08/26/16

Crumbling Pillars?

35367610 - ruin of temple e (temple of castor and pollux) in the archeological park of selinunte in southern sicily

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On July 7, 2016, the Ark Encounter, a “life-sized Noah’s Ark experience” was opened to the public. The centerpiece of the Answers in Genesis “theme park” is a 510-foot long replica of Noah’s Ark, standing over 50 feet tall. The park has a petting zoo, daily animal shows, zip lines, live entertainment and a 1,500-seat restaurant. One of its exhibits shows children living alongside dinosaurs. Future phases seek to build the Tower of Babel and a building that will house “a walk through Biblical history.” Admission is $40 for adults and $28 for children. Parking costs an additional $10. Oh, and the total cost of the project was $100 million.

There is a ready-made market for the Ark Encounter. An ABC News poll in 2004 found that 60% of Americans believed that the biblical story of Noah was literally true. When sorted by faith groups, 44% of Catholics thought the biblical story of Noah was literally true; and 87% of evangelical Protestants thought it was literally true. Only 29% with no religious affiliation thought it was literally true. The problem is: “The scientific and historical evidence is now clear: there has never been a global flood that covered the entire earth, nor do all modern animals and humans descend from the passengers of a single vessel.”

The two main pillars of a young earth creationist understanding of the Bible are the creation of the earth 6,000 years ago and a global flood. They hang together to uphold young earth creationism (YEC). The “apparent” geological evidence for an age of the earth far beyond 6,000 years is explained by the cataclysmic destruction from a global flood. The layers of sedimentary rock from around the world; the extinction of multiple kinds of animals—including the dinosaurs and others—is explained by the Biblical account of Noah’s Flood.

In another article, I looked at how the argument for a young earth rests on the false assumption that a chronology for the age of the earth can be derived from the Biblical genealogies. See “The Fall of the Chronology of Ussher” for more on this issue. Here we discover there are cracks in the other pillar—the assertion of a global flood.

Two Christian geologists, Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth questioned whether Noah’s Flood could account for the earth’s complex geology in their essay: “Biblical and Scientific Shortcomings of Flood Geology.”

To explain the vast thicknesses and incredible complexity of the earth’s sedimentary deposits within a short history, it is argued that the Flood must have been both global and violent. Flood Geology is thus synonymous with belief in a young earth. It is our conviction that this position is unreasonable from both a biblical and scientific perspective.

One of the challenges raised by Davidson and Woglemuth has to do with salt deposits like those found in the Gulf of Mexico. Salt deposits form when water is evaporated. “During evaporation, the concentration of dissolved ions increases until the water cannot hold the salt in solution anymore and mineral salt begins to form.” The problem is these salt deposits are between layers of sediment that the global flood was supposed to have deposited. “ A single, flood cannot be called upon to explain both the salt and the overlying sediment.”

Another challenge is the Grand Canyon, with its alternating layers of limestone, sandstone and shale. The sequence defies any reasonable attempt to explain it by a single flood. However, if the deposits were formed at different times under varying stages of sea levels, it is very easy to explain them. “If explained with a single catastrophic flood that abided by God’s natural laws of physics and chemistry, logic must be stretched beyond the breaking point.” And the multiple layers of limestone found in the Grand Canyon are never found in flood deposits.

Then there is the fossil record. If a massive flood were responsible for the fossil record, we should expect to see life forms from every living “kind” mixed together. Mammoths should be mixed in with triceratops; pterodactyls with sparrows. Ferns and meadow flowers should be found along with trilobites and whales. But what we see is quite different.

There is an orderly sequence where trilobites only occur in very old rocks, dinosaurs in later beds, and mammoths in still later layers. Organisms like flowers and ferns are present together in more recent deposits, but only ferns with no flowers are found in older deposits.

There is a new book, The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth, which looks specifically at the geology of canyon rocks and landforms in the light of the claims of flood geologists. Two of the eleven contributors are Davidson and Woglemuth. In “Flood Geology and the Grand Canyon” four contributors from the book use explanations and illustrations from their book to challenge five kinds of evidence in the Grand Canyon that flood geologists say support a global flood.

