December 14, 2017

Current Clergy Views on Origins

the-creation-of-adam

From BioLogos:

What do today’s pastors think about science?   What views do they hold on creation and evolution and how strongly do they hold them?   How do origins issues impact their ministries?

These were just a few of the questions that motivated us at BioLogos to commission a survey of pastors on origins.  In 2012, the Barna Group conducted 743 telephone interviews with pastors from across the US, from churches big and small, and from all Christian denominations.  This comprehensive, in-depth survey provides a fascinating analysis of views held by clergy today.

clergy_views_chart

Here are the seven points of summary BioLogos gave from the information gleaned from this survey. Click the link above or below to read the detailed annotations.

  • Pastors hold a diversity of views on origins (the chart above shows the breakdown).
  • Most pastors think science and faith questions are important.
  • Clergy think disagreements on science and faith harm our witness (but for different reasons).
  • Pastors aren’t avoiding science.
  • However, they are concerned about evolution for biblical reasons.
  • The majority of clergy accept parts of scripture as symbolic.
  • Clergy are concerned that changing their views on origins might compromise their ministry.

* * *

I encourage you to read the entire report, “A Survey of Clergy and Their Views on Origins,” and then return here for discussion on what you think this survey reveals.

Comments

  1. Marcus Johnson says:

    Fascinating stuff.

    I just finished reading Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry. Sadly, the world of evangelicalism which Lewis exposed 90 years ago has not changed much. There are still clergy who are afraid to confront their doubts regarding the literal six-day creation, for fear that it “might compromise their ministry” (i.e., doing so would get them tarred, feathered, and shipped out on a rail to Rob Bell’s camp).

  2. I would be interested to see this broken down by kind of education as well: pastors with a Bible college degree, vs. a Christian liberal arts degree, vs. a secular liberal arts degree. My guess is that those with a secular liberal arts degree would be more likely to accept PC or TE, as opposed to YE and that Christian liberal arts graduates would be somewhere in the middle.

    It’s also scary to note that 40% of pastors say that NONE of the Bible is symbolic, including, presumably, the Psalms (David’s bones are literally wasting away, perhaps bone marrow cancer?), Song of Songs (too strange to contemplate!), Jesus’ parables (if they didn’t literally happen, what is the point?), the metaphor the prophets often speak in, etc. Perhaps many of this 40% would have been well served to take English 101 during their education.

    This really does bring up the idea of pastoral education though: should those working towards a call be encouraged to major in Biblical Studies/Theology or go to Bible college, or be encouraged to study the humanities, arts, sciences, to learn about the world they’re ministering in and to? I’ve never met a pastor with a scientific background… I’m sure there are some, who ought to have some deeper insight into faith/science issues.

    • When folks say that they take the bible literally, it’s just a rhetorical move, to say that their interpretation is serious, while other peoples is not.

      • Agreed, Witten. But it’s a scary rhetorical move: over time rhetorical moves tend to be read more and more literally and less and less symbolically, ironically enough.

        Of course, symbolism, or literariness, is what distinguishes humans (and by extension, I guess, God) from animals: animals can communicate with each other but can’t fathom anything besides a 1:1 correspondence between sign and signifier. Humans, in their creative capacity derived from God, can. If those 40% of pastors had taken English 101, they would have known that! 😉

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          It is worse than that. If I declare my reading of scripture to be “literal” and the “plain meaning”, then it follows that if you disagree with my reading you are either a fool or a scoundrel. The claim shuts down any possibility of meaningful discussion. Which is the point, of course, at least to a large extent.

  3. Hmm, the math teacher in me is a little skeptical… 743 churches seems like a tiny sample size, considering that by some estimates there’s over 300,000 Protestant congregations in the US. I’m also always skeptical of any statistic that doesn’t tell you what the margin of error is…

    Then again, purely on the level of personal experience, this data seems to reflect the interactions many of us have had with pastors of various stripes: there’s an awful lot of confusion and disagreement on this subject, and it can’t be categorized as simply a problem of education level or of denominational affiliation…

    • Ryan,

      Assuming 350,000 religious congregations in the U.S. (latest estimate available), the margin of error of such a survery would be 3.59 % (19 times out of 20).

      743 is actually quite a large sample size for statistical purposes.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      It sounds to be a reasonable sample size. That is the statistician in me talking 🙂

      • “Reasonable” is a much better word that “large”. 🙂

        • Joseph (the original) says:

          the correct term is: “statistically significant.” if the 743 sample size did, in fact, provide (or result in) usable data for this study, then yes, it is very significant. since i am in the middle of pursuing my Master’s Degree in Agribusiness with a wine marketing emphasis, i am being ‘pickled’ in statistics, business calculus, macro & micro enconomics & my thesis will be a survey type study also. my goal is to have ~450 usuable survey responses to be a significant study, so i am sure the one being discussed is a good one.

          ack! i must survive the ag econ, biz calc & statistics classes this year before proceeding to the actual ‘fun’ stuff that follows next year. prayers are welcome. miracles too… 🙂

  4. I believe if they surveyed the congregations they would have quite different results.

    • different in what way?

      • In other studies I have seen, such as on the topic of gay marriage, the clergy have tended to be much more conservative than their congregations.

        • It probably depends on the group you are in. In the mainlines, I hear the clergy drive the progressive agenda, and I know countless disgruntled conservatives in their laity.

