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Monday, 22 February 2010

Is there an Evangelical Church Home for the Evolutionary Creationist?

This is a guest-post by Douglas Hayworth and is the second installment in the series "Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church". Doug grew up as an MK/PK (missionary/pastor kid) and lived in Iran as a child. He has a PhD in evolutionary biology from Washington University in St. Louis. While in St. Louis, he was part of a PCA church, where he served as missions committee chairman, deacon, and children's Sunday school teacher. He currently lives in Rockford, Illinois where he works as a protein research technical writer and content specialist for Thermo Fisher Scientific.

I think it's fair to say that evangelical churches aren't welcoming places for scientists whose areas of expertise and research have anything to do with evolution. Where there are exceptional churches, they are primarily in metropolitan areas near large universities that provide a wide diversity of intellectual expertise. Unless you're fortunate enough to live in such a place, finding a church fellowship that values and supports the whole of who you are may be extremely difficult.

I know. I still haven't found a permanent church home in "Springfield", Illinois where I've lived for the past 10 years.

The Contemporary Evangelical Church: Culturally but not Intellectually Welcoming

Mind you, I have plenty of evangelical churches to choose from in Springfield (Christian, Evangelical Free, Evangelical Covenant, Assembly of God, Baptist, Lutheran, etc.). And they aren't all tightwad conservative churches, either. Some are cutting-edge, Starbucks-biscotti, black-light, fog-machine, rock-n-roll churches. Culturally relevant and progressive, to be sure...except when it comes to certain intellectual matters and the epistemological nuances that my scientific awareness requires me to take seriously.

I commend contemporary evangelical churches for their willingness to re-evaluate 20th century assumptions about what the Bible really teaches (i.e., exegesis) and how it applies to our generation (i.e., hermeneutics). Unfortunately, for the most part, they seem rather immature in their methodology. Simply put, the church's fundamental problem is its sophomoric understanding of critical realism. Somehow, all truth claims, whether scientific or scriptural, are naively understood as speaking the same language and competing for identical territory.

I am a native evangelical, and those are the types churches that I've generally sought to join. (Mainline churches have different challenges, which I'm not attempting to address here.) My church experiences in Springfield have varied in several ways, and my identity as an evolutionary creationist (EC) is only one factor that has affected the success or failure of these episodes. Yet, I've come to realize that the way in which a church reacts to my identity as an EC provides an accurate indication of how well my family will fit in overall. Indeed, a church's suspicion of my Christian devotion and essential orthodoxy based solely on my EC views is a diagnostic marker for incompatibility in other areas as well.

Becoming Unwanted: Parting Ways with My Local Evangelical Church

That’s my hypothesis: EC is a sort of litmus test for assessing an evangelical church’s theological maturity about many things.

I formulated this hypothesis as a result of my most recent church experience. A few months ago my wife and I felt compelled to leave the evangelical church that we had called home and had been actively involved in for more than a year. I wrote about this experience on my personal blog in a series called "Becoming Unwanted". In the first post I described the background and setting for the overall situation. Originally my family was optimistic about our prospects at this church, but a change in leadership occurred that undermined nearly everything that we had come to value there. My second post provided a detailed account of my evaluation by the new leadership (elders) upon submission of my completed "Questionnaire for Prospective Sunday School Teachers". (I had wanted to help lead my son's highschool discipleship group.) The evaluation became a mutual trial of the elders' and my beliefs. The verdict they reached was that I would not be allowed to teach in the church; the verdict I reached was that my family needed a new church home.

I may have exhausted my options for fellowship in an evangelical church here in Springfield, but I think I've now developed a specific strategy and some guiding principles to help me evaluate my prospects at evangelical churches that I visit in the future. Perhaps you will find these tips helpful for your situation.

Church-hunting Tips for the EC

1. Apply the evolution "litmus test": Disclose your vocation and EC status to church leaders at the earliest opportunity (e.g., the first time you have the pastor over for dinner). After first assuring them of your belief in creation, ask point-blank if they have a major issue with your EC views. Don't expect them to be EC themselves; that's not the point of the test. You just want to assess their response. Can they handle the challenge, or do they suddenly regard you as an unbeliever and attempt to aggressively debate the point? Even if the pastor and elders pass the test, ask if there are others on staff or in leadership who are passionate defenders of young-earth creationism (YEC). If anyone of established influence in the church has such a passion for YEC, pursue church membership no further. Your presence will simply create division.

2. Apply the epistemology test: Ask the leadership about baptism and communion. These are perfect topics for assessing the nature of the church's critical realism. No need to bring up controversial issues like abortion, homosexuality, body-piercing or even women in the church. A discussion of modes and meanings of baptism and communion will immediately reveal if and how the leadership delineates between biblically sound practice and absolute truth. If they cannot concede that there is a difference between these (e.g., if they cannot accept as valid the fact that you regard your infant baptism as meaningful and sufficient for yourself), then move on.

3. Decide your level of engagement: Evaluate from the start if your goal is simply acceptance in the community of believers or if you also feel called to actively teach and promote serious consideration of science-theology issues. Some churches will marginally pass tests 1 & 2 and will accept your presence as long as you don't plan to teach and openly discuss your views. If that's acceptable, you can assure the pastor of this when you conduct tests 1 & 2. If you feel called to have greater influence, then make that clear from the start. In deciding between these two paths, be sure to consider other aspects of your personal situation, such as the impact on your spouse and children.

4. Honor the cause: Don't speak up or speak out about EC unless you're willing to live and demonstrate a genuine Christian life. If you want to be an ambassador for EC, then don't give the church any cause to dismiss your testimony. Commit to holy living, humble service (e.g., help in the nursery) and having a gracious demeanor.

