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BELIEFS OF CHRISTIAN FAITH GROUPS
ABOUT
ORIGINS

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Although all Christians base their beliefs on the teachings of Jesus, St. Paul, etc., they differ greatly in their fundamental understanding of the Bible. Some commentators assert that conservative and liberal Christians have diverged so greatly that they follow two very different spiritual paths - often viewed as two different religions who share the same name and Bible!

bulletFundamentalists and other Evangelical Christians: A key belief system of these faith groups is their belief in the inerrancy of the Bible. Since Genesis 1 describes how God created the universe, and in a certain sequence, there is no doubt that he did exactly that. Rev. Jim Harding of the Utah/Idaho Southern Baptist Convention commented: "We were created by God, we didn't just evolve by accident. It was not a process of moving from one animal form to another, but rather, as Genesis teaches, that each was made in its own order. In fact, [humans and animals] were made on different days."

A debate exists with conservative Christianity over the length of each "day" in Genesis: i.e. whether the word "day" means an interval of 24 hours, or an era of indeterminate duration. Some theologians believe that the Hebrew word "yom" has multiple meanings in various locations in Genesis. A number of competing theories have been formulated by Christian creation scientists in an attempt to harmonize Genesis and the fossil record. 

Most conservative Christians are particularly insistent on the literal truth of the creation stories in Genesis. If those passages were shown to be false, then the Garden of Eden story, the fall of humanity and the alienation between God and man would all be in doubt. Some feel that this could negate the need for Jesus' execution and resurrection. Some believe that the entire conservative Christian message would collapse like a deck of cards, if Genesis is shown to be a fable. One writer has said: "Overthrow Genesis and you destroy the whole foundation of Christianity. Evolution is just a modern version of the old Pelagian heresy. If Genesis is not historically accurate, then there was no Fall of man and no need for a Savior. Man is then free to exalt himself and even to take Christ's place on earth!!" 1 Calvin stated that those who disagree with the literal truth of Genesis' creation stories "basely insult the Creator." After death he predicted they will meet "a judge who will annihilate them." 2
bulletLiberal Protestant Denominations: These churches have accepted and even promoted the theory of evolution for decades. Although there are many unresolved details about the evolution of species on earth and of the matter and energy in the rest of the universe, scientists have reached a consensus on the broad mechanisms of evolution. Most researchers agree that the universe originated at a "Big Bang" some 20 billion years ago. Some matter coalesced into stars of which our sun is one. The earth and other planets coalesced out of stellar material many billions of years ago. A few billion years in the past, the first elementary forms of life appeared; these evolved into the multiplicity of species that we see today, including humanity. By accepting evolution, liberal Christians have either:
bulletassigned symbolic meanings to the stages of creation in the two creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2, or
bullettreated those passages as creation myths, similar to the hundreds of creation stories from numerous other religions.
bulletMainline Protestant Denominations: Many members and their religious organizations adopt either the positions of Evangelicals or that of liberal denominations. To some, evolution is not really a religious issue. Others have adopted theistic evolution (a.k.a. called "process creation", or "multiple creation".) In this belief system, God originally created the universe. Later, God used evolution as the technique by which new species develop. One example of a mainline Christian's view of evolution is seen in the writings of Kitty Ferguson: "How do we know when biblical writers intended to have their words interpreted literally and figuratively, when they were speaking in parables and when not?...The question how far we can accept the Bible as accurate historical evidence continues to be debated by responsible scholars, as well as by ideologues of both extremes, but very little gets settled." 3
bulletRoman Catholic Church: Pope Pius XII released an encyclical in 1950 titled "Humani Generis." It "considered the doctrine of 'evolutionism' as a serious hypothesis, worthy of a more deeply studied investigation and reflection on a par with the opposite hypothesis." 4 The encyclical states in part:

"For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that...research and discussions, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter...However, this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church..." 5

The Second Vatican Council stated that the Bible is inerrant (free of any error) in those texts that contain religious truth that have been revealed for personal salvation. However, the implication is that the Bible is not necessarily free from error elsewhere - for example where it discusses scientific matters.

In 1996, Pope John Paul II spoke at the annual meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which has been called "the Church's 'scientific senate' ". 6,7 He said, in part:

"Today, more than a half century after this ['Humani Generis'] encyclical, new knowledge leads us to recognize in the theory of evolution more than a hypothesis. ... The convergence, neither sought nor induced, of results of work done independently one from the other, constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory [of evolution]." 8

It is unclear exactly what pair or grouping of recent independent scientific studies converged to a common conclusion in support of evolution.

However, the Roman Catholic church has by no means accepted the concept of Naturalistic Evolution in its entirety:

bulletNaturalistic evolution includes the belief that all aspects of humanity evolved from earlier species. This conflicts with the church teaching that each individual's "spiritual soul is directly created by God." Naturalistic evolution concludes that what the church calls human spirit emerged "from forces of living matter or as a simple epiphenomenon of this matter." The pope regards this as "incompatible with the truth about man...[and] incapable of laying the foundation for the dignity of the person."
bulletThe church teaches that God created the world and the rest of the universe from nothing. "Vatican I solemnly defined that everyone must 'confess the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, as regards their whole substance, have been produced by God from nothing' (Canons on God the Creator of All Things, canon 5)." 9
bulletAlthough the church accepts evolution as more than a hypothesis, it does not teach that evolution was driven by purely natural forces. Rather, it teaches that evolution was and is under God's control and guidance.

In the United States, Roman Catholic parochial schools have taught the theory of evolution as a probable fact for many decades.

bulletThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, The Mormons): The church believes that humans were created by God. The LDS First Presidency stated in 1909 that "Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with divine attributes." In 1931, they side-stepped the issue in a statement which said, in part: "Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research..." Bruce R. McConkie, author of "Mormon Doctrine" rejected evolution. He asked how could a Mormon obtain "comfort in the theoretical postulates that mortal life began in the scum of the sea, as it were, and has through eons of time evolved to its present varieties and state? Do those with spiritual insight really think that the infinite Creator of worlds without number would operate in this way?" 10

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References used for the above essay:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Moses wrote the Book of Genesis", also at: http://www.reformation.org/
  2. A.D. White, "The History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom," Prometheus Books, Buffalo NY, (1993; reprint of the 1896 original), P. 27. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  3. Kitty Ferguson, "The Fire in the Equations: Science, religion and the Search for God," Eardmans, Grand Rapids, MI, (1995), Page 261. Read reviews or order this book
  4. Pope John Paul II, "Truth cannot contradict truth," 1996-OCT-22, at: http://www.csn.net/
  5. Pope Pius XII, "Humani Generis," at: http://www.shrine.com/
  6. David Cloud, "Pope Supports Evolution," at http://www.whidbey.net/
  7. B.G. Walker, "The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets," Harper & Row, San Francisco, CA, (1983), Page 183-186. Read reviews or order this book
  8. News release, Vatican Information Service, 1996-OCT-23, at: http://www.reformation.org/
  9. Anon, "One evolution, many creations," The Globe and Mail newspaper, Toronto ON, 1999-SEP-20, P. A11.
  10. Peggy Fletcher Stack, "Creationism sparks debate within many denominations," Salt Lake Tribune, 1999-OCT-23

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Copyright ©1995 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published on 1995-NOV-3. 
Most recent update: 2005-AUG-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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