They used a graphic from Answers in Genesis (here) that summarizes these five different “evidences,” and then gave a synopsis of where they specifically refuted these flood geology claims in The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth. In the conclusion to their article, the authors said the geology of the Grand Canyon is known fairly well after nearly 150 years of study. The geological evidence “is overwhelmingly inconsistent with flood geology.” The rocks reveal multiple episodes of deposition and intervening periods of erosion. The fossil evidence does not reflect the rapid burial of sea animals and small land animals out of the deep, turbulent water hypothesized as occurring with a global flood. “Flood geologists have failed to conceive a physical model for catastrophic formation that is consistent with the real geology of the Grand Canyon.”

Another book by two Christian geologists, The Bible, Rocks and Time, was written with the intent to convince readers on biblical and geological grounds “of the vast antiquity of this amazing planet that is our God-given home.” Along the way they point out the flaws of young earth creationism.

Although the issue of Earth’s antiquity may seem to be little more than an interesting intellectual exercise that has little immediate bearing on one’s life, we point out that this issue can have profound spiritual consequences for the church of Jesus Christ, the individual Christian and the nonbeliever as well.

An article by Ted Davis on BioLogos, “The Bible, Rocks and Time: Christians and an Old Earth,” quoted two excerpts from the book. One “snip” noted where a growing number of orthodox evangelical Christian writers have accepted and accommodated their thinking “to the mounting evidence for terrestrial antiquity.” Linked there was an article originally written by Davis Young, one of the authors of The Bible, Rocks and Time. The article, “Scripture in the Hands of Geologists (Part Two),” was originally published in the Westminster Theological Journal. Part Two of Young’s article surveyed the concordist tradition when interpreting the early chapters of Genesis by Christian geologists. Young and Stearley were quoted as saying in The Bible, Rocks and Time:

A growing number of orthodox evangelical Christian writers, including geologists, preachers, biblical scholars and theologians, accepted and accommodated their thinking to the mounting evidence for terrestrial antiquity. In response, they began to develop a variety of strategies purporting to show how the biblical data were consistent with the findings of geology. . . . Having been encouraged to look afresh at the biblical creation accounts, experts in the original languages became persuaded that there is no conflict between the data of nature and the teaching of Scripture. These individuals continued to insist on the inspiration of the Bible and refused to call Genesis a myth in order to explain difficulties. It was, however, accepted that the traditional exegesis of Genesis 1 was not the only one that adequately satisfied the biblical data.

The two pillars of a YEC view of Genesis pit the two books of God’s revelation, Scripture and Nature, God’s Word and God’s Works against one another. As a consequence, they have weakened and not strengthened His revelation in both books. This “two books theology” was an essential foundation for the rise of modern science. As Mark Mann said, “Christians need to ‘read’ Scripture and Creation together in order to understand the fullness of God’s Word and truth for us today.” In Redeeming Science, Vern Poythress pointed out that scientific laws are what can be known about God in the things that have been made. “Since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes, such as his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived (Romans 1:20).”

In reality, what people call “scientific law” is divine. We are speaking of God himself and his revelation of himself through his governance of the world. Scientists must believe in scientific law in order to carry out their work. When we analyze what this scientific law really is, we find that scientists are constantly confronted with God himself, the Trinitarian God, and are constantly depending on who he is and what he does in conformity with his divine nature. In thinking about law, scientists are thinking God’s thoughts after him. (Redeeming Science, pp. 26-27)

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”

06/14/16

Descent into Hell

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© LoraLiu | stockfresh.com

I confess, I am not much of a listener of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). So I had never heard of the CCM artist Kari Jobe or her music until someone asked me about a theological controversy that is making the rounds online about one of her songs, titled Forever. Apparently, the dispute is over a reference in her song to Jesus as the Son of God descending into hell where He defeated the enemy. The person was asking me to see whether I thought that lyric was heretical, and whether Jobe was spreading heresy. My initial reaction was to recall that some versions of the Apostles’ Creed made a similar claim and say that those who are critical of Jobe and her song seemed to be majoring on minor points.

Here is a description of one view of the controversy written by Jeff Maples on his blog, Pulpit & Pen: “Popular Charismatic Worship Artist, Kari Jobe, Teaching Dangerous Heresy.” Maples began by criticizing the Outcry 2016 music festival that will be held in several U.S. cities this year. Kari Jobe is part of the tour. He said: “Now, I’m not exactly sure who these people are worshiping, but it isn’t Jesus. Yet, thousands of Christians are blindly sending their children to partake in this evil.” This is provocative stuff to be saying about the participants of the Outcry 2016 and those who attend it.

