oliwaterI don’t agree with all of the conclusions the 2014 National Study of Religion & Human Origins1, but most of it seems sound. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the study was sponsored by BioLogos and conducted by Calvin College sociologist Jonathan Hill. Over the course of June and July 2013, the survey asked 3034 U.S. adults a variety of questions concerning human origins.

The NSRHO’s study determined that 37% (approx. 1122) of those surveyed were creationists, 16% [approx. 485] were theistic evolutionists, and 9% [approx. 273] were atheistic evolutionists. The remaining 38-39% [approx. 1183] were unsure or held uncommon beliefs [such as those denying both common descent and creator at the same time]. The rest of the survey concentrates on the approximately 1,880 individuals who identified as either creationist, theistic evolutionist or atheistic evolutionist.

Creationists & Evos on the Compatibility of Science & Religion

If we’re considering just the responses of the 1880 individuals who identified as creationist, theistic evolutionists or atheistic evolutionist,  59.5% were creationist, 26% were theistic evolutionist and the remaining 14.5% were atheistic evolutionists.

2014SSRHO-fig39The NSRHO study showed that a larger percentage of theistic evolutionists [54%] were more likely to believe that religion and science are compatible compared to 33% of creationists and 21% of atheistic evolutionists. That kind of makes sense when you think about it; what’s surprising is that this percentage isn’t higher amongst theistic evolutionists. It’s almost as if a little less than half don’t believe their own press. If we do the math, we find that about 370 creationists, 262 theistic evos and 57 atheistic evos or 689 total [36.7% of those identified as one of these three categories] believe that science and religion are compatible.

Keep this in mind when you read the following, from the survey itself:

“The scientist Stephen Jay Gould coined the phrase “non-overlapping magisteria” (NOMA) to describe his position that science has a domain of teaching and religion has a domain of teaching, and that these domains do not overlap. One is strictly about empirical facts and mechanical explanation (science) and the other is about moral value and ultimate meaning (religion).How popular is this view among the general public? Figure 40 shows the agreement with the following statement: “Science is about facts and religion is about faith.The two do not overlap.”In this case, it is the atheistic evolutionists that stand out from the rest. A majority tends to agree with this statement (62 percent), while only 32 percent and 26 percent of theistic evolutionists and creationists agree.”

2014SSRHO-fig40So when you look at the percentage of folks who affirm NOMA [the idea that religion relates to faith while science relates to facts], the very philosophy atheist Dr. Michael Zimmerman’s pro-evolution Clergy Letter Project and Evolution Weekend are based on, the largest percentage of support comes from 62% [169 individuals] of atheistic evolutionists surveyed and only 32% [155 individuals] of the theistic evolutionists surveyed. This suggests that atheists see this compromise for what it is: the implicit surrender of Biblical authority to the authority of science chained to pure naturalism. As Jesus said in John 3:12: How can we believe what God says concerning heavenly things if we doubt what He says about earthly things?

There were also approximately 292 creationist respondents who affirmed NOMA. Overall, this means that, of the approximately 1880 individuals identified as being part of one of these  three categories, 32.7% affirmed NOMA. If we reduce the sample to on this 32.7%, we find that 47% of NOMA supporters were creationist, 27% atheist and 25% theistic. This leads to the obvious conclusion that the dangers of NOMA in relation to Biblical authority have not been effectively or adequately explained to our congregations. Instead, this seems to be an ill-advised attempt on the part of fellow creationists to distance or insulate the Bible from criticism.

What this means for the Clergy Letter

If these numbers hold, and we included all three parties on the conservative end, we would say that at least a quarter or more of the Clergy Letter’s signators were actually atheists. Since creationists are unlikely to sign a letter that presents evolution as truth, an adjustment must be made. Of those who identified as evolutionists and NOMA supporters, 52% were atheists. This would infer that 6776 of the current 13031 signators2  of the Christian Clergy Letter are atheists, meaning they aren’t valid Christians at all. This would certainly make sense of the significant number of atheists I discovered among his signators; however, it is unlikely that this is the case as it would require a greater number of atheist clergy than are likely to exist if survey data from elsewhere is included. In fact, atheistic clergy may such a small minority as to be negligible.

For example, a survey3 sampling clergy beliefs on the historicity of Adam & Eve and whether evolution was the best explanation of life found that only 21% of Evangelical, Mainline and Catholic clergy disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that “Evolution is the best explanation for the origins of life” and only 29% of those same clergy agreed or strongly agreed that “Adam and Eve were real historical persons.” These numbers would presumably include both clergy of the atheistic and theistic evolutionary positions, so the largest amount of support the Clergy Letter could receive is 29% of Christian clergy. We note that these numbers seem to correspond to the 25% of theistic evolutionists who affirm NOMA.

By comparison, 70% of Evangelical, Mainline and Catholic clergy disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that evolution is the best explanation for the origins of life and 62% agreed or strongly agreed that Adam and Eve were real historical people. If we take a conservative measure of the situation, we can reasonably hypothesize that every Clergy Letter signature represents at least two more members of clergy who would oppose it!

Then why aren’t more churches standing on the authority of God’s Word from the very first Word? Why do 26% of creationists affirm the principles of NOMA while affirming the historical veracity of Genesis in contradiction?  The obvious conclusion, again, is that we have not adequately or effectively conveyed how NOMA undermines both the ultimate authority of Scripture and the historical basis of the Gospel.

What better way to affirm the authority of God’s Word and make these issues clear than to lead your congregation in a celebration of Creation Sunday?

Notes:

  1. To give an example, like Gallup, I think that they inadvertently skew their own findings by not clarifying that the Bible is to be taken literally does not mean it is to be taken woodenly. While I affirm that the Bible is literally true, as do most creationists, I would not be able to select that option because it makes no allowances for the symbolism of prophesy, hyperbole, round numbers, etc.
  2. 6776 of 13031?? The math nerd in me is screaming “Holy palindromes, Batman!”
  3. JELEN, T. G., & LOCKETT, L. A.. (2010). AMERICAN CLERGY ON EVOLUTION AND CREATIONISM. Review of Religious Research, 51(3), 277–287. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20697345
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