          • Good point.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            This depends a lot on individual circumstances. There are mainline congregations which tend to be liberal, and ones which tend to be conservative. If the pastor’s opinions don’t match up, then there will be grumbling that he is driving a liberal agenda, or that he is a reactionary trying to pull the church back into the Middle Ages.

            For whatever it is worth, the most conservative pastor I have ever had sustained personal contact with was ELCA. I liked him a great deal. We had a lot in common. We didn’t discuss politics much.

        • Depends on the topic. Quite often, pastors feel compelled to toe the orthodox (or what passes for such in their community) despite their own private misgivings. That phenomenon was visible in the early 90’s on the issue of abortion, and tends to be present today on the issue of inerrancy.

  5. petrushka1611 says:

    I’ve just decided, screw it all, I’m starting the Young Earth Evolutionist movement. It all happened in 6,000 years, baby — apes to men!

  6. My naturally synthesizing and syncretic soul has always been at odds with the controversy surrounding this issue. My recent discovery of the work of Owen Barfield and his concept of the evolution (I prefer the word unveiling) of consciousness excited me recently as a possible escape from the cul-de-sac of literal Biblicism vs literal Scientism.

    But Barfield is tough sledding, even tougher than Williams, and I don’t think he’s as orthodox. maybe I could get some help here.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

      Mule, I would recommend 2 widely variant books that could help you in developing your (own) ideas:

      1. Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age, Robert N Bellah.
      This book, while concentrating on on religion, necessarily has lots to say about consciousness etc. This isa seminal work, if somewhat heavy going.

      2. The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood, by James Gleick. Written on a popular level, without being trite or trivial, this is a great work. The latter part covers a lot that could lead to some fruitful contemplation on the question of the evolution of consciousness.

      • Thank you for the recommendations. I read an earlier book of Dr. Gleick’s, his book on Chaos Theory, I believe. I found it provocative but ultimately unsatisfying. It is full of what Barfield referred to as the Residue of Unresolved Positivism. Positivism is such a mental habit for us post-Cartesians that it is nigh upon impossible to regard Chaos or Cognition as anything besides Just Another Object of Analysis.

        My thinking along these lines got several kicks in the posterior not just from Barfield, but also from Douglas Hofstader, Joseph Weizenbaum, and Saint Maximus the Confessor, leaving me with a disconcerting suspicion that the boundaries of my true “I” may be considerably different from those currently perceived by the rather insecure usurper who is currently pulling the levers.

        • Klasie Kraalogies says:

          For me, Gleick’s Information book filled in much of what Chaos left out. Of course, I’m also a scientist already, and a thorough Bayesian in terms of epistemology, so that might not work for you 🙂

        • Gleick & his ilk propelled me into chasing chaos theory in grad school about 20 years back. Even by then, it had sort of cooled and has since more or less become part of the furniture of dynamical systems. It turns out that generating pretty fractal pictures doesn’t necessarily mean anything has actually been explained. I eventually ended up in prob & stats instead. (In utterly related knews, I also have a job.)

          As for the topic at hand, I found John Haught’s “Deeper Than Darwin” to be about the best I’ve read. He’s a Catholic theologian at G’town and makes much of the narrative quality of what science has uncovered. That is, science is not just about arranging facts, however elegantly: it’s a story that’s being told! Obviously, this accords well with traditional Christian notions of God’s revealing himself over time. To me, Haught also seems more grounded than his intellectual cousin, de Chardin.

          John Polkinghorne’s “Faith of a Physicist” is a wonderful work as well, but as it consists of his working through the entire Nicene Creed, Creation proper only gets the first chapter or two.

          Pax/Mir

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            Trevis – probability, stats? I dabble in geostatistics (you know – kriging, Gaussian simulation, variograms), as I’m a Resource Geologist. I took two semester courses in Dynamical Systems, and absolutely enjoyed it.

            So what do you do?

          • The reviews I read for Haught’s book were to some degree predictable; too mystical for the scientists and too collaborationist for the Troo Believers.

            That means it will probably gain a place in my To Read list.

      • Damaris says:

        Mule and Klasie: A fun book on consciousness is “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind,” by Julian Jaynes. Jaynes was a psychologist who lectured at Princeton. He was not a Christian as far as I know.

        • Klasie Kraalogies says:

          Well, I looked into the idea, but I’m not convinced. I see Dawkins as saying “It is one of those books that is either complete rubbish or a work of consummate genius, nothing in between! Probably the former, but I’m hedging my bets.” From what I’ve seen, I’m hedging my bets too 🙂

          • Damaris says:

            Yes, I used the word “fun” advisedly. I think Jaynes is a certified nut, but I enjoyed the book. I’d love to see a cage fight between Jaynes “The Ivy League Loon” and Chesterton “The Everlasting Man.” Chesterton would win hands down.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            I am solidly in the “Jaynes was a nut” camp, but he was certainly interesting and provocative, in the good sense, He wasn’t just being controversial to get attention or to make money.

          • Klasie K.:

            Unfortunately, your comment above lay at the leaf of the n-ary tree. (Too bad we can’t have cup of coffee somewhere instead of my jacking this thread.)

            I work in the by now staid credit scoring industry. I do the stats behind credit scores, but have no power to burn the world down like a Wall St. quant. Which is a Very Good Thing.

            As it happens, I once did a research program as an undergrad with a geologist. We modeled groundwater flow. I came away from the experience with a deep respect for the work applied mathematicians do in fields such as your own, along with an alarming sort of seizure whenever the word “Fortran” is uttered with a German accent.