His beef seemed to be focused primarily on something called the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), which he said is a movement that elevates experience above doctrinal truth. Whether NAR is or is not heretical is not the focus here. Someone who wants more information on the movement or its beliefs can easily find discussions online. To get you started, try a Fresh Air podcast in 2011, “The Evangelicals Engaged in Spiritual Warfare”; or a Charisma News response to the NPR interview and article: “The New Apostolic Reformation Is not a Cult” by C. Peter Wagner. Also try “New Apostolic Reformation” on Wikipedia.

In his article, Maples quoted the lyric from Jobe’s song that he saw as offensive:

One final breath He gave
As heaven looked away
The Son of God was laid in darkness
A battle in the grave
The war on death was waged
The power of hell forever broken

Also there is a YouTube clip embedded on the page where Jobe said her favorite part of the song was the part that talks about the time in between the cross and the resurrection when “Jesus was in hell … defeating the enemy … taking those keys to death and hell and the grave to be victorious over that when he rose from the dead.”  Maples then equated this with an old heresy he said is found in the Word of Faith circles, that Jesus died spiritually and was “born again” after defeating Satan in hell. Personally, I’m not a fan of the teachings of Joyce Meyer or Kenneth Copeland, who Meyers quotes as promoting this heresy. But it seems to me the “culprit” behind Jobe’s lyric is the Apostle’s Creed rather than the Word of Faith movement.

The Apostles’ Creed has been a confessional element of orthodox Christian belief since the times of the early church. Ambrose and Augustine suggested repeating it in daily devotions. Luther saw it as one of three binding summaries of belief. Calvin divided his Institutes into four parts that corresponded to the Apostles’ Creed. See “Christian, What Do You Believe?” for more background on the Apostles’ Creed.

J. N. D. Kelly, in Early Christian Creeds, pointed out that the first appearance of saying that Jesus “descended to hell” appeared in the Aquleian version of the creed referred to by Rufinus, a fourth century monk and theologian, in his Commentary of the Apostles’ Creed. There he noted the phrase “He descended into hell” was not part of the Roman Creed (See “The Old Roman Creed”) or those of the Eastern (Oriental) churches. Nevertheless, it seemed to be implied in saying that Jesus was buried. Kelly said the clause was also present in some Spanish creeds of the sixth century and Gallican creeds of the seventh and eighth centuries.

Rufinus remarked in his commentary that Jesus descending into hell was foretold in the Psalm 22, classically seen as intimately associated with the passion of Christ. The first words of the Psalm, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” are cried out by Jesus as he was dying (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Psalm 22:7-8 is alluded to in Matthew 27:39, 43, “All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him!” The final words of the Psalm, “he has done it” were said in Hard Sayings of the Bible to have been alluded to by Jesus in John 19:30 as he bowed his head and died: “It is finished.” Rufinus saw similar references to a descent into hell in Psalm 22:15, “you lay me in the dust of death”; Psalm 30:3, “O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit”; and Psalm 30:9, “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit?”

Tom Macy also expressed concern with Jobe’s reference to Jesus descending into hell in his article, “Did Jesus Go to Hell?” Macy said it was bad theology that taught an error striking at the heart of understanding the death and resurrection of Jesus. He said it taught the battle was not won on the cross. Rather, the real battle took place in hell between the death and resurrection of Jesus. “That is what seriously distorts the truth and why this song must not be used.”

A further example of the confusion arising from this reference to a descent into hell in the Apostles’ Creed is in this short video by Garrett Kell from Capitol Hill Baptist Church. I don’t concur with his explanation, but it does show how wild speculation creeps in to explain difficult passages of the Bible. Macy attributed the root of this confusion to Roman Catholic teaching. He then referenced Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology to explain passages that have been used to support Jesus’ decent into hell.

Fanciful interpretations of difficult passages must not override the declarations from the cross definitively showing that Jesus did NOT spend Saturday in hell, was NOT fighting Satan to finish the work of salvation, was NOT preaching a second chance salvation or simply condemning to those in hell. Jesus was with the repentant thief in Paradise in the presence of the Father.

