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What a Biologos Sponsored Study says about NOMA Support and the Clergy Letter

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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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How Rejecting Biblical History Damned Charles Darwin

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defgenbookcoverYesterday, we happily supported Question Evolution Day in lieu of Darwin Day, as we have for the past few years. Of course, Biblical Creation has never been simply about questioning evolution; rather it has been about affirming the historical veracity of Genesis. Oh yes, we definitely fight against the influence of microbes-to-man evolution in our culture and, therefore, we point out the mortal flaws in the theory, so questioning evolution is a part of establishing a case for creationism; however, creationism isn’t merely a reaction against evolution.

The problem with microbes-to-man evolution is that it is the product of science chained to pure naturalism. The Biblicist recognizes the truth of God’s Word when it says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge. The Biblicist likewise notes that we may expect the present world to be uniform because it is upheld by God’s will and He has promised it will continue according to the processes we observe [Genesis 8:22]. Thus we may accept the assumption of uniformitarianism except where Biblical revelation reveals that these uniform processes were not the causes of past events [ie, the Creation Week, the Fall, the Flood, the origin of differing languages at babel, the miracles of the Bible, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection of Christ, etc]. We reject microbes-to-man common descent evolution because the Bible makes a positive declaration in the Creation account, the Flood account and in passages dealing with Levitical law that plants and animals were created after their kind, which implies a limit to the amount of variation an organism can undergo. In the interests of full disclosure (and to silence those who claim that creation science isn’t really a science since our science never changes in regard to new observations), one should know that creationists once supposed that a created kind was analogous to a species, but further observation has caused us to realize that this assumption was incorrect; yet we still note that a dog remains a dog, whether a wolf, English bulldog or an Australian shepherd, and recognizably so, so some level of limitation to the amount of change an organism is capable of is evident (which limitation is also implicit in the Biblical phrase “after their kind” and “according to their kind”). Creationists affirm observable speciation, mutation, adaptation and natural selection [though we affirm the latter as a preservative mechanism against the deleterious effects of the Fall (i.e., mutations) rather than the creative mechanism Darwin proposed] as variation within created kinds, and we now propose that the created kind is generally found at the family taxon.

If we begin with the fear of the Lord, we start with His Word as our ultimate authority and calibrate our observations according to its superior witness. Darwin didn’t start with the fear of the Lord. He began with the geology of Charles Lyell, whose book, Principles of Geology, Darwin brought along on his historic voyage aboard the H. M. S. Beagle. Darwin comments in his autobiography how he came to shed his Christian faith during this voyage:

“During these two years I was led to think much about religion. Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox, and I remember being heartily laughed at by several of the officers (though themselves orthodox) for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable authority on some point of morality. I suppose it was the novelty of the argument that amused them. But I had gradually come, by this time, to see that the Old Testament from its manifestly false history of the world, with the Tower of Babel, the rainbow as a sign, etc., etc., and from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian…

By further reflecting that the clearest evidence would be requisite to make any sane man believe in the miracles by which Christianity is supported,–that the more we know of the fixed laws of nature the more incredible do miracles become,–that the men at that time were ignorant and credulous to a degree almost incomprehensible by us,–that the Gospels cannot be proved to have been written simultaneously with the events,–that they differ in many important details, far too important as it seemed to me to be admitted as the usual inaccuracies of eyewitnesses;–by such reflections as these, which I give not as having the least novelty or value, but as they influenced me, I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation.”

We see that the reason for his loss of faith began with his rejection of Biblical history.

Darwin himself noted that the concept of theistic evolution carries with it the problem of theodicy: how can a benevolent God create through a process involving multiple mass extinction events and a process of death, mutation, suffering and more death? As Darwin objected in his autobiography:

“A being so powerful and so full of knowledge as a God who could create the universe, is to our finite minds omnipotent and omniscient, and it revolts our understanding to suppose that his benevolence is not unbounded, for what advantage can there be in the sufferings of millions of the lower animals throughout almost endless time? This very old argument from the existence of suffering against the existence of an intelligent first cause seems to me a strong one; whereas, as just remarked, the presence of much suffering agrees well with the view that all organic beings have been developed through variation and natural selection.”

By all accounts, Darwin died in his unbelief.

According to Charles Darwin’s autobiography, he was an a “theist.” The term in Darwin’s day meant someone who believed that a supernatural deity had created nature or the universe but did not intervene in the course of history, which is analogous to the modern sense of the word ‘deist.’

Darwin used the term in one famous passage in the autobiography:

“… the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist. This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the Origin of Species; and it is since that time that it has very gradually with many fluctuations become weaker.”

In an 1879 letter, written around the same time as the autobiography and first published in Life and Letters, he writes:

“In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an Atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God. I think that generally (and more and more as I grow older), but not always, that an Agnostic would be the more correct description of my state of mind.”

Since Hebrews 11:6 says “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him,” we must conclude that neither the modern-day equivalent of a deist nor an agnostic qualifies as an authentic Christian.

It didn’t have to be that way. Millions of years of molecules-to-man evolution was never a necessary interpretation of the evidence. For example, people most often recall that Robert Fitzroy and Darwin journeyed together aboard the Beagle and perhaps even that the captain gave Darwin a copy of Lyell’s Principles of Geology and just sort of assume they agreed on the matter of evolution, but when you compare the spiritual journeys of Fitzroy and Darwin, they couldn’t be more different. Thanks to Lyell’s book, Darwin saw uniformitarian geology everywhere he looked; in Fitzroy’s later journeys, he began to see the hallmarks of the Deluge in the geology he surveyed. He later denounced Darwin’s theory publicly, on numerous occasions, and begged people to believe God rather than man.

Facts are not self-explanatory. Facts must be interpreted and we generally interpret evidence according to our presuppositions. We either presuppose pure naturalism consistent with processes we observe today or supernatural agency consistent with the record of supernatural revelation found in God’s Word.

I hope you will begin with the fear of the Lord as you search out the matter. I urge you to celebrate a Creation Sunday this February 15, 2015 rather than atheist Dr. Michael Zimmerman’s proposed Evolution Sunday. If you’re still undecided, we hope you’ll take a moment to view a short video we’ve prepared called “A Tale of Two Churches.” This cautionary tale shows how abandoning a historical Genesis undermines the Gospel itself. The video can be found at http://youtu.be/SmA_SHctzI0

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