5. Love the church: Find some way to cultivate and maintain your love for Christ's church. Given my situation, this is a difficult thing for me to do at the moment. Nevertheless, I'm intentionally reading and interacting with others to stir up this grace within me. As infuriating as your church tradition may be, it is your immediate family and part of the one holy, catholic and apostolic church, even Christ's bride. I recommend a soon-to-be released book by John Armstrong (I have read an advanced copy) called “Your Church is Too Small: Why unity in Christ's mission is vital to the future of the church”.

Submitted for Your Approval

In part three of my Becoming Unwanted story, I attempted to draw some tentative conclusions and to ask some difficult questions about what to do next. Like the Psalmist, I wrote that post with some degree of angst and unbridled emotion. My conclusions there were tentative; my assertions and hypothesis in the current essay are only slightly less tentative.

I welcome your participation in testing my thoughts. May we proclaim to one another the words of the apostle Paul: “
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”


Martin said...

Nice post, it's a situation many of us know only too well. In Ken Ham's State of the Nation speech last week he made quite clear his disdain for Christians who aren't YECs and he evidently regards evolutionary creationists as the lowest of the low.
I don't know about anyone else but lately I find myself ever more willing to speak out against such people. Being told constantly what the requirements are to be a 'true Christian' while being presented with obvious pseudoscience and outright misinformation is becoming just a little tiring these days.

Steve said...

Excellent thoughts, Douglas. I've followed your "Becoming Unwanted" posts as you've posted them.

Just in passing though, a few of my EC friends and I have noticed that the Church of the Nazarene tends to be uncommonly tolerant of other ECs. I'm sure we could all name a few prominent Nazarene scientists/scholars who bear this out (e.g. Giberson and Falk). Obviously, it's not as though every congregation is going to be as accepting as others, but when considering evangelical denominations to narrow the search a bit, I daresay one should try a Nazarene church before bothering with a Presbyterian Church in America or Southern Baptist church. I can speak to both of the latter because they are the two with which I've been affiliated in recent years.

RBH said...

Steve wrote

Just in passing though, a few of my EC friends and I have noticed that the Church of the Nazarene tends to be uncommonly tolerant of other ECs.

Rick Colling might have a slightly different view from, say, Karl Giberson's.

I live in a heavily Nazarene area (a Naz university is a few miles away) and there's enormous variability within that denomination. I know both YECs and ECs on the faculty of that university, and the latter tend to be much quieter about their beliefs (with at least one notable exception) than the former. If I had to guess, I'd guess that YECs are dominant among the non-scientists in the pews and in the pulpits in this community, though I have no data on it.

While theologically the Nazarene claim to value both the human study of nature and scriptural revelation equally in providing knowledge of the present state of the world/universe, in practice revelation trumps nature for the majority of adherents.

Dennis Venema said...

Douglas, thanks for this post. I agree and resonate throughout!

One point I thought especially valuable:

Simply put, the church's fundamental problem is its sophomoric understanding of critical realism.

Bingo. We could be much further ahead on this issue if the evangelical church would embrace the life of the mind. Mark Noll is still a voice in the wilderness. Our model for church life seems to have no place for critical thinking.

As for your suggestions, I agree with them. I too broached the evolution issue with my church leadership very early on. I desire to be an active participant in my local congregation, and presently I teach sunday school and co-lead in a mid-week boys club. I had no desire to get that involved if the EC thing was going to be a non-starter for the leadership.

The fact that I teach sunday school (to younger kids) is a concern for some in the congregation, but so far there seems to be at least tolerance for my presence. FWIW, I don't bring up the topic in those venues, although in general I try to promote a healthy interaction between science and faith. It would be harder if I had children of high-school age or taught/led kids of that age in the church.

For the adults, however, I think this IS an issue they need to hear about (especially if the church is pushing pseudoscience). As you know, our congregation is now running The Truth Project, so that has 'upped the ante' on this issue for me locally.

Keep us posted on your search for a church family.

Moses said...

Some interesting reading. We are currently looking for a new church home. I have been teaching a pre-teen/junior youth sunday school class, and it is hard to try to stay neutral about evo/creation and biblical criticism, but I do respect that their parents are YEC/Biblical inerrantists -so my family has decided to move on before it becomes a divisive issue. ( to where? I don't yet know). It's difficult, as this has been my church home since I was a child.

D.L. Folken said...

The reason that evangelicals don't appreciate naturalism being imposed on the past act of Creation is because Scripture presents Creation as a miracle.

Why impose naturalism on something that is clearly a miracle?

In addition, macro-evolution has never been demonstrated. On top of that, Lenski has now in fact falsified Darwinian evolution. In 44,000 generations, he only has one change (digestion). This is equvilent to 1.76 million human years. How do you account for 1.2 million species within 530 million years? Certainly naturalistic evolution fails.

The only evolution that a Christian person can consider is a mind directed process which formed all living things. However, this is called Contemporary Creationism.

I think many who claim to be Theistic evolutionists fail to understand that the Creation was a miracle! When you impose naturalism on a miracle, you really are a secularist at heart trying to fit into a secularist community.

We had a word for these folks when I was growing up. We called them chickens, but times have changed.

Jordan said...

Great post, Douglas. I read your "Becoming Unwanted" series with great interest as well and find myself in much the same position as yourself, being an evolutionary creationist. I was formerly a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and am thinking about joining the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (=ELCA in the US). Does anyone here have any experience with the ELCA or ELCIC concerning their tolerance of evolutionary creationists?

ZDENNY, we all realize that the Genesis creation story is presented as a miracle. The problem is that the scientific evidence (from geology, biology, etc.) is not consistent with a miraculous interpretation. It is consistent with a very naturalistic explanation. Why do humans and apes share endogenous retroviruses to the exclusion of all other animals? Evolution offers an explanation, but miraculous creation doesn't. Why do birds and theropods share hollow bones and semi-lunate carpals to the exclusion of other animals? Evolution offers an explanation, but miraculous creation doesn't.
Honestly, it isn't as though we haven't thought this stuff through, ZDENNY. Many of us evolutionary creationsits have and found "creation science" wanting.

