07/4/17

Balancing Act with Human Origins

© arinahabich | 123rf.com

A recent Gallup poll found the percentage of U.S. adults who believe God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years, what Gallup called the strict creationist view, has reached a new low. They are now tied with those who believe God guided humans development over millions of years at 38%. “This is the first time since 1982 — when Gallup began asking this question using this wording — that belief in God’s direct creation of man has not been the outright most-common response.” The “secular” view—that humans evolved from lower life forms without any divine intervention—has doubled since 1982, from 9% to 19%.

Reflecting on the Gallup poll results, Deborah Haarsma said that while polls are not infallible, BioLogos was encouraged to see these trends took place during the years in which BioLogos has been at work. “Anecdotally, we are seeing more openness to discussing the scientific evidence for human origins in the context of biblical faith . . . While loud voices continue to push extreme positions on origins, either anti-science or anti-God, this study shows that many everyday Americans are open to a conversation that brings science and God together.” These results are illustrated in the following graph found in the Gallup poll, which was conducted at the beginning of May in 2017. The results suggested to her that those who changed their views from a strict creationist position adopted the “God guided” position on evolution.

Gallup concluded that higher education levels effected creation/evolution belief in a strict (young earth) creationist position. Among those with postgraduate education, 21% said they believed in a strict creationist view versus 48% among individuals with no more than a high school education. “Agreement with evolution without God’s involvement is 31% among postgrads versus 12% among Americans with a high school education or less.” See the Gallup poll link for a table containing these results.

Nevertheless, among individuals with a college degree or above, more believed God had a role in evolution than who said evolution occurred without God. Haarsma pointed out that sociologist Jonathan Hill concluded from his research (the National Study of Religion & Human Origins, NSRHO) that education level was not the primary influence on views of human origins. Rather than education, differences in positions on human origins are better attributed to the religious beliefs of groups the individual belongs to.

When we track the beliefs of close friends and family, creationists are substantially more likely to belong to networks who agree with them about human origins. They are also more likely to expect increased disagreements with family and friends if they were to change their beliefs. Likewise, creationists are more likely to belong to congregations who have settled positions that reject human evolution and to perceive disagreements with religious leaders and other congregants if they were to change their beliefs. Moreover, creationists are more likely to spend their schooling in science classrooms that did not endorse evolution. Even if this is restricted to public high schools and universities, their science classroom experience is different from others. Put simply, creationists are embedded in networks and institutions that are more effective than the other groups in reinforcing the content and importance of their beliefs.

The bottom line for the Gallup poll was that most Americans believe God had a role in creating human beings. “But fewer Americans today hold strict creationist views of the origins of humans than at any point in Gallup’s trend on the question, and it is no longer the single most popular of the three explanations.” However, strict (young earth) creationism is still tied for the leading view at 38% of the population.

But Jonathan Hill found when you tease out individual beliefs for strict creationists, only 8% affirm all six beliefs, namely: (a) 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 days, and (f) that humans came into existence within the last 10,000 years.

Additionally, when deconstructing respondents who hold to a theistic evolution perspective in the Gallup poll (38% said humans developed over millions of years with God guiding the process), Hill found that only 16% of respondents (a) believed in human evolution and (b) God or an intelligent force were somehow involved. Only half of this group was very or absolutely confident of both of these beliefs. When applying a stricter definition to this group, only 5% of the population (a) believed God was involved in human evolution, (b) the days of creation were not literal, and (c) humans emerged more than 10,000 years ago. Requiring certainty dropped the percentage to 2%. “It is clear that the theistic evolution position does not come with a high degree of confidence for much of the population.”

When asking how social factors influence beliefs in young earth or evolutionary creation beliefs, certain factors become important in predicting firm, certain belief. The factors having the largest influence on predicting who is a certain (young earth) creationist included: (a) belonging to an evangelical denomination, (b) reporting faith is important in day-to-day life, (c) frequent prayer, (d) believing the Bible is literal (with no symbolism) or the inspired Word of God (symbolism but no errors), (e) family members with the same belief about origins, (f) friends have the same beliefs about origins, (g) changing beliefs would cause disagreement with other congregants and religious leaders, (h) their congregation has a settled position that rejects evolution.

Important factors predicting confident, certain evolutionary creation beliefs included: (a) belonging to a mainline (versus an evangelical) Protestant church, (b) being Catholic versus evangelical Protestant), and (c) not believing the Bible is the literal or inspired Word of God without errors.

Hill concluded that the social context of these beliefs is just as important as individual factors such as religious identity, practice and belief. “Social networks of family and friends, congregations, and schools all play a role.” Most important for strict creationists is the combination of certain religious beliefs, particularly beliefs about the Bible, and social contexts such as those related to a religious congregation. For individuals who believe human evolution is compatible with orthodox Christian faith, persuasion has to move beyond a purely intellectual level. Ideas consistent with evolutionary creation are only persuasive “when individuals are in a social position that allows them to seriously consider what is before them.”

