09/23/16

The Zenith of Rest

© grace21 |stockfresh.com

© grace21 |stockfresh.com

According to John Walton, the seventh day of the Genesis creation account can be something of a theological afterthought. “It appears to be nothing more than an afterthought with theological concerns about Israelites observing the sabbath—an appendix, a postscript, a tack on.”  There is a literary structure to the first six days in Genesis 1 that C. John Collins called “exalted prose,” but the pattern ends there. Then we hear that God rested from his work of creation on the seventh day. But what does God resting have to do with creation? And why would God rest? It’s not as if He was actually tired from all his creative activity. Then what does it mean for God to rest?

Walton believes that rest is the objective of creation. In fact, without the seventh day of rest, the other six days of Genesis 1 don’t achieve their full meaning. “Even though people are the climax of the six days, day seven is the climax of this origins account.” To make his point, he turned to Scripture. The Hebrew word for “rested” in Genesis 2:2 is šābat, which means to sever, put an end to, cease. The English term “Sabbath” is derived from it.

In Deuteronomy 12:10, God told the Israelites that when they crossed over the Jordan and lived in the land He was giving them, they would have rest from their enemies and live in safety. After Moses died and Joshua was preparing the Israelites to cross the Jordan, he told them to remember what Moses had told them about the Lord providing them a place of rest. As Joshua was about to release the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh to return across the Jordan to their lands, the narrator said the Lord had given them rest on every side, just as He said He would (Josh 21:44). When David saw that the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies, he thought he would build a house for the Lord to dwell in (2 Samuel 7:1-2).

The rest that God offers his people is freedom from invasion and conflict. Now they can live at peace and conduct their daily lives without interruption. “It refers to achieving a state of order in society.” When Jesus invited those who were weary and burdened to come to him, he offered them rest (Matthew 11:28). He invited people to participate in the ordered kingdom of God, where their yoke would be easy and their burden light. The author of Hebrews looked to a future rest, where anyone who entered it would rest from their works as God did from his (Hebrews 4:10-11).

In light of this usage, we can discern that resting pertains to the security and stability found in equilibrium of an ordered system. When God rests on the seventh day, he is taking up his residence in the ordered system that he has brought about in the previous six days. It is not something that he does only on the seventh day; it is what he does every day thereafter. Furthermore, his rest is not just a matter of having a place of residence—he is exercising his control over this ordered system where he intends to relate to people whom he has placed there and for whom he has made the system to function.

God was not only making a home for the people He created in His image when He created the cosmos, he was making a home for himself. But in the ancient world, the temple was not only the residence of a god, it was the throne room from which the god ruled and maintained order. So an ancient reader, according to Walton, would have recognized Genesis 1 (referring to Genesis 1:1-2:3) as a temple story or text. Temple-building accounts often accompanied cosmologies. After he established order, which was the focus of ancient cosmologies, the deity “took control of that ordered system.” When the deity rests in the temple, he is assuming his rightful place and his proper role—he is assuming the throne.

This is the element that we are sadly missing when we read the Genesis account. God has ordered the cosmos with the purpose of taking up his residence in it and ruling over it. Day seven is the reason for days one through six. It is the fulfillment of God’s purpose.

God built the cosmos to be sacred space, and the account in Genesis 1 is an account of the origins of sacred space rather than an account of the origins of the material cosmos. Rather than an ancient temple where people could relate to their god by ritually meeting his needs, “God built the cosmos to be sacred space and then put people in that sacred space as a place where he could be in relationship with them.”

What I’ve presented above are ideas and quotes from John Walton in The Lost World of Genesis and The Lost World of Adam and Eve. His views of Genesis 1 and 2 have their critics, but I’ve found his argument stimulating in a number of different ways. You can introduce yourself to his thought here, in a series of articles and even a video series on the evolutionary creation website, BioLogos. His interpretation of Genesis is certainly consistent with evolutionary creation, but exists independent of it. You can accept his understanding of Genesis without becoming an evolutionary creationist.