And yet, the descent into the underworld was specifically mentioned by: Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Tertullian and others, according to Kelly. “The belief that Christ spent the interval between His expiry on the cross and His resurrection in the underworld was a commonplace of Christian teaching from the earliest times.” One strand of patristic teaching thought Jesus himself hinted at it when he said in Matthew 12:40 that the scribes and Pharisees seeking a sign would get only the sign of the prophet Jonah: “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”

Attempts to explain where Jesus was when his body was in the tomb ask space and time-oriented questions about something that occurred beyond the space and time of the created universe. The answer can’t fit within the cosmos in which we live and move and have our being. And yet, we still wonder where Jesus was when he wasn’t with his body in the tomb. The question says more about us, and our view of the cosmos, than it does about what actually happened to Jesus between about 3 pm Friday afternoon and early Sunday morning.  In a similar way, the addition to the Apostles’ Creed of Jesus descending into hell, and the Old and New Testament passages supposedly referencing the same, tell us more about how the people of Biblical times viewed the cosmos than where Jesus was between his death and resurrection.

In his book, Scripture and Cosmology, Kyle Greenwood described how ancient Hebrew cosmology of a three-tiered universe of the heavens, earth and sea had a place for the underworld or the abode of the dead—Sheol. “When people died, they were buried in the ground, and their bodies remained in Sheol, the abode of the dead.”  This three-tiered cosmology was shared by other Near Eastern cultures. “It was the abode of the dead, the final resting place beneath the earth for all who once lived.”

OT cosmos

 On the BioLogos website is a series of blog articles on a scholarly paper by Brian Godawa, “Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography in the Bible.” Here is a link to Part 4 of that series where there is a discussion of Sheol; here is a link to Godawa’s entire paper. The following quotation can be found under either link.

Sheol was the Hebrew word for the underworld. Though the Bible does not contain any narratives of experiences in Sheol, it was nevertheless described as the abode of the dead that was below the earth. Though Sheol was sometimes used interchangeably with “Abaddon” as the place of destruction of the body (Prov. 15:11; 27:20),and “the grave” (qibrah) as a reference to the state of being dead and buried in the earth (Psa. 88:11; Isa. 14:9-11) it was also considered to be physically located beneath the earth in the same way as other ANE worldviews.

The New Testament was written during a time of transition to an Aristotelean cosmology of spheres within rotating spheres.  “In time Aristotelean cosmology and biblical faith became inseparable, not because Aristotle was a Christian, but because his system was easily reconciled with biblical anthropology and monotheism.” While the idea of Sheol or the grave underwent some major changes in the Christian era, Aristotelean cosmology didn’t require an abandonment of the idea that beneath the surface of the earth was a region where the dead went. Greenwood added this shows up conspicuously within the Apostles’ Creed.

The added phrase of “descended to hell” to the Apostles’ Creed is then simply making clear that Jesus truly died. Like all people, the humanity of the Son of God died. Not only was he crucified and buried, as it was said within the Roman Creed; Jesus was crucified [dead] and buried [He descended into Hell]. So on the third day, He would arise from the dead; the grave; Sheol. In other words, he would live again. This is the promise of faith in Christ. He reversed the irreversible, according to the ancient thinking about death. I think Kari Jobe can sing about it Forever, if she likes.

05/3/16

“The Deep” in Scripture

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© aliencat | stockfresh.com

In the Mach 2014 issue of the science journal Nature Pearson et al. presented evidence from which they concluded that the origin of the Earth’s water was deep in the mantle of the Earth. The excitement was over the accidental discovery by Pearson and his co-authors of the presence of a mineral called ringwoodite within a diamond that been expelled from deep within the Earth’s mantle by a violent volcanic eruption. The researchers were looking for a way to date the diamond when they discovered a small piece of ringwoodite enclosed in the diamond. In a Live Science article, Pearson said: “It’s actually the confirmation that there is a very, very large amount of water that’s trapped in a really distinct layer in the deep Earth.” He indicated the volume of water deep within the Earth’s mantle approaches that of the mass of water currently present in all the oceans on the surface of the Earth.