Cornelius said...


"In the 150 years since the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, no one has ever observed the origin of a new species by natural selection—much less the origin of new organs and body plans.As a result, the only evidence that all living things are biologically descended from a common ancestor comes from comparisons of the similarities and differences among fossil and living species. When making such comparisons, however, Darwinists start by assuming common ancestry. Then they try to fit similarities and differences into the branching-tree pattern that would result from it, and they ignore the glaring inconsistencies that often remain.

So the evidence for anything more than minor changes within existing species is surprisingly flimsy. In most other scientific fields, a theory with so little empirical support would probably have been discarded by now."


"Natural biological evolution fails at all levels except for those species numbering more than about one quadrillion individuals with generation times less than three months and body sizes smaller than one centimeter."


"Many factors work to limit large animals' capacity for natural-process change. These same factors make large animals especially vulnerable to rapid extinction. The seven most significant factors are these:

1. their relatively small population levels
2. their long generation spans (the time between birth and the ability to give birth)
3. their low numbers of progeny produced per adult
4. their high complexity of morphology and biochemistry
5. their enormous body sizes
6. their specialized food supplies
7. their relatively advanced cultural and social structures

These factors limit the capacity of animals not only to change through natural selection and mutations but also to adapt to environmental changes. A fundamental problem biologists observe is that deleterious mutations vastly outnumber beneficial mutations (by anywhere from 10,000 to 1 up to 10,000,000 to 1). Thus, a species needs an enormous population, a short generation time, and a small body size if it's to survive long enough to benefit from mutations. Deleterious mutations and environmental stresses drive most animal species to extinction.

Crude mathematical models indicate that a species capable of significant evolutionary advance rather than doomed to eventual extinction, must have a population of one quadrillion individuals, a generation time of three months, and a body size of one centimeter. These conclusions are confirmed by field observations."


100 trillion years isn't going to turn fish into philosophers or particles into people.

Dennis Venema said...

More folk-science from Cornelius and ZDENNY, I see. Suffice it to say that what you so confidently assert has been shown up, time and again, to be inaccurate.

Guys, how about you actually interact with the OP instead of cutting-and-pasting from antievolutionary sites or calling folks names?

Or, as an exercise, take that video series I linked to a while back, work your way through it, and explain why you think design without common ancestry offers a better explanation of the data.


Or, for that matter, explain why design is a better explanation for the vitellogenin psuedogene we find in the human genome exactly where the location of the functional gene in the chicken genome predicts it should be. See this paper if you're not familiar with this data:


A basic summary would be that we find the mutated remains of a gene devoted to egg-yolk production in the human genome exactly where common ancestry with birds would predict it to be. Your challenge is to explain why independent design is a better explanation of this data.

Cornelius said...

Why is it that all arguments against naturalistic evolution are dismissed as "folk science" while the highly circumstancial evidence for it is considered irrefutable? I see no reason why we have to account for everything thrown at us. These genes may turn out to have some important function in the genome. The point is that common ancestry is no good without a mechanism. Mutations have now been discredited.

"all point mutations that have been studied on the molecular level turn out to reduce the amount of information."
Dr Lee Spetner, Not By Chance! -Shattering The Modern Theory of Evolution.

As explained the Lenski experiments provided yet more confirmation of this. What else are we left with as a mechanism? Evo devo? Mumbo jumbo?

This is without examining the Cambrian explosion where 50 phyla appear overnight with no evolutionary ancestors, or how the whole thing got going in the first place (lightning in a mud puddle?).

Jordan said...

Can we please get back on topic? I like to think this blog is beyond the creation-evolution "debate". If you want to bash the scientific evidence for evolution, Cornelius and ZDENNY, there are other places to do it where others would be more than happy to do it.

Dennis Venema said...

Actually, Lenski's work is very interesting, and how it relates to Behe's ideas of "irreducible complexity" and the "edge of evolution" would make a great topic for a post all on its own.

Cornelius and ZDENNY, your characterization of Lenski's work reveals you are not up to speed on it. That's not a criticism, but just an observation. Perhaps you should consider sticking to your areas of expertise?

The reason folk science is not valid science is because it has no scientific evidence to support it - it's an attempt to misrepresent real science for apologetics reasons. Scientists are open to new ideas or interpretations - provided there is evidence for the position, and it provides a superior explanatory / predictive framework for future research.

Ok, back on topic. Jordan, I'm interested in hearing more about your situation. You're a paleontology PhD student, correct? Did you get "found out" or did you volunteer your status as an EC before you were barred from communion at your church? How did your church leaders justify barring you?

Karl A. said...

Could somebody point me to an expanded definition of "critical realism"? I think I'm tracking with you but not sure. Thanks.

Doug said...


Funny you should ask about Lutheran churches. Believe it or not, I attended a Missouri Synod Church for about a year before this last church. Historically, Missouri Synod is strongly Young-Earth, as some of the fathers of the modern movement were Missouri Synod, but here was an example of an individual church that did not censure me in any way. I played in the worship band and helped teach a family (intergenerational) Sunday school class. I had applied my evolution litmus test by having a conversation about it with the pastor. I told him that would be divisive with it, and I'd be happy to help if science-faith issues ever came up for discussion. He was definitely standard YEC himself but totally passed the test: he never treated me with any suspicion whatsoever. That's amazing since I'm not even Lutheran.

So why did I leave that church? Well, its an example that demonstrate how there are other factors wholey unrelated to the evolution or oppressive biblical inerrancy. There just weren't any families there with kids the same age as my own (at least not ones who were available for developing friendships with). Life is complex and none of us is uni-dimensional; EC is only one factor among many.

Now, back to advice about Lutherans. So, I think it's quite POSSIBLE to find an accepting church even in a denomination that is "officially" quite conservative. You just never know. I did read about Missouri Synod and the ELCA on their respective websites, and I was actually very impressed with what the ELCA's position on science and related subjects. I'm not sure how much that thoughtful analysis penetrates down to individual churches, but I'd certainly be willing to try an ELCA church. If there is living faith there, go for it.


