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What Americans Think and Feel about Evolution

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June 13, 2014 Tags: BioLogos, Human Origins, Young Earth Creationism

Today's entry was written by Deborah Haarsma. You can read more about what we believe here.

What Americans Think and Feel about Evolution

Earlier this week Gallup released the results of its latest survey of Americans’ views on human evolution. The survey is interesting because it has been asking the same questions since 1982, so it tracks how views have changed over more than three decades. It looks like they haven’t changed much.

Gallup survey result graph

Lest you think that these numbers are colored by the question’s emphasis on human evolution (rather than the evolution of life in general), note that a Pew survey last winter found that Americans give very similar answers for animal evolution (63% accept it) and human evolution (60% accept it).

The Gallup survey shows that the young-earth creationist position (light green) has remained around 43% for decades, while the atheistic evolution position (medium green) has risen a bit and the “God guiding evolution” position (dark green) has dipped a bit in recent years. This and other surveys show that approval of young-earth creationism is strongly correlated with church attendance (the Pew survey breaks this down even further by faith affiliation). These results highlight the challenge that BioLogos is seeking to address, and we have a long way to go. But a single Gallup question does not tell the whole story.

A perennial challenge of these surveys is the complexity of issues around God and evolution, in which people hold many variations on the major viewpoints. For simplicity, the Gallup survey question forces respondents into one of the three camps, which masks important distinctions. For example, a commentator on the Gallup poll in The Atlantic saw the modest decline in the middle position – “Humans evolved, with God guiding” – as evidence that Intelligent Design is falling out of favor. But we’d need a much more nuanced survey to separate out those who believe there are gaps in the natural order of things that need constant intervention from a divine agent (the typical Intelligent Design position), and those who affirm that God set up a natural process and actively sustains it without needing to intervene miraculously to bring about his desired goals (the typical evolutionary creation position).

The standard survey question bundles together several ideas. Sociologist Jonathan Hill (Calvin College, supported by a BioLogos ECF grant) recently reported the results of his survey in a Christianity Today article. He broke down the creationist position into three simpler statements, all of which are typically understood to be part of it:

  • Humans did not evolve from other species.
  • God was involved in the creation of humans.
  • Humans were created within the last 10,000 years.

But when Americans are asked about each of these separately, only 14% agreed with all three—a far cry from the 42% in the Gallup poll that are lumped into the position.

Also, viewpoints are only part of the story. Another critical factor is attitudes. The standard Gallup question doesn’t ask how strongly people hold their positions. Some commentators forget this and write as if Americans are divided into extreme camps. When Hill gave respondents the option to say they were “unsure” rather than simply “agree/disagree,” many people openly said they are unsure. When he went further and asked people if it is personally important to them to hold the right view, only 25% of Americans agreed! In the end, he found that only 8% of Americans were convinced creationists whose beliefs are dear to them, and only 4% were convinced atheistic evolutionists whose beliefs are dear to them. The vast majority of Americans are not sure of their position and are open to a conversation.

Another stereotype is that the human evolution question reflects the entire science-religion dialogue. One of the largest surveys to date (nearly 10,000 respondents) was released last February by sociologist Elaine Ecklund (Rice University, supported by the John Templeton Foundation) at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Ecklund asked respondents whether:

  • Science and religion can work in collaboration;
  • Science and religion are in conflict; or
  • Science and religion refer to different aspects of reality.

Although about 30% of people selected the conflict response, Evangelicals were actually more likely than the general public (48% to 38%) to see science and religion working in collaboration rather than referring to separate aspects of reality.

For us at BioLogos, the Gallup findings show in broad strokes the challenge we face. The young earth creationist position has persisted for decades and the atheistic evolution position has been increasing in recent years. Yet we are encouraged by hopeful signs: the vast majority of Americans are actually open to discussion about their views on evolution, and nearly half of Evangelicals see science as working in collaboration with religion. More and more people are interested in what BioLogos has to say—the number of unique visitors to the BioLogos website has doubled over the last year. We hear frequently from individuals whose lives have been changed as they discover another choice (#anotherchoice) besides young earth creationism and atheistic evolution (read Your Stories). Help us spread the word about the harmony between evolutionary creation and biblical faith.


Deborah Haarsma serves as President of The BioLogos Foundation, a position she has held since January 2013. Previously, she served as professor and chair in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Gifted in interpreting complex scientific topics for lay audiences, Dr. Haarsma often speaks to churches, colleges, and schools about the relationships between science and Christian faith. She is author (along with her husband Loren Haarsma) of Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design (2011, 2007), a book presenting the agreements and disagreements of Christians regarding the history of life and the universe. Haarsma is an experienced research scientist, with several publications in the Astrophysical Journal and the Astronomical Journal on extragalactic astronomy and cosmology.


