is the idea that all that can be known within nature is that which can be empirically verified. So a reductive naturalism contends that what is real is only that which can be seen, tasted, heard, smelled or touched; then verified, meaning able to be replicated in a test-tube. All of knowledge is "reduced" to this level of knowing. If it cannot be examined in a tangible, scientific manner, it is not simply unknowable; it is meaningless. So the philosophy behind modern science is simple: any appeal to God must be rejected to explain the workings of nature.
8. As to evolution itself, don't confuse macro-evolution with micro-evolution. Micro-evolution is the idea that many living animals can be observed over the course of time to undergo changes so that new species within that particular line are formed. For example, from the horse family there can come Arabians, thoroughbreds, Morgans, and so forth. No one disagrees with this. The issue is macro-evolution, the theory that all the living forms in the world have arisen from a single source, which itself came from an inorganic form. That from a pool of primordial soup, a combination of time, chance and energy began life, and from that single cell came all of the life we experience.
9. You can certainly be a Christian and believe in theistic evolution -- meaning that God created, and chose evolution as the means (or at least as part of the means). People who believe in God simply point to the idea that naturalistic evolution -- meaning an evolutionary process not helped along by an outside and guiding force -- is highly improbable.
10. You can embrace theistic evolution and a literal Adam and Eve at the end of the process, or as an addition to it.
11. If evolution is ever proved beyond a shadow of a doubt to even the most skeptical of minds, it does not disprove God. Instead, in many ways, it would be a significant pointer toward the necessity of God. Evolution, by itself, doesn't explain the intricate design of the human body, much less the "humanness" of humans. The process also has what can only be called God-sized gaps that cry out for an intelligent Designer guiding and helping the process.
12. The real "age" issue isn't whether the earth is young, but how a naturalistic view interprets the age of the universe. If the age of the earth is about 4.6 billion years, which is the current, best estimate of science, and we have evidence of abundant and complex life 3.5 billion years ago (which we do), then that means that there was only about 170 million years for the earth to cool from its initial formation and all of evolution to have taken place. That simply isn't enough time apart from some form of external intervention.
13. There should be a sense of holy agnosticism to many scientific issues where the Bible is silent. Did God create? Yes. Was evolution what God used? In truth, we don't know. But God could have created us any way He wanted. I believe the Bible teaches a literal Adam and Eve -- a first man and a first woman -- but whether they were created from scratch, or infused with soul and spirit and made fully human by God at the end of an evolutionary process -- we do not know.
14. Whether you believe in hominoid evolution or not, there is no ultimate need for concern. However it happened, God was in it, through it, directing it, and guiding it. The real problem is with those who say He didn't. People who get very hot over creation vs. evolution make a tactical mistake. It's not creation vs. evolution, because God could have used evolution to create. It's theistic creation or non-theistic creation -- it's either God as Creator or "Time + Chance."
Some may disagree with how I've marked out the playing field for discussion. That's fine. The point is that pastors must engage this issue for the sake of those they serve and the culture in which we live.
And regardless of where you land, we must do it with knowledge, wisdom and biblical fidelity.
James Emery White
"Evolution: Pastors unconvinced, LifeWay survey shows, but they're split on earth's age," David Roach, Baptist Press, January 9, 2012. Read online.
Some helpful books: Ian Barbour, When Science Meets Religion: Enemies, Strangers, or Partners?; Phillip E. Johnson, Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law and Education; John Polkinghorne and Nicholas Beale, Questions of Truth; Hugh Ross, Creation and Time; Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronmers; Stephen Meyer, Signature in the Cell; Michael Behe, Darwin's Black Box; Lee Strobel, The Case for a Creator; William Dembski, Intelligent Design; Davis Young and Ralph Stearley, The Bible, Rocks and Time.
To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.