Read the Live Science article if you are interested in more information on how the researchers got from the presence of ringwoodite in a diamond to the conclusion of all that water deep beneath the Earth’s surface. It was the first time that the mineral has been discovered on the Earth’s surface in “anything other than meteorites,” because it only forms under extreme pressure, like what exists at about 320 miles deep below the Earth’s surface. Then Christian media outlets like Christianity Today reported that the discovery confirmed the Bible’s explanation of where water on the Earth came from. “The Holy Bible is clear about water on Earth coming from below the ground.” But where did the waters below the ground come from?

The answer offered by Andre Mitchell for Christianity Today went on the say the book of Genesis tells us how God created the earth as a water-covered sphere and then separated the waters to create the Sky. He then gathered together the waters under the Sky to let dry land appear, which he called Earth (Genesis 1:2, 6-11). Further biblical support for this was noted by Mitchell to be found in the Flood account, where “the fountains of the great deep” broke open and covered the entire Earth with water (Genesis 7:11).

Writing for BioLogos, Brad Kramer commented that explanations like that given in Mitchell’s Christianity Today article stem from well-meaning but misguided efforts to show that the Bible is divine revelation, since it contains scientific information that the authors could not possibly have known without divine revelation—such as the presence of water with the equivalent mass of all the oceans 320 miles below the surface of the Earth. The issue Kramer points to is one where Christians, raised within a culture rich in the knowledge and evidence of modern science, will sometimes unconsciously impose their scientific worldview onto the Bible and its interpretation.

For Christians, the purpose of the entire Bible is first and foremost to reveal Christ. Therefore, it ultimately draws its authority from the fact that it truly speaks of God and his Son. Suggesting that the Bible’s authority rests on its scientific accuracy adds an artificial middleman to this chain of authority, wherein the Bible first speaks truly of science, and therefore is trusted to speak truly of Christ.

We can wander far into the weeds of disagreement over how to interpret Genesis one, but here I want to limit our discussion to idea of the deep. Kramer observed that young earth creationists and old earth creationists seem to share a similar approach to biblical authority and interpretation. While they disagree on exactly what the Bible reveals scientifically, “they agree that the Bible is full of science prophecies that can be used to convince skeptics of the Bible’s authority.” So by this interpretive and apologetic method, a person with a modern scientific worldview can be shown where the Bible contains references to scientific knowledge that could only be from a divine source.

Referencing a quote by Richard Bube, a theistic evolutionist, Kramer referred to the idea of “arbitrary inerrancy,” within this shared method of interpretation. In his essay, “A Perspective on Scriptural Inerrancy,” Bube said the term “arbitrary” meant that inerrancy had to be maintained and defended against arbitrary criteria. In other words, biblical inerrancy itself had an all-or-nothing sense:

Oftentimes conservative theologians have spoken out in defense of Scriptural inerrancy as if there were only one kind of inerrancy imaginable-a kind of all or nothing inerrancy. They argue that the Scriptures are either completely inerrant in every way and with respect to every criterion for inerrancy which may be applied, or they are not inerrant at all.

This then leads to the Christianity Today discussion that Pearson et al. confirmed the Biblical explanation of where water on the Earth came from—the Deep. But a truly modern individual with a scientific worldview would ask, “So then were did the waters below the ground come from?” And he or she would likely dismiss the answer of Genesis one described above by Andre Mitchell, that God created the earth as a water-covered sphere. This would be an example of what Bube meant by arbitrary inerrancy. Pearson et al. confirms the Biblical declaration that surface water on the earth came from beneath the earth. But the answer to the next logical question, where did that water come from, switches to the unscientifically unsatisfactory response that “God did it.”

The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery indicated that the imagery surrounding the word deep in the Bible had five distinct categories, one of which meant “the literal, physical quality of being far below the surface of the ground.” So this sense would fit within the understanding of Genesis 1:2 given by Andre Mitchell. Scriptures where the Hebrew word for deep, tĕhôm, has that meaning are: Psalm 69:2 or Proverbs 20:5. But that is not how the word is used in Genesis 1:2.  Here is the ESV translation of Genesis 1:2: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

The more common sense for tĕhôm (around 30 or 40 references) is how it is used in Genesis 1:2, indicating the ocean or the sea. For the Hebrew people, the sea was a fearsome and alien place of monsters and storms. See Isaiah 51:10 and Psalm 104, especially verses 5-6, and 25-26. Some references to the sea as “the deep” appear to imply an ancient cosmology or ancient explanation for the origin and development of the universe. Some notable examples of where this ancient cosmology seems to be the subtext of a Biblical passage are Genesis 1:2 and Genesis 7:11 and 8:2, in the Genesis account of Noah and the Flood.