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Roger A. Sawtelle - #85805

June 18th 2014

Jon,

I am aware that the word “mean” does mean common or ordinary which is most likely your meaning here, but the word “meanest” in American English usually means most cruel or nasty.

What is OP?

My view is that the world is not a machine relentlessly moving toward some predestined end, but a giant herd of sheep being moved along by the Great Shepherd.

Must be my pastoral instincts.


Jon Garvey - #85806

June 18th 2014

Pastoral instincts .... baaa humbug .... sheep being herded makes sense. Molecules being herded begins to sound faintly ridiculous.

Yes, mean and lowly is what I mean, LOL.

OP -Original Post.


Gregory - #85814

June 18th 2014

Here’s a link to the Science article & 34 country survey results I was trying to find earlier. I told a Lithuanian and a Russian about it tonight and they were simply astonished at the ‘poor education’ (their words) in the USA wrt evolutionary theory. Blame the parents and the teachers, they said, not the students. Note that the paper doesn’t mention ‘evangelicals,’ but rather ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘Protestants.’ That’s a ‘wedge’ to wedge back at Johnson’s non-natural (externalist) ‘interventionism’ and it has served rather accurate, at least in that many Catholics who were initially favourable to it, (or at least willing to give it a fair hearing in the first decade) have abandoned IDism. http://lchc.ucsd.edu/MCA/Mail/xmcamail.2012_01.dir/pdf8R1YkLhAVM.pdf

Also, I’d like to request evidence for Eddie’s claim in #85795 that “Ayala is no longer a Christian, and has not been for over 10 years.” That is a rather bold thing to say and I haven’t seen that stated anywhere publically in print or video from his own mouth. It would be rather impolite to assume this at BioLogos, if only because one doesn’t like Ayala’s anti-IDism position. (And please, just provide the evidence for the claim if any is out there, not a lengthy attempt to explain.)

The following report, from 2014, seems to call into doubt Eddie’s stated opinion: http://www.newuniversity.org/2014/03/news/ayala-god-and-evolution-can-coexist/

“Now I would argue that God is present in all things in the world, and is present for a person of faith so that the person of faith would be willing to accept the peaceful nature of God. And while each being develops by their own natural processes … there is a way of looking at creation and the presence of God which descend the literal interpretation of God manipulating objects.” - Francisco Ayala (attributed in report)


GJDS - #85815

June 18th 2014

Gregory,

As your reference indicates, a simple true or false response to a question that is a simplification may not provide a result that truly indicates how people may feel, or show the level of understanding they may have of the subject matter.

What can you say of robust discussions of various other views on evolution (by that I mean more to do with an unfolding, or changing over time) of the Universe? I am especially interested to know of views such as those expressed by Polanyi (e.g. in his “Emergence of Man” lecture given at Duke University in 1964).


Gregory - #85835

June 20th 2014

GJDS,

What can you say of robust discussions of various other views on evolution (by that I mean more to do with an unfolding, or changing over time) of the Universe? I am especially interested to know of views such as those expressed by Polanyi (e.g. in his “Emergence of Man” lecture given at Duke University in 1964).

Unfortunately, there’s not enough time to address big that broad question right now. I just presented talks at two conferences on the topic and challenged a ‘conflict-oriented’ Spencerian-Malthusian evolutionist approach in another yesterday from the audience.

Just be assured that there are plenty more religious advocates of (i.e. people who responsibly accept) ‘evolutionary biology’ than what Eddie or Jon narrowly call TEs. Plenty. Of course, as you know, GJDS, Jon calls himself a ‘TE’ (of the Warfieldian variety) and still hasn’t expressed publically (or just still doesn’t know clearly) his views of IDism. But he’s now got time in his retirement as a physician and journalist to follow the trail that others have been working on and dedicated to for many years.

It’s actually astonishing just how much discussion of ‘TE/EC/BioLogos’ or just ‘evolution’ as consistent with Christian faith and religion is available globally than what Eddie and Jon have yet shown they are aware of. Michael Polanyi’s roots (his younger brother Karl would take us in a very different, though also quite fascinating - he also came up yesterday!) and countrymen and women would be a decent place to start your exploration. Also, in Spain, Poland, Russia, Brazil, Italy, Germany, China, the Netherlands, etc. - it’s just waiting to be found by Anglos (especially those who are not evangelicals ready to run full bore into IDism). It’s not like Polanyi was ‘anti-evolution’ like most IDists, of course. = ))

As it is, I’m not retired like Jon (or Eddie?) with such time on my hands to write many blog posts here. And since you are neither an IDist nor an ideologue for TEism, no doubt you’re already on the right proportional path.


Eddie - #85816

June 18th 2014

First, note that I did not say that Ayala did not believe in a God of some sort; I said that he was no longer a Christian.

