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Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Almost Half of Evangelical Theologians Accept Evolution?

About a year and half ago I commented that evangelical theologians seem hesitant to engage in the science / faith dialogue. Chiding them as “timid”, I asked:

If we [evangelicals] cannot speak to the issues of the day, how can we expect others to be interested in the gospel? If we aren’t answering the questions that are being asked, why are we surprised when people (including our youth) look elsewhere for answers?

Evangelical theologians: This is not so much a complaint as a request for help.
A few months later, I indicated that I might have been too harsh, and that evangelical theologians were indeed re-evaluating their reluctance to consider the implications of an evolving creation. In a post on the relationship between the leading evangelical scientific organization (the ASA) and the leading evangelical theological organization (the ETS), I shared how Bruce Waltke, a former president of the ETS, had come to accept evolution. I ended this essay by chiding myself and some of my fellow ECs with the remark that:
Maybe we just need to be patient and let [evangelical theologians] think this [science / faith topic] through for awhile.
By “awhile”, I was thinking years, if not decades.

Well, maybe evangelical theologians are much, much further along in this process than many of us had ever imagined. In a survey that Waltke conducted for Biologos, he found that almost half (46%) of evangelical theologians that responded to his survey accept that God created through the process of evolution. (HT: David Opderbeck)

You read that right: 46% of evangelical theologians that participated in Waltke’s survey, accept that God created through the process of evolution.

I think there are some legitimate questions that can be asked about the methodological rigour of this survey. But even if the 46% number is somewhat inflated (and I suspect this is probably the case), evangelical theologians are not even close to being predominantly opposed to evolution.

Now if only some of this theological thinking would translate into more theological discussion and theological action ….

Patience, Steve, patience.


D.L. Folken said...

I guess it depends on how Evolution is defined. I think almost all Evangelicals accept micro-evolution which is defined as adaptation within a species due to natural selection. There are very few that actually believe in macro-evolution.

Emiliano M said...

Hey Steve! I Read the article and got pretty much the same conclusions that you did: I was pretty amazed at the percentage of Theologians who had no problem with evolution; Still, I too think 46% is pretty inflated, given that many that many theologians who visited Waltke's survey did nor answer it, and those who did probably 'skewed the sample'.
ZDENNY: The definition of evolution used in the survey was: "the sufficiency of mutation and natural selection in bringing about the development of present living kinds from simpler earlier kinds, including the emergence of man from a common ancestor with apes".


I guess that's why, even if the number of evangelical theologians who accept evolution is inflated in this research, it is still a good reason for those who wish the gap betwen science and faith to be bridged to feel optimistic...

Paz de Cristo

Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D. said...

What intrigues me is how the two groups (evangelical evolutionists and evangelical nonevolutionists) may be thinking differently, in terms of content, not process. I think there is an epistemological disconnect between the two groups. In a shameless plug for my upcoming online article, I'll be talking about this soon.

Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D.

Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D. said...

A bit more...

In my research, responses to 6 items seem most strongly to differentiate those who accept evolution and those who don't:

1. Science can neither confirm nor deny the existence of God.

2. There are valid sources of knowledge that have nothing to do with science.

3. Science is necessarily agnostic, but the scientist need not be.

4. There is an inherent conflict between science and religion.

5. If evolutionary theory is true, it is fatal to all forms of religious belief.

6. In a conflict between science and religion, science should always take precedence.

An evolutionary creationist would most likely respond yes, yes, yes, no, no, and - well, it depends.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Zdenny,
Welcome. See Emiliano's note below re: the definition ... although I don't think the micro-macro definition is useful, in those terms, yes the 46% were supporting macro.

Emiliano: re: your point that the results could be skewed because most chose not to answer, yes, that is one of the weaknesses of this study ... but I agree it is still encouraging.

Marlowe: My answers exactly to your six questions.

Jimpithecus said...

Steve, thanks for the story. I would be curious to know which schools the respondents hailed from, since it is not clear from the survey.

joel hunter said...

Dr. Embree, I'm having difficulty with the term 'conflict' in question 6. What is its comprehension and extension? Could you disambiguate the question? What is the explanandum?

Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D. said...

Like many questions used in psychological research, it was deliberately vague. Perhaps too vague.

It's hard to say how a person who believes that science and religion cannot possibly be in conflict, for instance, might respond to the item. Presumably they would be neutral.

My students suggested in class today that science per se and religion per se are not inherently in conflict, but the institutions that surround them often are. Interesting idea, at any rate.

The answer may depend on how one interprets the other ambiguous term, "inherently" (as opposed, presumbly, to accidentally or incidentally).