I think his sense of Genesis 1 as a temple text fits nicely with a redemptive historical understanding of Scripture as a whole. And I think it could fit there as follows.

Walton sees Genesis 1 as God building a sacred space, a temple, in which He would also place people so He could be in relationship with them. In Genesis 2 and even into Genesis 3, we see the reality of this fellowship with God. Then as a consequence of their sin, God drove Adam and Eve from the sacred space of the Garden (Genesis 3:23-24). However, this was not the end of his plan to be in relationship with people. Even before their sin, God had already begun to point them to the work of redemption He would accomplish in His Son.

In Genesis 2, He made a helper for the man because He saw that it was not good for the man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Presented with the woman, the man said: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Here God instituted biblical marriage. The following comment on this action by God—“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24)—will later be quoted by Paul in Ephesians 5:31. Paul saw this action by God in Genesis 2 as a mystery referring to Christ and the church. The coming of Christ revealed that God’s establishment of biblical marriage was a protoevangelium, if you will.

In Genesis 3, is the judgment statement against the serpent has been understood by many since Justin and Irenaeus in the 2nd century as the protoevangelium: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The protoevangelium is the first (proto) gospel (evangelion); the first reference in Scripture of the idea of a Messiah. So before God put the man and the woman out of the Garden, He gave them two hints of his future plans in Christ.

After Moses completed the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34) and when Solomon had finished his prayer dedicating the temple ((2 Chronicles 7:1-2), these structures were filled with the presence of the Lord and became sacred space. In Ezekiel’s vision of the temple, the glory of the Lord filled the temple and the Lord said the place of his throne and the place where he will dwell will be in the midst of the people forever (Ezekiel 43:4-7).

Then in Christ, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Jesus called people to Him that they might have rest (Matthew 11:28), for he is the Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8). When he ascended into heaven, he sat at the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19). When he returns, he will return the same way as he left (Acts 1:11). His return will be to fulfill the mystery of Genesis 2:24, revealed in Christ (Ephesians 5:32)—the marriage supper of the Lamb, and his bride, the church (Revelations 19:7).

In the new heaven and new earth, in this new sacred space, God will fulfill His intent to dwell with his people: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelations 21:3). There will not be a temple in this New Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lamb, because its temple is the Lord God and the Lamb (Revelations 21:22). The Sabbath rest of Exodus 20:11 will be made manifest. The seventh day of the Genesis creation account will have reached its zenith.

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

06/24/16

Genesis, Science and Creation

© Oleg Dudko | 123rf.com

© Oleg Dudko | 123rf.com

For conservative Christians holding to the authority of the Bible “as the only rule of faith and obedience” in the modern world, there is perhaps no more important question than whether science is a competing or complementary form of knowledge and authority to Scripture. In a way, this dilemma is traceable to the third chapter of Genesis. Genesis 3 contains the story of the Fall of humanity, where Adam and Eve fell into the trap of striving to be “like God” by knowing good and evil independent of God and his revelation. Ironically, they did gain knowledge independent of God; and the first thing they discovered was their own “nakedness” apart from God. Autonomous knowledge comes with a price.

We can see this compulsion for autonomous knowledge clearly within a short discussion of the encounter of God and His Word with science and nature. In Escape from Reason, Francis Schaeffer noted how early scientists shared the outlook of Christianity in believing that a reasonable God created a reasonable universe; and humans, by using their reason, could become knowledgeable about the universe. Early science was natural science, but it wasn’t naturalistic. There wasn’t an assumption that reason could be exercised independent of God; that nature could be known autonomous of God’s revelation.

Alister McGrath’s discussion of the relationship between science and religion in his book Science & Religion is helpful here. McGrath said there were three broad positions on the relationship between the natural world and the divine. The first is that the natural world is divine. This is certainly not a position that either Christianity or modern science would take. A second position is that the natural world is created and bears some resemblance to its Creator. The third is that the natural world has no relation to God. This third position underlies the view of what Schaeffer calls modern, modern science. And the second is necessary for a two books view of Scripture and Nature.