You can hear the evidence for my claim from Ayala’s own mouth at:

http://www.antievolution.org/cs/mclean_ayala_depo_1_1

These remarks, as they stand, are clear and decisive unless he later revoked them.  I am unaware of any revocation since then.  

The more recent statement you have quoted is very broad and vague, compatible with a pantheistic God as well as with a theistic one.  Note that in your quoted statement Ayala says “a person of faith would be willing to accept”—but does not indicate whether or not *he* is a person of faith.  He also does not indicate whether “a person of faith” means a believer in a specific religion, or anybody who has some broad, loose idea of God.  In any case, the statement says nothing about Christianity specifically.

Ayala was once asked about the faith of Dobzhansky, who had been one of his academic mentors in biology.  Speaking of Dobzhansky’s faith as he knew it from substantial personal contact with Dobzhansky, Ayala described it—the quotation can easily be found by Googling—and Ayala’s description is clearly of a pantheistic rather than a Christian faith.  Ayala voiced no disapproval of Dobzhansky’s view, nor did he take the opportunity to distinguish his own view, e.g., he could have said that against Dobzhansky he regarded God as personal.  This is all of a piece with Ayala’s Arkansas testimony.  

Finally, Christians are commanded to share their faith.  The light is not to be kept under a bushel.  I’m not of course saying that Christians have to go door-knocking and pushing their faith on people who don’t want it; but certainly they do not hide their faith when asked about it.  (Except in totalitarian regimes where faith is a crime, but that is not yet the situation in the USA where Ayala lives.)  Ayala has steadily refused to answer direct questions about his relationship to Christ, Christianity, etc. for years now.  No Christian would do that.  So one could infer my conclusion even without a direct statement, but I’ll rest my case on the direct statement.  I will retract with apologies to Ayala if anyone can provide more recent statements that demonstrate that Ayala reconverted to Christian belief of any kind.


Hanan D - #85824

June 19th 2014

Gregory, besides what Eddie has stated at the bottom regarding Ayala, if my memory serves me, I believe it was Ted Davies on an article somewhere here that stated Ayala is no longer a believing Christian. 


Gregory - #85834

June 20th 2014

Hanan,

Please send the link if that’s what Ted actually said here at BioLogos. Unfortunately, your word on memory alone doesn’t help in this case. Maybe Ted will chime back in and give us his thoughts about Ayala.

You’ll perhaps notice that BioLogos no longer includes Ayala in their ‘Resources’ section as a representative of BioLogos, which may be part of this. Same goes for Howard van Til. (Though a few critics of BioLogos continue to associate them with TE/EC/BioLogos regardless of that.)

Please note that I am not claiming and have not made the claim that Ayala is or is not still a Christian (John 10:28) one way or the other. I don’t have the evidence (though that 2014 report linked above is quite interesting on the topic). But I have grown, with good reasons, not to trust Eddie and still doubt that he was not just huffing and puffing about Ayala without any evidence. For him ‘modern TE’ basically means ‘heterodox,’ along with almost anything else ‘modern.’ (A post-modern child he definitely is not!)

Thanks for your comment anyway. I hope you understand my concern, with respect and good will. Please do send the article if you find it.

Gregory

p.s. his family name is ‘Davis,’ not ‘Davies’ (like Paul Davies).


Eddie - #85837

June 20th 2014

Gregory asked me for evidence from Ayala’s mouth regarding Ayala’s faith.  I provided that evidence, a lengthy and detailed document with Ayala’s exact words in courtroom testimony.  I would expect a comment in return, either agreeing or disagreeing with my interpretation of Ayala’s words.  But apparently I am not going to get such a response, so I won’t press for it.

I will, however, respond to the remark that Gregory suspects I was “just huffing and puffing about Ayala without any evidence.”  It sounds to me as if Gregory thinks that I made up the charge about Ayala, and only just now, when Gregory challenged me, was lucky enough to quickly find evidence for my charge.  In fact, I have known about Ayala’s courtroom testimony since December 2010, so I was speaking from already-acquired knowledge, and not faking anything.

I would add that saying that Ayala or anyone else is not Christian is not intended as condemnation, but merely as clearing the air about where people are coming from.  As long as everyone understands that, when Ayala speaks of ID as bad theology because it makes God responsible for evil, Ayala himself does not believe in the personal God of Christianity in the first place, they will understand that his apparent indignation on behalf of the Christian God is a hypothetical indignation, expressed for the sake of rhetorical advantage over ID people.  I’m merely making this situation clear.