The authors of the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery acknowledge the difficulty in untangling the cosmological from the merely metaphoric statements on Scripture. Nevertheless, it does seem that ancient Hebrews saw the ocean as being fed by fountains or springs (Genesis 7:11, 8:2; Job 38:16; Proverbs 8:28). They also seemed to accept a three-tiered cosmology of the universe, with the earth situated in the middle between the heaven above and the deep beneath (Genesis 49:25; Deuteronomy 33:13; Psalm 135:6). And the “deeps” were believed to be the abode of sea monsters and forces of chaos (Psalm 74:13-14).

These and other oblique references suggest that there was one or more ancient worldviews or cosmologies behind these and other Biblical passages. This would reject a hermeneutical assumption that when discussing creation and the cosmology of the “heavens and earth,” the biblical writers were alluding to scientific information that the authors could not possibly have known without divine revelation. If you read Genesis 1 through an “ancient scientific mindset” for “an ancient audience” you avoid what Brad Kramer referred to as a false dichotomy between Biblical truth and its humanity. “If God chose to communicate through and to ordinary people in real human cultures, then we should expect the Bible be written in such a way that reflects the cultural mindset of its original context.”

So a Christian who is trying to be faithful to the authority of Scripture is not required to celebrate the news from Pearson et al.’s research as a confirmation that in the Bible, water on the surface of the Earth came from below ground. Brad Kramer said that biblical references to an underground ocean reflect “an ancient cosmology that is completely, categorically, and irreconcilably different than our own.”

Equating the “great deep” in Scripture with any scientifically detectable underground body of water is to fundamentally misunderstand the ancient world in which it was written.

There is a sense in Scripture when “the deep” references a literal, physical presence of water or some other quality existing far below the surface of the ground. But there is so much more to be found in its Biblical use. It can represent chaos, danger, and evil. Within apocalyptic visions, we see the deep as a combination of sea and earth. The beasts and the antichrist emerge from the deep in the end time (Daniel 7:3; Revelation 11:7).  After the ultimate defeat of Satan and the beast, there is no longer any sea (Revelation 21:1).

From the beginning of Scripture to the end, references to “the deep” and “the depths” are images of terror with associations of danger, chaos, malevolent evil and death. “The deep” is a major negative archetype in the biblical imagination-a place or state of mind or soul that one would wish to avoid but that no one can completely avoid.

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”

02/20/15

Did God Make You?

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© : Cosmin-Constantin Sava 123RF.com

At the beginning of December in 2014, a BioLogos-funded study of the beliefs in human origins was publicaly released.  Jonathan Hill, a sociology professor at Calvin College, conducted the study: The National Study of Religion and Human Origins (NSRHO). The survey had two primary purposes. The first was to “disaggregate” (separate into component parts) the typical survey questions used in the past to assess beliefs on human origins. The second purpose was to look at the influence of social context on these beliefs. The result may surprise you.

Gallup polls on evolution have been asking Americans which of three statements come closest to their beliefs on the origin and development of human beings for a number of years. Those positions and the percentages of Americans identified within the 2014 Gallup poll are as follows. First, human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process (31%). Second, human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process (19%). And third, God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so (42%).

As Jonathan Hill pointed out, if we categorize these results into “pro” and “anti” evolution camps, “it appears that nearly half the nation affirms evolution and nearly half denies it.” These statistics have then been used by a variety of sources for commentaries on evolution and creationism. But if such a large percentage of Americans continue to deny evolution, “then why do Americans score near the top on international comparisons of science literacy?”

He suggested that a better picture of beliefs about evolution was needed. So the NSRHO included separate questions on human evolution, God’s involvement, the way God created, the existence of a historical Adam and Eve, belief in literal 24-hour days of creation, and the geological timeframe for the emergence or creation of humans. Respondents could also say they were not sure about any particular question. And after each question they were asked to rate their level of certainty.