This idea (which is sometimes expressed in terms of the “two books” of Scripture and Nature) gave additional impetus to the study of nature. If God could not be seen, yet had somehow imprinted his nature on the creation, it would be possible to gain an enhanced appreciation of the nature and purpose of God by studying the natural order.

Science and the Bible were able to peacefully coexist for centuries. Nature was the “textbook” of God’s general revelation; and the Bible was the handbook of his special revelation. This “two books theology,” as noted above, was an essential foundation for the rise of modern science. Denis Lamoureux quoted Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), a scientist and Christian, on the “two books” of God’s revelation:

Let no woman or man out of conceit or laziness, think or believe that anyone can search too far or be too well informed in the Book of God’s Works or the Book of God’s Words. Instead, let everyone endlessly improve their understanding of both.

A related issue concerns the order of nature within a doctrine of creation. “The doctrine of creation leads directly to the notion that the universe is possessed of regularity which is capable of being uncovered by humanity.” Encapsulated within “the laws of nature,” this was of fundamental importance to the emergence and development of the natural sciences. But how then do science and religion interact? Are they part of the same reality? Are the insights of science and religion contradictory or complementary to each other?

McGrath said one view of the interaction of science and religion sees them as in conflict or at war with each other. A second view sees science and religion as convergent; “all truth is God’s truth.” Developments in science should be welcomed and accommodated within the Christian faith. The third view sees science and religion as distinct. In other words, the natural sciences ask the “how” questions, while theology asks the “why” questions.

In his book, Understanding the Present: Science and the Soul of Modern Man, Bryan Applyard dated the birth of modern science to the time of Galileo. The moment that Galileo looked through his telescope in 1609 contained “all that was new and revolutionary in science.” He looked through his crude telescope and believed what he saw with his own eyes. The method of science (or wisdom, as Appleyard called it) that existed before Galileo was different in many ways from what ruled after 1609. “Its foundation was neither observation nor experiment, but authority understood through reason.” But from that time onward, “a new and unprecedentedly effective form of knowledge and way of doing things appeared.”

This science inspired a version of the universe, of the world and of man that was utterly opposed to all preceding versions. Most importantly, it denied man the possibility of finding an ultimate meaning and purpose for his life within the facts of the world. If there were such things as meanings and purposes, they must exist outside the universe describable by science.”

Francis Schaeffer called this the birth of “modern, modern science.” And he believed this was a radically different way of doing science than what Bacon and Galileo did. A necessary presumption for any scientific endeavor is the uniformity of natural causes. Early scientists like Bacon and Galileo saw this existing within the open system of nature, where God could and did have a sustaining influence on His creation. Christians were free to pursue science and maintain their belief in a Creator God who was still active within His creation.

But within modern, modern science, this unity of natural causes exists within a closed system of nature. There cannot be any intervention from forces or influences outside of nature. Science necessarily is done within the assumed closed system of nature. If it isn’t, then it is not science. In Escape From Reason, Schaeffer said:

That little phrase [the uniformity of natural causes within a closed system] makes all the difference in the world. It makes the difference between natural science and a science that is rooted in naturalistic philosophy.

So science as it is widely practiced today, what Schaeffer called modern, modern science, begins with a philosophical assumption that excludes the potential influence of a creative God, or a creative force. I think this is one reason why scientists today are so antagonistic towards Intelligent Design Theory. To them it feels and looks like cheating; an undermining of this basic philosophical foundation of the modern scientific method. Any attempt to accommodate the discoveries within the Book of God’s Works with the Book of God’s Word, as in the “two book” theory, is not legitimate science. Modern, modern science is autonomous from God.