Of course, more could be said about Ayala’s argument that Darwinian evolution is a preferable doctrine to intelligent design because (says Ayala) ID makes God responsible for natural evil whereas Darwinian evolution makes natural evil nature’s fault.  If God created nature (which Ayala’s argument hypothetically grants) then God created the rules of evolution and therefore is responsible for all the evils it produces, so the problem of evil is not solved by Ayala’s attempt to shift the burden from God to nature.  But *atheism* solves the problem of evil nicely: there is no God, but there is ruthless Darwinian evolution, and that’s why there is all this suffering.  That is a logical position.  But it is not the position Ayala takes toward ID.  He takes the position of the man indignant to defend God’s honor, while using an argument commonly employed by New Atheists (harmful and inefficient structures in nature prove that no wise and good God, but a blind process of evolution, was responsible for them)—New Atheists who of course have no interest in defending God’s honor.  The misfit between the rhetoric of Ayala’s position (indignation on behalf of God) and the real though unstated contents of Ayala’s position (a personal God might as well not exist, if he allows the horrible suffering of Darwinian nature) needs to be noticed.

Anyone who uses Ayala’s argument (that God can’t be a designer because then he would be responsible for evil) will ultimately be forced back to either atheism or pantheism.  Many TEs, both Protestant and Catholic, do not realize the theological dynamite they are playing with when they employ the argument.  So my critique of Ayala is not mere huffing and puffing, but serves what ought to be an important purpose for Christian evangelicals, i.e., the upholding of theistic religion against the alternatives.


Hanan D - #85858

June 23rd 2014

Gregory,

I found the link to the quote.

http://biologos.org/blog/the-father-of-intelligent-design

 

...To the best of my knowledge, Francisco Ayala is not a Christian believer at this point in his life, although many years ago he was a Dominican priest. His writings on theodicy, to the best of my knowledge, reflect his current thinking. He does make the kind of argument you mention here, of course, and your comment on that argument is not affected by what I just said. Since my goal here is to educate, not necessarily to persuade, I wanted to point this out.


Eddie - #85861

June 24th 2014

Thanks, Hanan.  You have verified Ted’s remark on Ayala; I have verified Ayala’s own remarks on Ayala.  We have between us satisfied all of Gregory’s requests for documentation for the claim that Ayala is not currently a Christian and has not been for some time.


Gregory - #85885

June 26th 2014

Thanks for the link, Hanan. It’s nice to see Ted’s 2014 opinion about Ayala. I suspect there has been a behind the scenes discussion at BioLogos Foundation about him, which led to his removal from the ‘Resources - Perspectives’ page (http://biologos.org/resources/perspectives). There are currently 17 names/profiles affiliated with “The BioLogos View”.

Ayala still nevertheless seems engaged in a broad ‘science and faith discourse,’ in which BioLogos also participates. As for being a good representative of an organisation that is explicitly appealing to USAmerican evangelical Christians, as BioLogos is, perhaps not the best connection. Eddie’s link from 1981 was helpful too; though it appears Ayala does still “uphold theistic religion against the alternatives.” The recent quote I showed above supports this.

The major problem in the USA, according to the survey results (i.e. what this thread is about), seems to be with fundamentalism and the politicisation of science. Evangelicalism differs from fundamentalism, according to BioLogos, though the AAAS report on the Science survey distinguishes mainstream Protestants (not evangelicals) from fundamentalists. Thus, it would seem more work digging into this would be helpful at BioLogos. Cudos to Deborah for raising the topic in this thread.

“Catholics and mainstream Protestants generally accept variations of a theological view known as theistic evolution, which views evolution as the means by which God brought about humans, as well as other organisms.”

With that said, it doesn’t seem to make sense to call TE/EC a ‘movement.’ It is rather the mainstream position among Abrahamic believers, except for evangelical Protestants and fundamentalists in the USA.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #85822

June 19th 2014

Jon,

Thank you for your response.

In the beginning God created cosmos out of chaos, order out of confusion. 

Today God is still in the same creative business in nature and among humans, bringing goodness out of mess. 

The world is not perfect, because the world is not God.  Only God can keep it under control, but God calls for humans to responsibily use the power to govern the world that God has given to us.   


Gregory - #85831

June 20th 2014

This seems to need a different post, since it is directly on-topic regarding surveys in the USA (and abroad):

Here’s a link to the Science article & 34 country survey results I was trying to find earlier. I told a Lithuanian and a Russian about it tonight and they were simply astonished at the ‘poor education’ (their words) in the USA wrt evolutionary theory. Blame the parents and the teachers, they said, not the students. Note that the paper doesn’t mention ‘evangelicals,’ but rather ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘Protestants.’ That’s a ‘wedge’ to wedge back at Johnson’s non-natural (externalist) ‘interventionism’ and it has served rather accurate, at least in that many Catholics who were initially favourable to it, (or at least willing to give it a fair hearing in the first decade) have abandoned IDism. http://lchc.ucsd.edu/MCA/Mail/xmcamail.2012_01.dir/pdf8R1YkLhAVM.pdf


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