            One of my grad school profs once worked as a whiz kid at some Geophysical Institute in Moscow. I don’t recall the whole story, but he more or less reinvented kriging. Which would be a cool name for a rock group — probably Norwegian Death Metal — now that I think about it.

            I’m glad you enjoyed dynamical systems — it’s fun stuff — though I’m still waiting for the Feigenbaum constant to show up somewhere in my life.

    • Preston Garrison says:

      There is a blog you might find interesting: http://arrowthroughthesun.blogspot.com/
      The author is a biochem professor at Seattle Pacific Univ, an evangelical school. He commented extensively while he was reading through Barfield. There is a label for the posts on Barfield. (I’m not sure where this comment will end up – meant as a response to Mule Chewing Briars.)

  7. My biggest concern with this survey is the indication that most pastors believe that “changing their views on origins might compromise their ministry.” Ministers on both sides of the issue seem too willing to elevate the significance of this issue to par with the resurrection of Christ. I think that is simply antithetical to everything that is good about a “big tent” approach to faith. Why limit your tradition to people who only see it one way on this issue? Isn’t this, of all issues, something on which we can agree to disagree over and continue to worship and serve together? We have plenty of more theologically significant reasons to break camp. This just ain’t one of ’em, imo.

    People on the young earth side have something to teach about respect for God’s Word and commitment to its details, even if their exegesis is incorrect on this one. People on the old earth side tend to mine more spiritual significance out of these historical narratives because they aren’t so stuck in defending their literality. Both sides need to remain in conversation and continue to learn from one another. IMO, we don’t need any more “orthodoxy creep” past the 16th century (1580, specifically 😛 ).

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      My biggest concern with this survey is the indication that most pastors believe that “changing their views on origins might compromise their ministry.”

      That’s my concern as well, Miguel, although for a reason that is only slightly different. I sense a subtext behind that finding that suggests to me that when pastors refer to “compromising their ministry,” they are referring to “compromising their job security.” Even though there is a possibility that a congregation could accept a pastor shifting in a particular ideology, I would seriously doubt that any pastor wants to take that risk. And who could blame them? It’s a tough job market out there for any profession, but an unemployed pastor without a flock? It’s a risk that should be taken, but the risk can be a little too great for some.

      • If your congregation is likely to throw you out for your position on this issue, it is possible you have given it far too much pulpit time already. I can’t imagine how this issue justifies making the sermon more than once a year. And even then, give the other side a fair shake. Even if you’re convinced they’re damned wrong, they’re still your brothers, and you ought to recognize that.

        • Marcus Johnson says:

          Makes sense to me.

          If your congregation is likely to throw you out for your position on this issue, it is possible you have given it far too much pulpit time already.

          Or, perhaps, not enough time. This could be one of those issues in which, for many churches, we assume that everyone is on the same page, or we’re just too afraid to test the waters.

          I can’t imagine how this issue justifies making the sermon more than once a year. And even then, give the other side a fair shake. Even if you’re convinced they’re damned wrong, they’re still your brothers, and you ought to recognize that.

          There are reasons, but there is no justification, for relegating this to a sermon given only once a year or less. Inherent within the discussion of YEC vs. evolution are some very important questions that the church needs to explore: what is the purpose of the Bible; how do we form and affirm doctrine based on what we read; can we accept that what we believed were historical accounts are really myths, yet still allow the Bible to have an impact on church doctrine and personal spiritual development?

          Most importantly, can we create a safe forum for discussing these questions without condemning people to hell or chasing them from our congregation?

          • Most importantly, can we create a safe forum for discussing these questions without condemning people to hell or chasing them from our congregation?

            Yes! Or at least, I hope so. Which is why I believe the sermon is one of the worst concievable places to deal with this topic: It’s all one sided pontification. Here’s our position, if you don’t like it, you can leave. I’d rather do this in Sunday school, Bible study, small groups, etc… because here you can actually have a discussion, an exchange, debate, and give a fair shake to dissenting views. Here people can be more free to question the preacher, heck, even the Bible, because the point is to learn, and learning requires inquiry. I do not accept that the point of the sermon is to learn.

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            I like that idea: using sermons as a way to affirm, and small group sessions as a way to educate, explore, and confront issues in a safe place.

            Maybe, then, there is a responsibility on the sermon-giver to affirm that there are safe places within the church community to explore doubt, to disagree, and to have a real exchange of ideas? More importantly, to not affirm doctrine to the point where it scares dissenters away? I’m not suggesting that exchange should happen mid-sermon on Sunday morning, but perhaps in a small group session with a facilitator that knows how to negotiate dissenting viewpoints?

          • “Using the sermon to affirm…” I like the sound of that phrase. It must be a challenge to proclaim the Word of God in all its fullness, yet do it in a way that continues to extend an inclusive invitation to all hearers. The sermon-giver, or at least the pastor, ought always be on the lookout for avenues for sincere questioners to work through their doubts with input from the Church and a clear, articulate rationale of her actual position.

            I suppose tone also makes a world of difference. It’s one thing to unflinchingly tow the part line. It’s another to do it in a mannerism which suggests, “and if you don’t agree, don’t come back.” It’s that preachy tone, you know? One of the things I enjoy about the mainlines is their “Day One” radio program where you hear teachers from across the spectrum. Preachers from liberal denominations have such subtle, cleaver, and endearing methods of cutting past your defenses to challenge you without condemning you. Evangelicalism needs more of that.