Doug said...

Oops, I guess I need to proof-read better! In the middle of that long comment, I meant to say that I had told him that I would NOT be divisive...

Steve Martin said...

Hi Doug,
First, thanks for your advice. I had the opportunity to use it before it was even published (there are benefits to this editorial role!) albeit in a somewhat different situation. I was recently asked to join our church leadership team. Before I accepted I made sure that the other church leaders knew exactly where I stood on evolution, and that I publicly discuss this position on my personal blog. I also noted that although I would not be promoting official discussions on evolution in the church, I would continue to have personal discussions on science / faith issues with other members of the congregation when appropriate. Short story is, this was not a problem for the leadership. Yesterday when I was introduced officially to the church as part of the leadership team, I mentioned that one of my passions was reading about and discussing issues of science and faith, that I was a member of the CSCA which stood for integrity in science and integrity in Christian faith, and that I discuss these issues on a public weblog. That was it; no mention of evolution. Now there are quite a few people that know where I stand on the issue – and not all of them agree with my position. But, they accept me as a brother in Christ and supported my appointment to leadership.

That being said, I am thankful that I am part of one of those "exceptional" churches with the demographics you mention.

Doug said...

Hi Karl A.

You can look up critical realism on Wikipedia. If you're confused by the opening sections, scroll down closer to the bottom where it talks about its use in science-religion discussions. There is great quotation by N.T. Wright. Basically, scientist and Evangelicals are both critical realists. We both believe that the creation or God's truth is "real" (it does not conform to whatever we desire to make of it; it is not just our imagination). We also recognize that we cannot know that reality without engaging personally and subjectively with it. Polkinghorne would say that the critical realist trusts in the verisimilitude of doing science (or theology). I.e., we are in fact approaching greater knowledge of the world as it really is. The problem with modern evangelicals is that they've forgotten to be critical (i.e., aware of their own interpretive filters and flawed perception).


Jordan said...

Hi Dennis,

I was raised in a WELS church since birth and evolution was never an issue for me there, mainly because I didn't have strong feelings about the issue until I left home to attend grad school on the other side of the country. After I moved, I attended another WELS church where I was suddenly the "new guy" -- a new situation for me. The people there were pretty friendly, but in their getting to know me, it inevitably came up that I was a palaeo student studying evolutionary palaeoecology. This put some people off, who immediately began spouting off apologetics like Cornelius and ZDENNY here. The issue came to a head one night when my wife and I had the pastor over for a meet-n-greet. The pastor asked me straight up about my beliefs concerning creationism and evolution, and when I told him that I didn't subscribe to YECism, he told me that, while I was welcome to attend Sunday service, I was no longer welcome at the Communion table. I think I attended a few services after that, but eventually stopped going to that church altogether. I don't want to attend church where I'm not wanted. I understand my old congregation back home was largely put off by the way I was treated, too.
Anyways, thanks kindly for your input, Doug. Your experience with the MS is very interesting! Maybe I'll have to check out the ELCIC after all...

Steve Martin said...

Welcome. Yes, continually answering the YEC / ID critics is tiring. I’ve said it myself many times. But, I think we as EC’s need to demonstrate all the fruits of the spirit (particularly patience!) in this discussion because it is going to go on for quite a while yet I suspect. Doug’s points #4 and #5 are critical here. I think we all (particularly myself!) should read these two points before answering comments from our detractors.

Re: Steve’s mention of the Nazarene church & acceptance within it, I think RBH’s points are bang on. For church traditions without strong central authority, you will find pockets of acceptance of EC’s in just about any denomination (Doug’s demographic point is probably more important than the denomination). Post #3 by Terry will discuss situations where there is strong denominational oversight or influence.

Moses: That is disheartening that you feel you need to move on. In some ways, I think it is better if we as ECs can sometimes stay within our church’s so we can demonstrate that following Christ and accepting evolution can co-exist & that in fact we can thrive spiritually. However, saying this is a hard-and-fast rule would be particularly hypocritical for me since I left churches before – and indeed felt at one point I needed to leave the entire Evangelical tradition. See my comment here in Doug’s third post in the “Becoming Unwanted” series for a few more details.

Steve Martin said...

Jordan: I would echo Doug’s recommendation that checking out an ELCA church might be worthwhile. Now I believe from my limited reading that the ELCA is more of a “mainline” church than an evangelical one (despite the name) BUT that there are certainly many within the denomination that are evangelicals and probably whole congregations that are evangelical. (For those new here, you may want to check out my What is an Evangelical post). As my comment on Doug’s post mentioned above notes, I am now part of the Anglican Church (definitely mainline!) but in a congregation that as staunchly evangelical and evangelistic. So for some evangelical ECs, an evangelical congregation within a mainline denomination might be a good option.

Zdenny, Cornelius: re: the comment “When you impose naturalism on a miracle, you really are a secularist at heart trying to fit into a secularist community” (which I think Cornelius is the one you were lauding with your “precisely” .. correct me if I’m wrong), did either of you get a chance to read the “4 myths about TE and ID” paper by Loren Haarsma that I referred to in the introduction post?. If you are interested in understanding EC’s, you probably should try to understand what we mean by methodological naturalism (and guess what, as Haarsma points out, there are nuances of this that we don’t even agree on among ourselves!). But the point is, it appears to me you are committing a really basic philosophical blunder in your conclusions(and this isn’t meant as an insult – again I really don’t know either of your backgrounds – in philosophy I’m an amateur at best & commit blunders all the time on which I’m happy to be corrected).

Allan Harvey said...

Regarding critical realism, I like the summary "Truth is absolute, but human knowledge never is."