There has been a tendency in evangelical Christian circles to see only two views with regards to human origins—creation or evolution. Data from the latest Gallup poll and the earlier NSRHO survey by Jonathan Hill suggests this rigid, and false dichotomy of views is changing. Consistent with these views on origins has been a parallel conflict thesis between science and religion, which also seems to be weakening.

In another article on a Pew study into religion and science, Hill pointed out the difficulty of holding onto a belief in the ultimate compatibility between science and faith, when you are not exactly sure how that compatibility should be realized. For now, it’s like balancing on a tightrope. But the decline in evangelicals who see an inherent conflict between their faith and science is an encouraging trend. But there is still a ways to go. See the NSRHO or “Did God Make You?” for more information and discussion on this topic. Also see the links for “Genesis & Creation” and “Religion & Science” on this website.

02/7/17

No Contest; No Victory

photo of the Scopes Trial; Clarence Darrow and the defense team.

A few years ago Rachael Gross wrote an article for Slate entitled: “Evolution is Finally Winning Out Over Creationism.” She noted how few issues have divided Americans as bitterly as Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. She thought it was “woeful” that “the majority of people in Europe and in many other parts of the world accept evolution,” while 4 in 10 adult Americans believe that humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. Evolutionary theory does not exist in a vacuum, she said. It is supported by findings in geology, paleontology, biomedicine, and other fields. “If we want to be a nation of politically and scientifically literate and informed people, then we have to teach good science—and that starts with evolution.”

But we need to ask what kind of evolution and what kind of creationism she means. Is it evolution that occurred entirely through natural processes or did a supreme being use evolution to bring about and develop nature? There also should be a consistent distinction between individuals who hold that humans have existed in their present form since the beginning (PFB) from those who believe in evolution guided by a supreme being (ESB), and those who affirm humans evolved by natural processes (ENP). Gross also cited two polls in her discussion. Although each poll used a different construct to describe what they meant by “creationism,” she did not point out the differences between them.

One poll was by Gallup and one was by the Pew Research Center. When Gross discussed changes since 2009 in the Pew surveys, the 2009 data can be found here. The Pew 2014 poll looking at evolution did not break down all the age groups by the three categories on origins. But it did report that US adults overall were as follows: 31% said humans existed in their present form from the beginning (PFB); 24% believed their evolution was guided by a supreme being (ESB); and 35% believed evolution occurred from a natural process (ENP). When looking at individuals between the ages of 18-29 in 2009 and 2014 from the Pew polls, on their views of human origins, we get the following data.

So there is evidence suggesting younger American adults are adjusting their position on human origins to the secular evolution position. But when Gross said that 73% of US adults under 30 believe in some kind of evolution, she combined believers in evolution through natural processes, or secular evolution, with those who believed in evolution through a supreme being. There is a significant philosophical gap between the action of a supreme being creating human beings, either through evolution or as fully formed individuals, and humans evolving through an entirely natural process without the action of a supreme being. See “Structure of an Evolutionary Revolution” on this website for more on this difference.

Within the Pew 2014 Religious Landscape Study, 73% of individuals between the ages of 18-29 were fairly certain or absolutely certain there was a God; another 8% believed in God, but were not too certain of that belief; and 19% did not believe in God or did not know if they believed in God. So there would seem to be a large portion of 18 to 29 year old individuals (perhaps 32%) who believed in God and who also believed in natural evolution. I don’t think they should be referred to as necessarily gravitating towards secular evolution. If their belief in God holds, a category like deistic evolution would seem to better describe them.  The category of individuals who believe God created through evolution, ESB, also has the potential to grow larger as views on human origins shift. It is not an inevitable transition to an entirely secular sense of evolution as the older group of people believing humans existed in their present form from the beginning die off.

The Gallup poll Rachel Gross mentioned added a further distinction to the humans created in their present form by adding that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago. This position on human origins would be consistent with a group of Christian believers known as young earth creationists (YEC), which hold that all things were created within the 10,000-year timeframe. However, there is a necessary distinction between YEC and PFB—humans existed in their present form since the beginning—if the beginning of the heavens and earth was billions of years ago, and the creation of beginning of humans was significantly longer than 10,000 years ago. This position is what Denis Lamoureux and others have referred to as progressive creationism. See his web lectures in “Beyond the ‘Evolution’ vs. ‘Creation’ Debate,” particularly “Views on the Origin of Universe & Life.”