            …but good luck finding a congregation where small group facilitators know how to negotiate dissenting viewpoints. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly conversations can devolve from high and heavenly contemplation back into the pigsty of political ranting. Half the time the Pastor is the culprit.

    • Final Anonymous says:

      +1. Couldn’t agree more, Miguel.

      My only problem with YEC is the way it is currently being taught — that questioning the inerrancy of this idea undermine’s one faith in the Bible, God, and the resurrection, and threatens one’s salvation. And there seems to be a movement among those teaching it to get it to the kids first, and quickly (while they are easier to indoctrinate, I guess?).

      Even if I was a YEC proponent, I would be appalled at the idea of setting up our kids for such a life-altering self-fulfilling prophecy.

      Other than that objection, I’ve felt the same about both sides having something to offer in the conversation.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      False equivalency: No one on the evolution side of the divide declares YEC to be apostasy.

      “People on the young earth side have something to teach about respect for God’s Word and commitment to its details, even if their exegesis is incorrect on this one.”

      I have no idea what this means. What are we to learn about respect for God’s Word and commitment to its details from an incorrect exegesis? What not to do? More to the point, the notion that the YEC crowd is somehow more respectful and committed is some combination of insulting and risible.

      • No one on the evolution side of the divide declares YEC to be apostasy.

        Are you so sure about that? Maybe that exact insult is not used, but there are liberal equivalents. Epistemological apostasy comes to mind: you question the almighty wisdom of science, you are a heretic to the human mind. Uneducated? Bucktooth backwoods hillbillies? Tell me they don’t get this caricature. Some might rather be labled a heretic, evening wearing it as a badge of pride.

        More to the point, the notion that the YEC crowd is somehow more respectful and committed is some combination of insulting and risible.

        Baloney. Many opponents of YEC do not believe God was capable of it because he must answer to science. Fundamentalists begin their epistemology with revelation, even if their hermeneutic lacks intellectual rigor. Many progressives hold scripture only as relevant as reason and tradition, and not superior to them. If scripture must answer to science, than I suggest revelation has a lower epistemological priority. Ask yourself, which tradition tolerates a reading of Ephesians that concludes, “Well, that’s just Paul’s opinion?” You’ll find YEC is not the majority report there. Just saying, let’s not pretend both camps hold the authority of scripture with the same tenacity, and I’ll concede it doesn’t do much good when anti-intellectualism sacks your exegesis.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          “Maybe that exact insult is not used, but there are liberal equivalents”

          Ah, you are treating this merely as an exchange of insults. Were that this were so. Alas, there are practical effects as well. Can you cite someone being kicked out of a church or being fired for being YEC? Someone leaving because those fake Christians stubbornly refuse to see the light by agreeing with him doesn’t count.

          “Many opponents of YEC do not believe God was capable of it because he must answer to science.”

          I find this assertion startling, unless you are including atheists in the discussion. I am loath to say that no self-identified Christian takes this position, but this is in the same way that there doubtless is some self-identified Christian who grants the tooth fairy a central place in his dogma.

          A better, less strawmanish, position is that the Bible gives us revealed truth, while science seeks to discover truth. The Bible is inerrant, but this sadly is not true of our understanding of it. Science, of course, makes no claims to inerrancy: merely varying probabilities. But it is very good, once we move back from the cutting edge, at arriving at very high probabilities indeed. This is why we can do stuff like argue theology over the internet: science has reached certain conclusions with such high probabilities of being correct that engineers can then build stuff like computers based on these conclusions.

          When a scientific conclusion and a Biblical interpretation conflict, one (or both) has to be wrong. If the scientific conclusion is tentative, leading-edge research stuff, then it makes sense to wait and see. As it becomes established, within a well-understood field, and is routinely used as the basis for further research as well as practical engineering, then the Biblical interpretation becomes untenable. A refusal to consider the possibility of one’s interpretation being in error is merely idolatry. In the case of YEC, this is about a century and a half behind developments in geology and biology, and somewhat less in the case of astrophysics.

          • David L says:

            Can you cite someone being kicked out of a church or being fired for being YEC?

            Well I and some of my friends came close. Several teens were asked to stop coming to Sunday school classes when they asked questions about some really bad science put forward by their teachers. Not all at once but over a two year period, one by one.

            And then there’s another friend at the same church who was YEC and started attending a group that met to go over how to promote YEC within the evangelical world. He was ask to leave after asking too many questions about the really bad “science” being put forward.

            At the end of all of these a group of 10 to 20 families left the church over this and some other issues. Were we being show the door, not really. Were many of the people we HAD thought of as friends basically shunning us for not being YEC believers? Yes.

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            I asked about people being kicked (or pushed) out for being YEC believers: not for their *not* being YEC believers. Finding the latter is trivially easy.

          • David L says:

            Sorry. Long night. Shouldn’t post when up for 20 hours dealing with computer issues. 🙂

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        I have to agree with Miguel on this one. This is not an debate in which the entire YEC camp is steeped in willful ignorance, with an inability to think critically and analyze; it just so happens that, given our current understanding, they are wrong. They are dial-up people living in a high-speed DSL wireless internet world. Just as it would be unproductive to ridicule dial-up internet users as disrespectful and uncommitted, it would be just as unproductive to mock the YEC crowd for adhering to a traditional reading of the Creation narrative. They need a safe place to explore where they belong on this issue and, unfortunately, they have not really been provided that safe place.