So when interpreting Genesis 1, it matters which view of science you bring to the process. Is it the open system of nature within the two books theory, or the closed system of modern, modern science? If nature is open to God’s interventions, was it designed to exist independent or autonomous from God after creation, like a giant watch with God as the Watchmaker; or is creation sustained by a Creator? If creation is not independent of its Creator, can a study of creation tell us something about its Creator? Can knowledge of the works of God inform us about the Word of God? Will knowledge of the watch tell us anything about the Watchmaker? Is that knowledge independent, complementary and accommodating, or in conflict to what the Bible reveals to us about God and His creation? And if in conflict, does that mean that biblical religion and science are at war with each other?

In “Origins and Creation” I looked at several different ways to understand the Genesis account of creation. The categories were drawn from the web lectures and writings of Denis Lamoureux, an Evolutionary Creationist. The categories were: Young Earth Creation (YEC), Progressive Creation (PC), Evolutionary Creation (EC), Deistic Evolution (DE) and Atheistic Evolution (AE). Look at “Origins and Creation” for more information on how these views of creation differ from each other. Drawing on the above discussion, we can then suggest views of origins have the following relationships between nature and science, creation and God, and the interaction of knowledge found within science and the Bible:

Creation Origins

Nature as an Open or Closed System

Relationship of Creation to God

Interaction of Knowledge in Science & the Bible

YEC

Open

Creation is sustained by God

Accommodation conflict/war

PC

 

Open

Creation is sustained by God

Some accommodation; Some conflict

EC

Open

Creation is sustained by God

Complementary &

no conflict

DE

Open at first

Creation is autonomous of God

Some relationship

No interaction

AE

Closed

Creation is autonomous of God

No relationship

conflict/war

It’s not enough to select which of the three creation positions available to a conservative Christian (YEC, PC and EC) appeals to you. Each of the three positions carries interpretive decisions with regard to Scripture and with regard to science that have to be made. The views you hold with regard to the interaction of science and Scripture, nature and the Bible, influence your views on creation. They influence how you interpret both Genesis 1 and the other passages of Scripture. Modern knowledge of the works of God is not autonomous from the Word of God. So when God created the heavens and the earth in the beginning, how do you think He did it?

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

06/3/16

Origins and Creation

© David Carillet | 123rf.com

© David Carillet | 123rf.com

Believers in the authority of the Bible “as the only rule of faith and obedience” take different stands on how the Genesis account of creation should be interpreted. Despite the claims of some Young Earth Creationists, there is not only one single legitimate Christian position on what is meant in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” A related, but overlapping concern in understanding the Genesis account of creation is how the creation days in Genesis 1 should be understood. Six sequential 24-hour periods of time, marked by evenings and mornings, is the 24-hour view. Or are the “days” six sequential periods of time or ages, without a specification for a length of time. This is called the day-age view. While understanding the six days of is an important issue in its own right, here I want to focus on the creation perspectives available to believers in the authority of Scripture.

Two of the primary scientific origins issues here are the age of the “heavens and earth” (the earth and universe) and whether life was created by evolution. I think it can be helpful to think about the various positions on how to interpret the Genesis account of creation as summarized here. This is a brief description of several interpretations of Genesis discussed by Deborah and Loran Haarsma in their book, Origins.

Denis Lamoureux, has several web lectures available on a range of topics from the Evolutionary Creation (EC) perspective. One series, “Beyond the ‘Evolution’ vs. ‘Creation’ Debate,” is an introduction to the various views on origins, both Christian and non-Christian. His personal story is one of the lectures, describing his journey from Young Earth Creationism to Evolutionary Creationism while achieving advanced degrees in theology and biology. The fifth lecture, “Summary and Conclusions,” has a helpful overview of the various perspectives on creation. It also highlights the similarities and differences between Christian and nonChristians views on creation.

There is a helpful handout for Lamoureux’s lecture series, “Beyond the ‘Evolution’ vs. ‘Creation’ Debate,” that summarizes and compares various Christian and non-Christian views on the origin of life and the universe. These range from Young Earth Creationism (YEC), which allows little or no accommodation for interpreting the creation account of Genesis with the findings of science. At the opposite pole is Atheistic Evolution (AE), which rejects the creation account in Genesis as pure myth and allows no possible accommodation with its view of science. I’ll follow Lamoureux’s categories in the discussion that follows. You can also find an overview of several positions on creation here from the Evolutionary Creation website, BioLogos. Deborah Haarsma is the current president of BioLogos.