Regarding the ELCA and evolution, it is significant the George Murphy, author of the very helpful science/faith books "Toward a Christian View of a Scientific World" and "The Cosmos in the Light of the Cross" (the latter I reviewed), is a pastor (now retired, I think) in the ELCA and helped shape some official science/faith material for them. There is also the ELCA Alliance for Faith, Science, and Technology (link is long so Google it) -- I know the Steering Committee Chair, Karl Evans, who is an ASA member and a good guy and would be sympathetic to the thrust of this blog.

You should know that in the Lutheran tradition "evangelical" mostly just means "Protestant", so the theological spectrum of ELCA churches will be of a "mainline" nature much like the PCUSA or UMC, ranging from evangelical in the sense most of us think of it to pretty liberal.

Finally, if comments make no connection to the original post at all, but just consist of a screed (whether pro- or anti-evolution), perhaps such comments should simply be deleted. There are certainly a few candidates on this thread.

Irenicum said...

First of all, I want to commend Doug for his honesty and his insights. I plan on using your tentative guidelines as a sharing tool with other believers. Regarding the ELCA, it's a largely mainline denomination, but it does have many evangelicals in its midst and they also have congregations that are strongly evangelical. It's a congregation by congregation issue. Overall, they're quite evolution friendly. My own church background is RCA, which is also largely evolution friendly, though it depends on where you're working from. In recent years I've been involved in several very conservative denominations, including the OPC and Plymouth Brethren. I simply avoided speaking of any science issues among the Brethren. They're almost to a person YEC's. I was blessed by my involvement with them, but obviously didn't share key beliefs, evolution included. Afterward I was a member of an OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church) church which consisted of mostly YEC's, but I was quite open in my affirmation of EC/TE and they were very accepting, even letting me teach adult Sunday school. A good example of a theologically conservative Presbyterian who nonetheless is open to evolutionary issues is Tim Keller at Redeemer in NYC. Currently I attend an Anglican church in Boston. I haven't asked about evolution but I am meeting with the pastor this Thursday afternoon, so maybe I'll mention it to him! Btw, thanks so much for this blog and the voice it offers. It does my heart good to see other believers working out their faith in ways similar to my own.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Allan,
I like that summary of critical realism!

re: deleting comments, I do understand the sentiments & actually considered it briefly in this thread. However, I generally try to err on the side of not deleting comments (unless they are inflammatory or outright spam) since:

a) there is a pretty common mentality among ID advocates that they are persecuted in some way. Censoring their comments (even when their interaction is little more than spam) just helps feed this mentality.

b) I suspect leaving comments as is and demonstrating to others looking for answers that most ECs are willing to engage in constructive dialogue while (it seems to me) many (certainly not all!) ID / YEC advocates are not can only help. It certainly helped me when I was doing my own investigation.

But, I understand that simply pasting arguments from the net, not bothering to read the rest of the conversation, and making no real effort to interact detracts from conversation as a whole. So, I'm a little torn at times. I'd appreciate any advice others have on this - preferably offline so we don't fill up this thread anymore on this topic.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Irenicum,
Thanks. BTW, I grew up in the Plymouth Brethren (still have friends and family that are part of it). My view is that it was almost universally OEC (gap theory) because of its ties to Scofield until about 25 years ago or so. Now however, the YEC mindset has really crept in. (eg. my original home church was probably more gap theory than YEC when I was growing up ... but now they have CMI conferences). I'd be interested if this is a local phenomenon or a broader one within the plymouth brethren.

Kirk said...

Some very interesting points made here. It's always nice to know about others in the same situation and what their epxeriences are.

I do want to say a big thank you to Dennis, I found a couple of his talks on youtube - excellent stuff. Well-explained and easy to understand for non-specialists, but the implications of the data presented were obvious.

RTB lost any crediblity they might have had a long time ago, obstinate opposition to common ancestry in the face of the DNA data is ultimately futile. There is a biology student on youtube, DonExodus2, who phoned in to a few of their call-ins and basically destroyed all their arguments while pointing out various flawed claims. It's all on his youtube channel. Unfortunately on the 2 or 3 occasions he phoned in Mr Rana, their expert on evolution, wasn't there. The RTB team didn't even seem to really engage with what he said and constantly equated evolution with atheism. He did another video sometime later where he took apart Rana's bogus claims about puncutated equilibrium, and pointed out that RTB were no longer accepting phone-ins to their program.

Anyway, keep up the good work. I look forward to the rest of the series.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for the post.

Leave the comments, unless they are inflammatory, or spam.

Moses said...

Steve: Thanks for the link. I did read Doug's "Becoming Unwanted" blog posts and your comments. I actually met with my pastor and some of the leadership team this afternoon to discuss our decision to leave. Different than Doug's experience, they expressed that we were WANTED, and really would like to think this through. I assured them that such a journey would leave very few theological stones unturned, but I am willing to look under a few more rocks with them. We left the meeting with handshakes and hugs all around, and I hope that regardless of where we end up, we will stay in good communication. Incidentally, I found out in the meeting that they are bringing in Dr. Silvestru from CMI to do a talk on a Sunday morning a couple months from now. So my question to all of you is: What might be one or two good questions that I could suggest to my pastor to ask Dr. Silvestru ( a geologist/cave specialist ). The church background is pentecostal, and complicated questions with complicated answers only make most people confused. So, I'm not trying to ask a question that makes Silvestru look unprepared - because he's asked hard questions all the time and knows how to deflect the question, and spin his way out in a way a biased audience would not object to. But rather, is there a question one shows chinks in the armor of YEC - that would be evident to a charismatic pastor or layperson. Any suggestions? Perhaps the Grand canyon...or ice cores...or perhaps a more theological question "If you had not read the Bible, would the geological evidence convince you of a 6,000 year old earth? Does the geologic strata (like the heavens) display the handiwork of God - specifically that the earth is 6000 years old?" I don't want to stretch this thread longer than it already is...but I am curious to see what you might suggest.

Moses said...

sorry ...one of the last senteces should have read ..."But rather, is there a question that might show chinks in the armor of YEC - that would be evident to a charismatic pastor or layperson."