        The more I start to explore how our current understanding of evolution informs on the Creation narrative, the more I see that there are just as many folks who affirm evolution that treat Scripture in a dismissive, flippant manner. They have the right answer, but their work tends to disregard the importance of that narrative in helping us define who God is in relationship to who we are. That might be a situation in which the YEC folk have something to teach the “evolution” camp.

        • Klasie Kraalogies says:

          Marcus, many truthers, birthers and diverse other fringe groups, including UFO hunters are also otherwise sophisticated people. Having been in multiple discussions/arguments with YE Creationists, it is the rare one that is not steeped in willful ignorance and suffering from cognitive dissonance. I’m not talking about the ones that are YEC by default, because they haven’t really investigated the matter – I’m talking about the ones that are activist, that support AIG etc – that type of person.

          • it is the rare one that is not steeped in willful ignorance and suffering from cognitive dissonance

            Have you ever dialogued with a YEC’er who was not a fundamentalist Baptist? Believe it or not, they exist. AIG supporters may be the majority report, but they are by no means universal. YEC is somewhat popular in the LCMS (though not universal or required), but I’d wager Ken Hamm is most certainly not.

            I’m becoming quite convinced that one’s position on YEC is not so much determined by reason as it is by presuppositions. What is the basis of your epistemology, and what is your view of the Christian scriptures? Give me those, and I’ll tell you your position on the origin of the universe.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            Miguel – I’ve actually never dialogued with a YEC’er that is a Baptist fundy, to my knowledge. Most have been generic evangelicals, or Lutherans etc.

            I used to be a YEC’er, and then got convinced by the evidence. Then I escaped into a very postmodern relativist epistemology, till I realized that is totally nonsense too.I have been gradually rebuilding my epistemology, and my views on things, including Scripture. My views on Scripture is now probably closer to that of Pete Enns & Denis Lamoreux (ie, cultural and historical context). My epistemology, if anything is a modified, pragmatic Bayesian epistemology.

            So, what is your verdict?

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            BTW Miguel – many of the LCMS’ers I discussed this stuff with disdained Ken Ham – but essentially used the same type of arguments. It would seem that their disdain was localized more in the fact that he was not “one of them”, but a dastardly baptist :), than in actual substantial disagreement.

          • You could do a lot worse than Peter Enns. 😛 Seems like you’ve made quite a tour on that front. I approach epistemology a bit too theologically to really fit cookie cuter in any of the main schools, but I think generally most of them have at least some good things to bring to the discussion. My primary concern is that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, and the Word is the foundational cause of reality (rather than a systemically accurate reflection of it). Therefore, Scripture is held (at least, attempted to be held) as foundational truth before reason and senses. Boy, that is hardly an exact science!

            Ken Ham’s argument seems mostly centered around “It says 6 days. 6 days means 6 days.” Most Lutherans save that sort of rhetoric for a discussion of the Lord’s Supper (“Is is Is…”). I don’t know how much Ken Ham beats this drum, but I tend to hear Lutherans hang their YEC hat on Romans 5:12-15. I consider myself loosely YEC, but even that approach makes me a bit squeamish because it is based entirely on a specific, rather flat interpretation of that verse that, while it can make sense, I don’t see it as the absolute only possible correct reading. My big problem is when people become so committed to science, empirical observation, and reason that from there they conclude that God is impotently incapable of YEC. It puts God in a naturalistic box, and elevates ourselves to peer review status over scripture. That’s just a tad presumptuous, if you ask me. The laws of nature aren’t so sacred that they can’t be superseded, but IMO, the Words of God are.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            Miguel – some of the Lutherans I’ve debated this with ends up disavowing YEC (in theory at least), but then, in an attempt to not put “God in a naturalistic box” fall for varieties of apparent ageism – which, of course, gives me the opportunity to bring out one of my favourite phrases –

            “Last Thursdayism!” 🙂 Ever which way, there is no escape – either nothing can ever be believed for what it is (but this destroys all epistemologies, as it takes our way to intelligently read Scripture – it lands us in the worst of postmodernist quandries), or we believe the evidence in front of us – which indicates an old universe, evolution etc etc. Nobody on the alternate epistemology side of things ever address that point – namely, that if evidence (nature?) cannot be trusted implicitly to tell us about reality, then why do we assume that what we read is actually what it says? You cannot have one without the other.

          • Klasie, that sounds to me like a circular argument. It assumes it’s very point, that empiricism is the highest form of knowledge, and without it, you have nothing. “If evidence cannot be trusted implicitly to tell us about reality….” …then reality can most certainly not be found? On what grounds are we to give sensory observation epistemological superiority?

            I suppose this might make me more of a rationalist, but suppose there was an all powerful being that was not only outside the realm of nature, but was the very source of the order and laws of nature and had the ability to supersede them at any time. I get that apparent agism is scientifically non-falsifiable, but that is only a problem if you’re claiming it to be objectively provable. We can look at the exact same set of data and come away with different conclusions which are based on the lenses through which we look. If your starting point is that your senses are the highest source of truth, than of course apparent ageism would conflict with it. But if the laws of nature are subject to a higher power, then it remains entirely plausible.

            Here is the problem I’ve never heard an empiricist address: assume, for the sake of argument the universe was created last Thursday. In what way would it absolutely have to look different from what it does now?