Young Earth Creationism (YEC) holds to a 24-hour view of the six creation days, but also claims that a faithful reading of Scripture dates the age of the earth to between 6,000 and 10,000 years old. Old Earth Creationism (OEC) holds that the scientific evidence for a greater age of the earth (4.6 billion years) and the universe (13.7 billion years) is strong. So it sees the days of creation in Genesis 1 referring to long periods of time. The day-age view of creation days fits with the OEC perspective in what Lamoureux called Progressive Creation (PC). These three perspectives all reject the possibility that God created life through the process of macroevolution.

Then there is Intelligent Design (ID). It has been consistently ridiculed by modern day science as a “God of the gaps” argument that deceitfully tries to sneak theology into the scientific method. ID believes that: “the existence of an intelligent cause of the universe and of the development of life is a testable scientific hypothesis.” According to William Dembski ID is three things. First, it is a scientific research program investigating the effects of intelligent causes. Second, it is an intellectual movement that “challenges Darwinism and its naturalistic legacy.” And third, it is a way to understand divine action. In Intelligent Design, Dembski said:

The universe provides a well-defined causal backdrop (physicists these days think of it as a field characterized by field equations). Although one can ask whether that causal backdrop is itself designed, one can as well ask whether events and objects occurring within that backdrop are designed.

I think Lamoureux rightly positioned ID within his Progressive Creation category. But if weakened in its Christian presuppositions, such as the possibility of an intelligent (personal?) designer, the search for design in nature will easily fit within one of his non-Christian categories on origins, Deistic Evolution. Some books supporting ID include The Design Inference and Intelligent Design by William Dembski and Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe. If you want to read something that refutes the idea of design in the universe, there is the Richard Dawkins book, The Blind Watchmaker. Dawkins believes in Atheistic Evolution.

Evolutionary Creation (EC) affirms that God is the Creator of all things, including humans made in his image. But it accepts the science of evolution “as the best description for how God brought about the diversity of life on earth.” So the days of creation in Genesis are not literal 24-hours days and they do not necessarily occur in a sequence of time. According to Lamoureux’s comparison, EC differs from YEC and Progressive Creation positions by accepting macro-evolution, having a completely indirect sense of God’s activity in the origins of the universe, life, and humanity as well as denying a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 through 11 with regard to creation and the Flood. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is a proponent of evolutionary creation. In his book, The Language of God, Collins said: “Believers would be well advised to look carefully at the overwhelming weight of scientific data supporting this view of the relatedness of all living things [evolution], including ourselves.”

Lamoureux then noted two non-Christian perspectives on origins, Deistic Evolution and Atheistic or Dysteleogical Evolution. “Dysteleology” is a philosophical view holding that there is no telos or final cause for the origin of the universe or life.  Seeing a plan or purpose in creation is a delusion. There is no evidence of design or a Designer. Blind chance working in natural process resulted in the existence of the Earth and life on it. The anthropic principle doesn’t point to the possibility of design in creation. God is a delusion. Some modern advocates here would include Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett.

Deistic Evolution (DE) agrees there is evidence of design within creation, but denies that God is personally involved within His creation. Either a Designer or a Force could have resulted in the kind of universe that we live in. Whether or not there is a personal God as the Designer is irrelevant. “God never enters the world.” Intriguingly, Lamoureux categorizes Charles Darwin as DE.

Although advocates of ID such as Michael Behe, Phillip Johnson, and William Dembski are Christians, and infer “an intelligent cause” behind the evidence of design in the universe, such an interpretation is not necessary to search for design in nature. Stripped of its Christian leanings, some ID beliefs could fit within Deistic Evolution. Consider the idea of the anthropic principle.