Steve Martin said...

Hi Moses,
Wow. That is great that your church leadership clearly states you are wanted even though your position is probably one they are not comfortable with. Some quick thoughts before I head off to work:

1. The important thing is your ongoing relationship with the church leadership and membership, and my view is that you try everything possible to make this work. Of course, there may come a time where you need to part ways for your sake, your immediate family’s sake, or even the church family’s sake. But I don’t think you want to make a hasty decision. Speaking from experience, the grass ain’t always greener on the other side.

2. The less important thing is countering the CMI presentation. And my initial take is that your desire to maybe give some good questions to your pastor to present in a non-confrontational way is the right approach. Trying to make CMI look silly will probably be counterproductive. But the point is YOU have the long-term relationship with the church leadership and membership, not CMI. I think the best approach is to use Doug’s points #4 and #5 in the OP to guide your interactions over the next while (as all of us should all the time of course).

gingoro said...

This looks like an excellent series and Doug's post gets things off to an excellent start. I am very pleased to see the use of the term Evolutionary Creationist rather than Theistic Evolutionist as EC expresses that we accept "In the beginning God" in no uncertain terms.

I had a very ugly experience this last week at UcD.  O'Leary to my mind tells falsehoods about ECs, I don't say lies because I think she actually believes what she writes. I had hoped to get her to stop uttering untruths and deal with the real issues.
I post as "gingoro" which means monkey in the language of Ethiopia and that is my usual logon in blogs.  I think gingoro is the name for the Black-and-white colobus monkey that we had in the area where we lived when I was very young.

In her last post to me she made it clear that she considers that ECs are NOT Christians.

She also directly implied that ECs, ASA, BioLogos are: "stalking horse for Darwinism that specializes in confusing Christians"

Since none of the people who regularly write the main posts on UcD disagreed with her, I assume they support her position as it is not new, I was just very reluctant to think that she really meant what she wrote, probably because I am too thickheaded and naive. Frequent writers of the main posts include ID authors like Cornelius Hunter and William Dembski plus of course Denyse O'Leary.

O'Leary's identification of ID with God of the gaps is also surprising as many of us have suspected that motivation but usually ID folks deny it. Maybe the truth is coming out?

So in my mind ID, at least as represented by UcD, joins some YEC groups that make one's understanding of origins a test of faith. Sadly I now think that any rapprochement between ID and ECs is only possible with specific individuals at best.
Dave Wallace

Steve Martin said...

Hi Dave,
I often think that O'Leary may be the best thing that happened to EC. Just ask your friends to read a few articles by O'Leary and Falk (see just about any of his biologos posts). Forget about the intellectual side of the arguments (which are also pretty one-sided) but I bet you most Christians will agree that Falk is more Christ-like in his interactions in this dialogue.

After we get there but taking into Doug's points #4 and #5 in his OP (have I mentioned this before :-) ), we can have some good interactions with our fellow evangelicals - whether that be our current church that we are struggling to stay in (like Moses) or looking for a new one (like Doug is).

Jimpithecus said...

Douglas, I wonder if it is necessary to take the steps that you take to choose a church. The reason I think this is that most people who are YEC or lean that way are largely unaware of the evidence and are YEC supporters out of ignorance. It seems to me that another way to go about it would be to find a church that one is comfortable with and then offer to teach a Sunday school class on science. If that gets rebuffed, you know that not only are they willing to accept the YEC position, they don't want to learn about anything that might jeopardize that viewpoint. Then you might think about leaving the church.

Mairnéalach said...

I'm EC in a congregation where some of the elders are clearly against evolution. However, my church life has been fruitful.

Although there is some practical wisdom in this advice about seeking a body, we tread dangerously close to divisiveness which is against the Spirit of Christ.

Paul and the other apostles have instructed us how to receive brothers... we ignore their teachings at our peril, if we adopt standards for fellowship above what God himself has made.

Do other men do the very same thing to us? Yes, they do. But we must watch our spirits and not react out of the same fear and ignorance of these men.

Keep these thoughts with you, and carry on the conversation.

Steve Martin said...

Welcome Mairnéalach.

Thanks for your very important points … I agree with your approach and I think that Doug’s final paragraphs say much the same thing (Doug: would be interested in your reaction to this). Every personal situation at a local church will be different & my take is that it is almost always better to try and make the situation work. (eg. See my feedback to Moses – would be interested if others agree or disagree with these ideas). However, there are situations where the ongoing relationship is not tenable. For those (like Doug) that work in the field where the science of evolution is part of their career, this has to be more difficult than for the rest of us.

Doug said...

Jimpithecus and Mairnéalach,

Thanks for your comments, both of which question my suggestion to put EC front and center when visiting a church.

First to Jimpithecus: Frankly, I can't afford to torment my family by spending the better part of a year attending a church, only to find out that its seeming friendliness does not extend to embrace my intellectual position. As I said, in contrast to what you might assume, "contemporary" and "culturally progressive" is no indicator of openness on these issues. I need to know from the get-go whether EC (and my higher, less-literal view of biblical inerrancy) will be a show-stopper for them. I know that YEC is the default position, but I need to quickly identify those churches where the leadership is wise enough to acknowledge (at least in principle) that there may be other theologically and biblical sound views. As I said, complete intolerance of EC is an indicator of arrogance about many doctrinal and hermeneutical minutia -- views that aren't apparent on the surface.

Second to Mairnéalach: Does your church leadership know your status as an EC? If not, I'd suggest that this is not fair to you or them. When I administer my EC litmus test (which I do privately with the pastor or other leaders), I first do my best to set them at ease about my Christian devotion and doctrinal orthodoxy. Then, I also make it clear that I have no desire to cause division and that I won't make an issue of evolution in the church if they know for fact that it would cause too much controversy. It's only in that context that I attempt to discern whether the pastor can accept me as I am (with my EC views) without suspicion. If he cannot, then it's better for the church and myself if I go somewhere else. So, it's out of Christian love and respect, NOT division, that I believe it is right to administer the EC litmus test.