When a position affirming the main points of young earth creationism is assessed, namely that: a) that humans did not evolve from other species, b) that God was involved in the creation of humans, c) that God created directly and miraculously, d) that Adam and Eve were historical figures, e) that the days of creation were literal twenty-four hour day, and f) that humans came into existence within the last 10,000 years, only 8% of respondents agreed with all the main points of young earth creationism. Note how this contrasts with the Gallup “young earth” creationist category claiming 42% of Americans held that belief.

Taking a broad sense of theistic evolution, namely that respondents believed in human evolution and that God (or an intelligent force) was somehow involved in the creation of humans, only 16% of the population could be placed in that category. Additionally, only half of that group (8%) was very or absolutely certain of both of these beliefs. When a stricter definition is used, only 5% of the population claimed that a) humans evolved, b) God was involved, c) the days of creation were not literal, and d) humans emerged more than 10,000 years ago.  If certainty on all these points was required, the percentage dropped to only 2% of the population. The Gallup poll category suggested 31% of Americans were “theistic evolutionists.”

Atheistic evolutionists, respondents who believed that humans evolved and God was not involved in the process, were around 9% of the population. Like theistic evolutionists, this group was about half the size of the comparable category from the Gallup poll. If a measure of certainty is included, only 6% of the population said they were very or absolutely certain that humans evolved and God was not involved in the process. The way that the NSRHO defined “atheistic evolutionist,” meant that someone could believe in God or an Intelligent force in the universe, but still hold to the two core beliefs of atheistic evolution.

By separating the beliefs in this way, much smaller proportions of the population were found to hold to the dominant positions on human origins. Many others were uncertain about what they believed or held uncommon beliefs (i.e., humans did not evolve from earlier species, and God had nothing to do with the emergence of humans).

Using the most generous definitions, the NSRHO finds that 37 percent of the population can be considered creationists, 16 percent can be considered theistic evolutionists, and nine percent can be considered atheistic evolutionists. This leaves 39 percent of the population as unsure or holding uncommon views . . . . If we adopt more restrictive definitions, these numbers begin to shrink further.

These results gave a more nuanced sense to the typical polls on American beliefs in evolution. In “The Recipe for Creationism,” a BioLogos article introducing the NSRHO study, Jonathan Hill described some of the factors that seemed be important for influencing a convinced creationist. These factors were: a) belonging to an evangelical Protestant denomination, b) believing that the Bible contained no errors, c) praying frequently and d) saying that faith was very or extremely important in day-to-day life. Some factors of social context were also important for convinced creationists. They were: a) belonging to a congregation that rejected human evolution and b) anticipating that changing beliefs about human origins could cause tension with religious leaders and other church members.

You can review the NSRHO for more information on the influence of social context on the various positions. But the most important takeaway, according to Hill, is that individual beliefs practices and identities are important, “but they only become a reliable pathway to creationism or atheistic evolutionism when paired with certain contexts or certain other social identities.” They are not mashed together from the free-floating ideas put together after considering all the alternatives. Rather, “they are found in certain social locations, and they become most plausible when shared with others (especially for creationists).”

I had an opportunity about twenty years ago to see a play put on by a local theater company in Dayton Tennessee, where the Scopes Monkey Trail was held. They performed it in the very same courtroom where the original trial was held. They also used several artifacts from the original trial as props for the play. The dialogue in the script for the play was overwhelmingly taken from the transcript from the trial. It was a special experience, feeling a bit like being able to be present at an important time in history.

It saddens me to see the perpetuation of fanaticism on both extremes of the evolution-creation debate. Particularly when Christians who are trying to honor their faith get caught up in spewing vitriol about positions that disagree with theirs. So I’d like to end this look at the BioLogos survey with a quotation of Clarence Darrow. Darrow was the defense attorney for Scopes at the trial.

Ignorance and fanaticism is ever busy and needs feeding. Always it is feeding and gloating for more. Today it is the public school teachers, tomorrow the private. The next day the preachers and the lectures, the magazines, the books, the newspapers. After a while, your honor, it is the setting of man against man and creed against creed until with flying banners and beating drums we are marching backward to the glorious ages of the sixteenth century when bigots lighted fagots to burn the men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind. (Clarence Darrow, July 13, 1925)