If you begin with the premise of a personal Designer behind the origins of the universe, you can see evidence of design almost everywhere you look. Hugh Ross, in his book The Creator and the Chaos, noted there were more than two-dozen parameters in the universe that necessarily had to fall into “narrowly defined ranges for life of any kind to exist.” The Privileged Planet by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards builds on the anthropic principle to show that not only is our planet amazingly fitted to support life, but that it also gives us “the best view of the universe.” It is as if the heavens and earth were designed for both life and scientific discovery. Show Me God by Fred Heeren examines “What the Message from Space Is Telling Us About God.” The Privileged Planet is also available as a DVD for purchase and to watch through Netflix.

But the anthropic principle doesn’t have to lead you inevitably to a belief in a personal Designer. There is the weak anthropic principle (WAP) which observes the parameters noted by Ross, Gonzalez, Richards and other ID advocates must be set as they are, “or we wouldn’t be here.” In other words, human existence puts us within a coincidentally “privileged time and place.” Fred Heeren said:

In a universe that is sufficiently large, the right conditions for life might occur in certain times and certain rare regions. Thus an intelligent observer should not be surprised if he finds himself in a time and place where the conditions are just right for his existence.

A so-called strong anthropic principle (SAP) holds that these “right conditions” are to be expected if we can in fact observe them. As Gonzalez and Richards said: “We can expect to find ourselves in a universe compatible with our existence.” There are even stronger versions of the anthropic principle, namely the Participatory Anthropic Principle (PAP), which holds we created ourselves by observing ourselves. The Final Anthropic Principle (FAP) suggests humankind itself might be the intelligence behind the design evident in the universe. Holding a somewhat science fiction-like sense of some day conquering time’s one-way arrow, humans evolve into all-knowing, all-powerful, omnipresent gods. “Having amassed such powers, this evolved god may then be able to create in the past.”

So if we look at the various ways to understand the Genesis account of creation as existing on a continuum, we have the following progression: Young Earth Creation, Progressive Creation, Evolutionary Creation, Deistic Evolution and Atheistic Evolution. Young Earth Creation has little or no accommodation with science where it may intersect with Scripture, while Atheistic Evolution sees the Genesis creation as pure myth with no evidence of science. Progressive Creation (including OEC and day-age theorists), Evolutionary Creationists and Deistic Evolution are progressively more accommodating to science. This follows the presentation and discussion of the views on origins given by Denis Lamoureux in his web lectures.

Young Earth Creation (YEC), Progressive Creation (PC), and Evolutionary Creation (EC) are all legitimate perspectives for believers in the authority of the Bible “as the only rule of faith and obedience.” Evolutionary Creation accepts God’s use of macro-evolution as the manner in which He created the heavens and the earth through what Lamoureux described as indirect, but “ordained and sustained natural processes.” That is, God planned and upheld the creation of the heavens and the earth and the life within it, but did so through natural processes like evolution. Evolution here is theological not naturalistic—in God’s hands, it was part of His plan and purpose—and not due to chance or chaos. Both YEC and PC reject the idea that God used macro-evolution in His creation of the heavens and earth.

Young Earth Creation sees God directly involved in creation; and believes He created all things within the timeframe of six 24-hours days. The earth and universe are only 6,000 to 10,000 years-old. YEC also asserts that chapters six through nine of Genesis describe a global flood. OEC sees the six days of creation as sequential, but not six sequential 24-hour days. The “days” could even represent long periods of time, as in the day-age view. The universe is 10-15 billion years old and developed through an indirect ordained and sustained natural process. But not so for the different kinds of life, which were directly created by God; possibly over billions of years of time. OEC holds the Flood narrative in Genesis to describe a local flood, not a global flood.

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

02/20/15

Did God Make You?

© : Cosmin-Constantin Sava 123RF.com

© : Cosmin-Constantin Sava 123RF.com

At the beginning of December in 2014, a BioLogos-funded study of the beliefs in human origins was publically 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)