            …and please don’t give me the “that makes God a liar!” defense. That is also circular in that it assumes God did not write a book about it. If scripture is God’s Word, and a God exists who created and sustains the universe, no amount of research, observation, and experimentation on the part of the creature has the potential to dictate terms of revelation to Him/Her/It.

            I also understand this leaves both parties at an impasse, each no longer in the same rhetorical boxing ring. But I insist this was arrived at before the debate even began: the presuppositions have already determined the conclusions. The question is, what do you fear, love, and trust above all things?

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            Miguel, no it makes you an irrationalist:

            Since you don’t want me to cast God as Loki, then, in the apparent ageism argument, you still have a God that writes a book, that is not available to all, and he punishes those that never got to see and believe, simply because the way he created them made for a universe were they were “doomed to failure”. Furthermore, apart from his book, He created senses that tell an entire different story. That does NOT sound like a God of love at all.

            But more importantly – back to the senses – and this is where you miss the thrust of my last argument: If you cannot trust them – how can you trust Scripture? Because you read it / hear it? How can you trust anything that you think you know – even your knowledge of God & religion? Some secret gnosis? This is where the whole anti-naturalist thing falls down – because it eliminates itself as well.

          • you still have a God that writes a book, that is not available to all, and he punishes those that never got to see and believe, simply because the way he created them made for a universe were they were “doomed to failure”

            …but that has absolutely nothing to do with the question of YEC, and could remain quite true nonetheless, according to Christian dogma, in an older universe. The Christian God still allegedly sends unrepentant sinners to hell whether the universe is young or old, and so that question is a critique of other Christian dogma aside from creationism. I’d be more than happy to go there with you, but it is a rabbit trail for our current discussion.

            My point is not that the senses, and therefore Scripture, are entirely un-trustworthy. I believe in the findings of science and the power of observation. But I rate their epistemological priority as secondary to the prerogative of their Source. In other words, we can make discovery in the empirical realm because God has ordained it so, but our ability to discover is not infallible. This is a rationalist argument non-exclusive to the Christian God. Are we going to argue abstract ideas or have a straw man dogma turkey shoot?

            You are still asserting that outside a naturalistic framework, nothing can be known. I say this is a false dichotomy: our findings within a naturalistic framework can mislead. I view them as valuable, but not ultimate. I’m not asking on what basis we believe our own eyes. I’m asking on what basis do we believe them above everything else?

            If YEC is ruled out as impossible simply due to the fact that our scientific observation shows an old earth and therefore the question is completely settled, you do realize what else science shows us, with ever greater consistency? Dead people stay dead. There is no resurrection, and the Christian hope is in vain. To believe in Christ requires acceptance of the possibility of divine intervention in the natural world. If you can only accept a God that comes to you on your own terms, within the framework of your own dogmatic scientism, than I suggest that you have already found and do in fact worship such a god: your mind.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            Miguel – the evidence clearly precludes YEC. I do find it interesting that you hold to an interpretation of Genesis so strongly that you are prepared to disregard all physical evidence. Oh, where do interpretations happen?

            That’s right – in the mind.

          • the evidence clearly precludes YEC

            I can easily concede that, though I haven’t studied it too much.

            you hold to an interpretation of Genesis so strongly that you are prepared to disregard all physical evidence

            Actually, I hold quite loosely to YEC. It isn’t a major concern for me. My dogmatic concerns could survive quite well without it. What I am concerned about is dogmatic scientism. The evidence clearly precludes dead men rising. I’m actually kind of banking a lot on that evidence being wrong. Me and all of Christendom.

            where do interpretations happen

            I am quite open to the possibility that I have misinterpreted scripture, on just about any issue. I can see a ton of sense in an allegorical take of Genesis 1-3.
            You’ll just have to pardon me if I lack the sort of dogmatic faith in empirical senses that is so en vogue today. I’m just not so accustomed to living in such a flatland.

            where do interpretations happen?
            That’s right – in the mind.

            I’m also quite open to the accusation of being a rationalist. You’re the one building your house on empiricism. 😛
            You’ve done nothing but consistently dodge my main question: on what grounds does your empirical evidence automatically deserve epistemological superiority? I have a place for it in my epistemology, but you seem to have no place for anything that contradicts it. I propose that you therefore hold the position of greater dogma.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            Miguel: Demonstrate an epistemology that works differently (btw, I hold epistemology to be descriptive, not prescriptive, but let’s put that aside). Show me.

          • Um, like every major school of thought prior to Richard Dawkins? Start with Plato’s cave. The accidents of the material world could just be shadows of a deeper reality. Or how about Kant: the notion of a priori knowledge suggests that things can be known apart from sensory experience. Science has no way to prove that what I experience is not a projection of my inner consciousness.

            Science has a high degree of utility, but never before has it been so presumptuous as to consider itself the ultimate source of truth like many do today. It is nothing other than short-sighted and reductionistic. Truth can also be found in non-scientific disciplines: philosophy, the arts, but for some reason the impression I get from many scientists, especially those who study evolution, is that all truth is Science’s truth. If a religion recapitulated as often this field of study did, it would have far more skeptics than adherents. Consider the theological, philosophical, and ethical implications of the notion that truth is no deeper than matter. It makes for a universe devoid of meaning and beauty.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            See my response much lower down this thread – the comment system got a bit messed up there. The Science = no beauty meme gets often repeated, but couldn’t be further from the truth; http://xkcd.com/877/
            🙂

        • “it just so happens that, given our current understanding, they are wrong. ”

          Could your understanding be wrong? Is it subject to change?