But an option consistent with a progressive creationist position of human origins was not offered in the Gallup poll—or in any other poll on human origins that I am aware of. The Gallup poll has been asking the same three-part question about human origins, given as follows, since 1982:

Which of the following statements comes closest to you views on the origin and development of human beings? 1) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but god guided this process. 2) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God has no part in this process. 3) God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.

The Gallup and the Pew polls implicitly include the evolution—creation dichotomy in the structure of their questions. In both surveys there are two evolutionary positions and one creationist position. The Pew questions more accurately focused on the flash point issue of human evolution, while the Gallup poll collapses the age of the earth variable—held only by young earth creationists—into their creationist position. Not surprisingly, the percentages between the two polls show some differences. The following Gallup chart illustrates the results on the issue dating back to 1982.

As a result, a creation-evolution dichotomy is perpetuated. Arguing that Christians need to choose between science and religion has become entrenched in the dispute since the Scopes Trial. And “fundamentalists” are as much to blame as those holding to a secular or godless sense of evolution. Ironically, William Jennings Bryan held and publicly affirmed a human origins position consistent with what I’ve identified here as progressive creation. He saw Darwinism as a dangerous idea because he thought people would lose their consciousness of God’s presence in their daily lives.

In a speech he first gave in 1904, “Prince of Peace,” Bryan said he had a right to assume a Creator back of the creation. “And no matter how long you draw out the process of creation, so long as God stands back of it you cannot shake my faith in Jehovah.” In Summer for the Gods, Edward Larson commented how this allowed for an extended geologic history and even for a kind of theistic evolution. But Bryan “dug in his heels” regarding the supernatural creation of humans. He saw it as “one of the test questions of the Christian.”

I do not carry the doctrine of evolution as far as some do; I am not yet convinced that man is a lineal descendent of the lower animals. I do not mean to find fault with you if you want to accept the theory; all I mean to say is that while you may trace your ancestry back to the monkey if you find pleasure or pride in doing so, you shall not connect me with your family tree without more evidence than has yet been produced.

He concluded his speech by saying that one of the reasons he objected to the theory of evolution was because if man was linked to the monkey, it became an important question whether humanity was going towards the monkey or coming away from him. “I do not know of any argument that may be used to prove man is an improved monkey that may not be used just as well to prove that the monkey is a degenerate man, and the latter theory is more plausible than the former.” You can listen to a vocal dramatization of his speech here on YouTube; there is a text only copy here. There are content differences between the two because Bryan gave the speech repeatedly over the years. The given quotes are from the text of the oral YouTube version of “Prince of Peace.”

The Bill Nye-Ken Ham debate in 2014 had neither the historical significance nor the drama of the Scopes Trial. But it does illustrate how times have changed and how, rightly or wrongly, the young earth creationist position on human origins, represented by Ken Ham, has become identified as the default view of biblical Christians. You can watch a video on the debate here.

An NPR article, “Who ‘Won’ the Creation vs. Evolution Debate?,” noted the live online debate drew 500,000 viewers at one point. By the middle of November in 2016, the YouTube video had over 5,700,000 views. Britain’s Christian Today website took a poll on who “won” the debate and had 42,567 responses. Ninety two percent thought Bill Nye won, while only 8 percent thought Ken Ham won. Michael Schulson, writing for The Daily Beast, thought Nye’s willingness to engage Ham in a debate threatened to reduce substantive issues to mere spectacle.

The televangelist Pat Robertson thought Ken Ham made a mockery out of Christians. Quoted in The Christian Post, Robertson said he was able to find his faith in the evolutionary process itself. “I don’t believe in so-called evolution as non-theistic. I believe that God started it all and he’s in charge of all of it. The fact that you have progressive evolution under his control. That doesn’t hurt my faith at all.” You can watch a short video of Robertson’s views on The Christian Post link. Robertson further said: “Let’s be real; let’s not make a joke of ourselves.”

A little over a month after the Scopes Trial concluded, Clarence Darrow wrote to H. L. Mencken, one of the reporters who covered the Scopes Trial: “I made up my mind to show the country what an ignoramus he [Bryan] was and I succeeded.” The more things change, the more they stay the same. Christians believing in creation are still seen and portrayed as ignoramuses. The Memphis paper, the Commercial Appeal made the following comment about the infamous exchange between Darrow and Bryan in the Scopes Trial:

It was not a contest. Consequently there was no victory. Darrow succeeded in showing that Bryan knows little about the science of the world. Bryan succeeded in bearing witness bravely to the faith which he believes transcends all the learning of men.

If you are interested in learning more about the Scopes Trial, try this page about the Scopes Trial Museum or the Wikipedia page on the Scopes Trial. You can also read: Summer for the Gods, a Pulitzer Prize winning book about the Scopes Trial and “Structure of an Evolutionary Revolution.” Also, look at: When All the God Trembled, which discusses Darwinism and the Scopes Trial.

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.”