I don't expect a church to think like me; I just expect them to let me think. And I long to find a church where I am allowed not only to think for myself but also to develop my thinking in the context of a community. Isn't that what the church is supposed to be?


Ralph said...

I'm sympathetic but amused by this problem ECs have finding a church. There have to be thousands of churches that would welcome ECs. Are they too liberal for you? Do you really suppose evolutionism had nothing to do with churches becoming liberal?

Mairnéalach said...

Doug: I feel your pain. I have wrestled with this myself.

People like us are in a situation analogous to the Gentiles in the early church.

Then, brothers were saying you couldn't be saved unless you were circumcised.

Now, brothers are saying you can't really be trusted if you accept modern biology.

Then, brothers were scandalized by the eating of meat which had been sacrificed to idols.

Now, brothers are scandalized by the fresh hermeneutic that scientifically literate people adopt in order to stay loyal to Jesus.

Then, brothers seriously failed to understand revelation in light of Peter's and Paul's commissions from Christ. (Perhaps the idol which blinded them was reliance on their race as their justification.)

Now, brothers seriously fail to understand revelation in light of the two books model. (Perhaps the idol which blinds them is reliance upon their exegesis as their justification.)

Then, it was clearly revealed from God that food sacrificed to idols is nothing. Yet, Paul, in possession of such an immense truth, laid it aside in order to foster peace between the Jews and Gentiles. He promulgated the command to abstain in order not to scandalize the Jews.

If I have correctly understood Christ's heart from this lesson, I think we have a clear mandate for our EC views today.

Firstly, don't administer "litmus tests" to church leadership. Paul could have done that regarding the meat, but he didn't. He actually told his Gentile flock to eat their meat in private. He didn't even allow them to wave the platter under the pastor's nose privately in order to ensure doctrinal compatibility.

"We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”

I believe if we are seeking church affiliation with our EC agenda as a make-or-break issue, then we are going against the spirit of Christ.

Moreoever, in doing so, God will actually hand us over to our desires as an act of judgment against us. He will make our spirits more and more bitter as we retreat into our little havens of scientific orthodoxy. We will become like some of the bad Puritans in New England who ended up in little churches of two or three.

And, if God is really angry with us, he might even allow us to join a truly heretical sect that accept evolution. Have you seen some of the apostasy out there that masquerades as Christianity? Yecch. When the traditionalists accuse we ECs of being in cahoots with sodomy-promoting, Molech-worshipping Samaritans, I do want to be found innocent of that charge.

Is it painful to contemplate this apparent "abandonment" of our EC agenda? Yes, absolutely. In the better part of our hearts, we don't want to hide what we know to be true, and we believe God's kingdom will benefit if people will join us in this knowledge. Putting our EC agenda in the background can seem like cowardice, or mendacity.

However, in the worse part of our hearts, we will justify our actions because we have put this agenda ahead of God's kingdom, which is not eating nor drinking, not evolution or creation. And, in putting anything ahead of God's kingdom, we will not inherit it, nor have anything else added unto us.

So, we abandon the idea that we have the power to bring any of these good things to fruit by our own efforts, and we hope solely in the goodness of God to change hearts and minds in a mustard-seed fashion. In the end, our accusers will be brought to a fuller understanding of God's awesome revelation only if we remain in utter solidarity with them; our humility, and our meticulously avoiding putting any stumbling block in their path, will finally win them.

I assume this is the strategy that finally won the Judaizers. The reproaches that the world brings upon them, should fall also on us.

Allan Harvey said...

A word of advice I would give to people in Doug's situation is not to write off "mainline" churches (like the PCUSA [my current denomination], UMC, Episcopal, ELCA, Congregational, American Baptist) as possible church homes. In the more conservative evangelical denominations, one tends to be given the impression that these mainline denominations are all so filled with theological liberalism that they are Christian in name only.

And indeed there are some local churches in these denominations that fit that description, many others that might be too liberal for most of us evangelical Protestants, but also some that are Christ-centered, mission-minded, and affirm the authority and inspiration of Scripture. In other words, there is a wide spectrum.

Especially in the Midwest and South (sorry for being US-centric), it is quite common to find mainline churches that are plenty evangelical for those of us who are moderately conservative theologically. Maybe because these churches are historically farther from fundamentalism, even if they are pretty conservative they tend to be accepting of a variety of views on God's creative activity.

Mairnéalach said...

Agree with what Allan said. Additionally, those denominations that actually are plagued with theological liberalism actually need good men in them to help preserve them. The error of conservative churches anathematizing liberal churches is similar to the EC anathematizing traditionalists; the problem isn't that the strays are not straying, but that they are being abandoned by loving people who ought to know better.

It's a battle, people... real weapons, real enemies, real ground to be taken. It's just that none of it is flesh and blood.

Doug said...


Thanks for mentioning those NT examples for consideration. I don't disagree. But, as I thought I made clear, my test is not about declaring my right to publicly propagate my views in the church (that's part of the consideration in tip #3). Its purpose is to determine whether I as a person will be allowed complete fellowship or be censured (denied all opportunity to serve). As I said, the test is not administered publicly to the church body. It is done privately with the pastor.

Paul was not telling us that we should completely hide the fact that we have different views; we're just not supposed to force them on others. When I was at that Lutheran church (see earlier comment), I never made a big deal about evolution. Practically no one even knew my status as an EC. However, having administered the test to the pastor (who passed it, though he is strongly default YEC), I was free to participate without suspicion in a variety of ways.

In fact, Paul was quite forceful in arguing against the circumcision group. He did not have much patience for complete intolerance. At some level (again we each have to decide about tip #3), it is our Christian duty to challenge legalism and false doctrine in the church.

