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Evolution and Creation Science

Faith groups' beliefs about origins.
Debates & friction over evolution

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Beliefs about origin of the species:

As explained on our main Evolution and Creation Science menu, in North America, there are four main categories of beliefs about origins of the species:

bullet Creation science: This is a religious views accepted by the vast majority of religious conservatives. It is based on the belief that God created the universe. Most conservative Christians believe that this happened less than 10,000 years ago, and that God created all of the species of life along with the world itself in six days, each 24 hours long.

bullet Naturalistic evolution: A set of beliefs that the universe originated about 14 billion years ago; the earth coalesced about 4.5 billion years ago; life subsequently began, probably as bacteria deep in rocks, and has been evolving ever since. The process of evolution has been driven by purely natural forces, without input from a God or a Goddess or multiple deities, and without a goal.

bullet Theistic evolution: This resembles naturalistic evolution, except that God used evolution as a tool to guide the development of the different species from the simplest to most complex.

bullet Other religious views: There are probably in excess of 500 different creation stories among the world's religions that account for the earth's presence and its diversity of life forms. All of the stories are different.

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A brief kerfuffel over "who believes what" about origins:

Curiously, Julia Duin, a religion writer at the Washington Post's On Faith blog, wrote in 2011-FEB:

"Evolution runs directly counter to most major world religions, which teach that God created the world in some form or another." 1

She seems to have expressed what is perhaps the most commonly misunderstood aspects of the theory of evolution:

  • That the theory implies something about the "big bang." This is the event which most scientists -- and even Pope Benedict XVI -- believe brought the universe into existence.
  • That evolution explains some things about the appearance of the first life form on earth.

In reality, the Theory of Evolution starts with this first life form and suggests how it may have evolved into all of the life forms see on earth today and in the fossil record.

Cosmology is the study of the universe and its origins. Abiogenesis (a.k.a. biopoesis) is the study of how biological life -- a living organism -- arose from inorganic matter. Neither sciences are related to the Theory of Evolution.

Lauri Lebo, who wrote the book: "The Devil in Dover" -- an account of the defeat of intelligent design in a Delaware court 2 -- wrote a response to Julia Duin's comment:

"Really? Just off the top of my head I can think of a few major religions that have no trouble reconciling evolution with faith, including Judaism, Catholicism, Buddhism, and all non-fundamentalist versions of Protestantism, such as, for instance, the United Methodist Church." 3

While creationism is taught by the vast majority of evangelical Christian denominations in North America, mainline and liberal wings of many religions accept evolution, as do essentially all agnostics, atheists, humanists, secularists, etc.

The Clergy Letter Project urges recognition of evolution and how it has enriched our life through diversity of life on Earth. Their statement says, in part:

"Religious people from many diverse faith traditions and locations around the world understand that evolution is quite simply sound science; and for them, it does not in any way threaten, demean, or diminish their faith in God. In fact, for many, the wonders of science often enhance and deepen their awe and gratitude towards God."

When asked about Duin's comment, the founder of the Clergy Letter Project, Michael Zimmerman, responded:

"Although some claim that evolution is at odds with the beliefs of most religions, the truth is very different from that perspective. If you look at the basic tenets of the world’s religions, as Joel Martin has in his book The Prism and the Rainbow, you’ll see that religions and denominations representing a large majority of adherents across the globe are fully comfortable with evolution. Similarly, The Clergy Letter Project, with its more than 13,000 American clergy from various traditions, fully demonstrates how deeply religious individuals can be fully comfortable with their faith and the basic principles of modern science. The perspective that evolution must be rejected by those who are religious is nothing more than an oft repeated myth, promoted by some who want to advance both their political causes and their narrow religious perspective. For so many others, the wonders of evolutionary theory in particular and the amazing discoveries of science in general have served to deepen their religious faith." 3

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Comment on friction between religion and supporters of evolution:

Dr. Bob Cornwall, pastor of the First Christian Church of Lompoc, CA wrote an article about finding middle ground in the evolution wars. He wrote, in part:

"God or Darwin, these seem to be our only choices, but are they?

This debate is not new, of course. Since 1632, when the church banned the book containing Copernicus/ theory that the earth revolved around the sun and sanctioned Galileo for providing experimental confirmation of Copernicus/ ideas, certain elements of the religious community have been at war with certain scientific theories. With the publication of his theory of natural selection in 1859, Darwin stirred the controversy which led, in this country, to the Scopes trial of the 1920s.

There is of course, a middle ground between two extremes -- an atheistic scientific naturalism and an anti-science religion. It took some time, but today most Christians aren/t threatened by the ideas of Copernicus and Galileo. Likewise, since the time of Darwin, many theologians have tried, I think successfully, to reconcile Darwin and faith. It is unfortunate that this 'middle voice' is in danger of being overwhelmed by the partisan nature of the current debates.

I write as a pastor and theologian, not as a scientist. But I am not afraid of, nor is my faith threatened by, science. Science may force me to rethink some of my conclusions and beliefs, but I am comfortable with the theory of evolution because it works. It is the foundation upon which many of the advances in the physical and natural sciences, particularly in the medical field, since the 1860s have been made. ..."

"... both science and religion would be better served if the conversation moved from debate to dialog. Their relationship need not be adversarial.

The scientific and religious communities come into conflict when they speak of things about which they are not equipped to speak. Scientists are no longing functioning as scientists when they make claims about the ultimate nature of reality. Religious adherents err when they turn their sacred texts, written for theological purposes, into a template for scientific inquiry. Genesis does not offer scientific theory, but it does offer a wonderful statement about the meaning and purpose of creation, which is something scientific theory is not equipped to handle. On these matters, science is silent, and rightly so. Unfortunately this silence has been interpreted some religious quarters as antagonism toward religion.

It is healthy to debate the merits of science and faith. The questions of intelligence and design and their relationship to science are worth pursuing, but not in our science classrooms. Continuing the battle in its present form diminishes both science and faith. Is it any surprise that in this fractious climate America is falling behind the rest of the developed world in science? Is it any wonder that many people swear off faith in God, because it would seem that to embrace God is to deny science?

There is a middle path that can lead to fruitful dialogue. Let us choose our path wisely."

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References used:

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

  1. Julia Duin, "1 in 8 biology teachers reject evolution," The Washington Post, 2011-FEB-01, at: http://onfaith.washingtonpost.com/
  2. Lauri Lebo, "The Devil in Dover: An Insider's Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-Town America," New Press, (2009). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com
  3. Lauri Lebo, "Just in Time for Darwin Sunday, Washington Post Misses the Point," Religion Dispatches, 2011-FEB-07, at: http://www.religiondispatches.org/
  4. Dr. Bob Cornwall, "Finding middle ground in >Evolution Wars/ [sic]," Lompoc Record, 2005-OCT-16, at: http://www.lompocrecord.com/

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Copyright © 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published on 2011-FEB-08 
Most recent update: 2011-FEB-08
Author: B.A. Robinson
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