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            I don’t know, nedbrek. Is dial-up internet better or worse than DSL wireless?

          • That, of course, depends on the ranking criteria 🙂 Perhaps dial up is cheaper, and sufficient for your needs…

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            Well, are you supposed to keep that internet access to yourself, for your own personal purposes, or were you meant to share that technology with a much larger network of people who want that access as well?

            If the answer to that question is yes, then it follows: why are we dial-up internet folks in a world that needs DSL?

          • The metaphor has stretched so far, I’ve gotten lost 🙂

            If you mean, why does the world not agree with YEC – that is simple. Man is by nature an enemy of God, and suppresses the clear proof of God in nature. It’s not surprising that he should come up with some systematic methodology for this suppression.

            If you mean YEC is the message we should be conveying. I would disagree. We are commanded to spread the Gospel.

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            I knew there was a breaking point to that metaphor 🙂

            What I meant was that the six-day creation narrative is a myth–and that is not a bad thing, as the real definition of myths are stories that serve to explain a concept in order to shape a culture. If we use that story to explain to the world, “This is what God is like, and this is how our relationship with him has grown over time,” we might get some nodding heads.

            However, our adherence to a six-day creation as a literal, historical event is yielding fewer and fewer returns as a legitimate interpretation of the Genesis 1-2 narrative, as the rest of the world continues to discover anomalies that require answers that the six-day creation story, as a historical event, can no longer satisfy. We can accept that and upgrade to a better interpretation of Scripture, or we can not, and choose to live with our outdated interpretations, believing that the people’s hesitancy to accept our interpretation is solely because they are “enemies of God.”

            I should also point out that the phrase “enemies of God” has been greatly abused, and turned into a label for anyone who disagrees with a traditional interpretation of Scripture. It is a little insulting. I can count on one hand the number of times Scripture refers to a person as an enemy of God (only twice in the NIV); in neither case does the writer claim that man is an enemy of God “by nature.”

          • Do you believe in a literal Fall – that one couple’s sin radically changed everything?

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            If it’s okay, that’s a question that is being discussed in the May 16 post. Can we continue the discussion over there?

        • Klasie Kraalogies says:

          Miguel, and before Kant there was Spinoza, and Voltaire. And before Dawkins there was Santayana.

          Ask yourself – where does the a priori knowledge come from? Then read some Shannon (as in Claude Shannon). As time passes, Idealism seems more and more like ad hoc philospohy – and yes I just trivialized Kant, and no, I’m not worried about it.

          You seem to assume that I know nothing about these matters – but I went throught the whole shebang before I realised I need to be honest. One cannot want that which does not exist.

          Oh, and before Plato, there were Democritus and the Atomists.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            The above response is supposed to go higher in the the thread, after the long to and fro between Miguel and myself…

          • before Kant there was Spinoza, and Voltaire. And before Dawkins there was Santayana.

            Right. My point isn’t that nobody disagrees. My point is that dogmatic scientism has never been universally accepted despite the fact that it has experienced a recent surge in popularity. You asked for system of thought that works differently than appealing to material as the highest form of reality. There are clearly many.

            where does the a priori knowledge come from?

            I’m not arguing from tabula rasa to Christianity. Lutherans are supposed to major on evidential apologetics, after all. I’m just question the dominance of one way of thinking. Consider me an open skeptic.

            As time passes, Idealism seems more and more like ad hoc philosophy

            …but surely you’re not so convinced that what’s fashionable now won’t seem that way in a few centuries. That’s kind of my main point: I’m not convinced that the current fixation on the physical realm is going to last or provides sustainable answers to life’s deeper problems.

            You seem to assume that I know nothing about these matters

            Actually, I merely answered your questions and insisted that you answer mine. You are still dodging it. You are clearly far more well read than I on these issues. So why not enlighten me: On what basis does empirical evidence merit epistemological supremacy? You can have the beauty point. But it’s still a flatland if anything that contradicts it is automatically rendered to the trash bin. Sounds like fundamentalism.

            One cannot want that which does not exist.

            Oh, you mean like, if one is hungry, that is evidence that food exists? I thought that was my argument.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            I’m not sure what you mean by

            But it’s still a flatland if anything that contradicts it is automatically rendered to the trash bin. Sounds like fundamentalism.

            Evidence? Also, when you come with an alternative epistemology – prove that it actually results in knowledge. And prove that that knowledge could not be achieved by “naturalism”, and that that knowledge can be independently tested as true.

            Can you?

          • No, I’m not claiming to be able to prove anything. I lean more towards cartesian doubt on most things, and do not embrace certainty easily. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

            Here’s what I mean: When you say “science clearly shows a universe that is billions of years,” as if that is supposed to end the discussion completely, it sounds like: “Science says it, I believe it, that settles it.” Aside from the fact that science is not inerrant, it makes mistakes and overturns its own discoveries, I don’t think its findings ought to be authoritative in all domains. Insisting on science as the only right way to interpret data and discover truth is a very one dimensional way of ascertaining reality.