I'm still curious, does anyone at your church know your status as an EC, or have you completely hidden the fact?


Doug said...


You're right about not writing off mainline denominations. That is, in fact, where I'm leaning at the moment. Unfortunately, I live in the northern midwest, where the there are very few truly evangelical mainline churches.


Jimpithecus said...

Doug, thanks for the personal note at the end. I am in the same position as you, i believe. My pastor is YEC but, after our meeting, he still accepted my positions and welcomed me with open arms as a brother in Christ despite our differences. Additionally, at no time, did he say that I was not welcome to teach Children's church, which I do once a month.

I am not sure if I would find that level of openness with some other people in my congregation but i also know that there are a few that are either ECs or open to that line of thought.

Mairnélach, I agree with you about seeking the will of Christ. I have a sneaking suspicion that no congregation is lockstep with regard to all of the YEC ideas. I worried for awhile that I was "worshiping in secret" by maintaining my EC views while going to a church that is, I believe pretty fundamental. My meeting with my pastor was instrumental in helping me over that fear.

Mairnéalach said...

Doug, at least one person at my church knows I accept evolution--and it was INCREDIBLY PAINFUL for them to come to grips with this. But they did. I let them come to me and question me--I did not administer a litmus test. For me to have done so would definitely have broken fellowship.

Fortunately, because of the demographics of this church, I don't really have to worry about it. Even if I chose to administer this "litmus test" as you have, I probably wouldn't be shunned.

There is always the possibility that some soul would make it a personal crusade to censure me, but in a church of my size, you never know who that would be. The teaching leadership is generally mature enough to know this is antichristian.

I do feel most smaller congregations don't have the maturity that mine does due to simple numbers. So I do feel the pain of people in less ideal circumstances than mine.

Kent said...

Glad you're sailing with us. Enjoying your salty comments. Although Much flotsome must be jettisoned when plowing through this sea of comments, yours are pearls.

gingoro said...

I agree with your comment on O'Leary and it looks like Dembski is backing her up although that could change. I think that one's view on origins should not be a test of faith, no matter if the position is YEC, OEC, ID or EC and that the current warfare is SIN.

Throughout the late 60s and early 70s I was reading a lot of Schaeffer and had more or less been dragged kicking and screaming into reformed theology, although I still was not reconciled to infant baptism and some matters of local church government. We were attending a nearby church but after some time found that although they used the familiar theological words, they meant something very different than we did. So we left and started attending a main line evangelical Presbyterian church. In this denomination one could be an adherent by supporting the church financially. Adherents were allowed to participate to a large extent in church life even to the extent of holding office in the property management committee, signing an adheren'ts list for the call of a minister and so on. Things like voting for elders and being an elder were of course excluded. We did not make any secret of why we would not join when asked but otherwise did not disturb the peace. Some churches have a much tighter rule and exclude non members from almost everything except attending the Sunday services. When we were looking in 2001, one church we tried was of that flavor so we dropped them from consideration immediately. The point being that in some situations one can participate significantly without being a member even to the point of leading Bible studies as my wife did when we were temporarily located in San Jose and attending a church of a different reformed denomination.

For me, at least, another factor is how often the minister dwells upon certain things that I disagree with. As it happens I hold the simple (none dispensational) premil position but not terribly strongly. One young pastor I knew said that the amil position was the only true reformed doctrine and that the minister of a well known Presbyterian church in Philadelphia was therefore not reformed. My assumption was that in any church he was called to, he would preach on the subject often and make it a test of membership to the extent he could. That would not be something I could tollerate at all well. We have been at our current church for nine years and I don't know what the pastor's position is on this subject. Ahead of time I have no good way to forecast if this kind of problem would occur or not although reading or listening to past sermons probably would indicate such a problem.

Doug my prayers are with you as finding a church can be a very difficult and lonely time.

Dave Wallace

Dan_Lioy said...

Douglas, thank you for your post. I approached the topic from the other end of the professional spectrum, namely, as biblical studies specialist and evangelical who holds to evolutionary creationism. (I have a BSEE, along with a MTh and PhD in theological studies.) For reasons similar to your own, I find myself in the same situation when it comes to finding a long-term home in an evangelical faith community where I live. And like you, this situation has stretched on for more than a decade, with no meaningful and satisfying resolution anywhere near in site.

Anonymous said...

Jordan said ... am thinking about joining the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (=ELCA in the US). Does anyone here have any experience with the ELCA or ELCIC concerning their tolerance of evolutionary creationists?

We left the evangelical world (for reasons discussed in this thread) and now attend St Andrew Lutheran in Vancouver, WA (ELCA). Evolution and all of the attendant issues and questions seems to be a discussion that happened a long time ago, for this doesn't even seem to be a big deal here. It's very refreshing. I've taken a few adult classes and in the ELCA material it's also reflected, so it must not be just this one church.

One thing though is that it was a paradigm shift in a lot of other ways, as in women ministers, 13 minute sermons, more liturgy. For whatever reason we were ready for these changes and have been greatly enjoying them. But if you've been in other Lutheran churches this won't be a stretch.

Matthew said...

Great, and heart-rending, article. I think I may have lucked out with my home church in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The pastor there would preach pro-creation anti-evolution messages from time to time. I was hired on as a youth pastor while taking courses in biology at Dalhousie, and quickly came to an EC point of view. I was not overly vocal about my convictions, but after a few years of working there with the kids and showing, what I hope, was Christian integrity, I asked to give a six-week series on Genesis 1 to the adult Sunday School class. My strategy was to discuss Genesis 1 from literary, mythological, theological and moral perspectives before delving into evolution. The result was that, although I didn't convince everyone, I gave them all something to ponder, and a year later they prevented the teaching of YEC literature in their Sunday School. I was not rejected or forced out of the church. Based on your story, I feel very fortunate.

Danielle said...

Thanks for expressing your thoughts!!! Now my family is looking for a church home. I liked the tips you've posted here. I appreciate it.