            I’m not able to prove that knowledge can not be achieved by naturalism or that it can be independently tested as true, nor am I claiming these things. My only point is that if anything science currently demonstrates is completely indisputable, i.e., there’s no room for speculation about how accurate it’s being this time, or possible alternate metaphysical explanations for the data gathered through observation, than there is no God and no religion whatsoever because they can’t be proven through science. Science clearly shows that dead men stay dead. You can’t believe that God supersedes nature in the resurrection but then claim that he is not free to do so in creation. It’s contradictory. An epistemology which gives the empirical realm the final word with no toleration of dissent from other ways of thinking about truth has no room for faith. Which is fine, if you’re an atheist, I guess.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            In other words, you are defaulting to the “Tu quoqe” defense. So tell me, what do you know, and how do you know it? For instance, how do you know we are talking about science and epistemology right now, and not about Indian cricket? Or how do you know that the food in stores come from farms, and aren’t carried there by fairies? Or that the moon is not made of cheese? See where “tu quoqe” goes? Becauise i was there, and it is all balderdash.

          • Huh? I’m not even sure which part of that you think is an ad hominem. I’m not even defending an idea here: I’m critiquing one.

            what do you know, and how do you know it?

            *sigh* I don’t have that fully and systematically worked out. You are the one claiming epistemological certainty, I’m merely challenging that.

            how do you know that the food in stores come from farms

            You keep defending sensory experience as if I’m asserting it cannot be trusted whatsoever, which I am not. In fact, you’re asking me to demonstrate my epistemology when I’m not even claiming one. How do I know we are having this discussion? I don’t claim to know that with absolute certainty. Like I said, I lean towards cartesian doubt: I’m an open skeptic. Convince me.

            I’ve answered your questions honestly and pleaded ignorance where I should. You consistently refuse to answer my one question, so I am beginning to think you do not have an answer. So tell me; is there a reason I should never believe anything that science would seem to contradict?

  8. One of the things I find most baffling is the basically modern/positivist construct that most YECers take. I have met some (rare) exceptions, but a quick perusal of the larger YEC sites demonstrates that they believe science and the scientific method really can and does “prove” a young earth. I actually don’t have any frame of reference for grappling with that kind of cognitive dissonance. I saw an interesting video one time that I have – unfortunately – lost the link to, but it basically was a mashup of two people telling origins stories. The evolutionist’s story was a narrative full of mystery, and the YEC story wasn’t a story at all, but a cold, clinical presentation of facts. It was an interesting irony.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I saw an interesting video one time that I have – unfortunately – lost the link to, but it basically was a mashup of two people telling origins stories. The evolutionist’s story was a narrative full of mystery, and the YEC story wasn’t a story at all, but a cold, clinical presentation of facts.

      I’m not surprised. A Grand Story of a huge and wondrous Universe filled with Awe and Mystery beats a Party Line recital of a cozy little Punyverse of perfectly-parsed proof texts.

      CM wrote once how the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution caused a shift in the Bible from the Old Old Stories of Awe and Mystery to a theological engineering manual of fact, fact, fact. And this is some of the results.

    • David L says:

      Their science definition has two basic premises and one follows the other.

      1. Anything which contradicts THEIR reading of scripture is not true.

      2. Any data which contradicts THEIR reading of scripture is bogus and must be excluded.

      Given these two premises, yes they believe science can prove a young earth.

  9. I was encouraged by the list of topics addressed by current grantees under the BioLogos Foundation’s Evolution & Christian Faith program. Maybe it will lead to some more good, deep thinking on these issues. Meanwhile, I’m teaching my 11-year-old daughter that God uses evolution and other scientific processes as part of his marvelous creation. I hope this will spare her the years of anxiety I experienced as a believing Christian confronting scientific reality.

  10. Christianes says:

    I am very fond of these ‘Gaudium et Spes’ quotes:

    “”…methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God.
    The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.”
    from ‘Gaudium et Spes’, a pastoral letter.

    “Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth”.

    The fundamentalists can have Ken Ham, if he makes them feel better, but I hope that in time, they will see that ‘science’ is not something that is outside of the Natural Law of God, but a part of it.

    ‘Hope’, in my Church, is a good thing.

  11. The graphic is depressing. Science education, I suppose, needs to be added to the standard seminary curriculum.

    • With you on that. Found it very disheartening & frightening to see that OVER HALF (54%) of those surveyed are in the YEC camp! And I would argue that this disproves one of the summary points that pastors aren’t avoiding science. YEC is total avoidance of real science & substituting it with the Bible.

      • Damaris says:

        Fhuff, remember that these are Protestant pastors. A survey among Catholic and Orthodox priests would yield very different results.

        • Hey Damaris, the survey was wider than just Protestantism.

          • Damaris says:

            Was it, Michael? The graphic says “% of Protestant Pastors” in the middle.

          • Hmmm, you are absolutely correct about that. I wonder if the survey was wider, and the reporting narrower. Note the line: “In 2012, the Barna Group conducted 743 telephone interviews with pastors from across the US, from churches big and small, and from all Christian denominations.”

          • Damaris says:

            Michael,

            It could be that to Barna, the term “all Christian denominations” includes only Protestants. I don’t know, but I certainly hear that kind of language all the time in the college papers I grade. (“There are Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Catholics in this neighborhood . . .” for example.)

        • Fully aware. In fact, your comment is exactly what I said to my husband after reading this survey. But as one who spent my first 30 years as a Catholic & the past 20 as a Lutheran, I still find the results of the survey to be disheartening.

          • My only hope and consolation lies in knowing that Barna skews evangelical. Thus I hope YEC devotees were overrepresented unintentionally.