Even Baptists are cool with Christianity plus evolution

Fisher Humphreys (photo from the-trinity-group.net)

There are denominational differences among Christians regarding their stances on evolution. Romans Catholics, for example, tend to be more supportive than, say, Pentecostals.

Another denomination that more than a few people may generally consider to be hostile to the scientific consensus on human origins is the Baptists. It’s not uncommon, anyway, to see this stereotype placed upon them. In fact, just this morning, I came across a blog post that twice used the word “Baptist” as a synonym for “young-earth creationist.”

This author, a self-described atheist, wrote the following: “To me it is fairly sad to see Christians (such as Catholics) assert they accept evolution, but also believe in a Christian God. I also believed this for a time, until I actually decided to read and document the Bible. Once I did this, I was able to conclude that the bible is in fact destroyed by this evidence. It became clear to me that the only way to believe in God is to become like a Baptist — assert that it is all true, and that science is wrong!”

As founder of a website promoting the reasonableness of celebrating both an active, loving God and the findings of mainstream science, I deeply disagree with virtually every point this author, “Allebone,” makes, especially his assertion that the evidence for common descent “destroys” the Bible. (I just checked on the several copies of the Bible that I keep in my library, dangerously close to “On the Origin of Species” and other works on evolution. So far, none of them have spontaneously combusted despite their proximity to books about science.)

However, I include his comments here to illustrate what some people think about Baptists and their views on the theory of evolution. Obviously, Allebone has never met Fisher Humphreys.

According to his bio on the blog for The Trinity Group, a network of friends and theologians that meets regularly in Birmingham, Ala., Humphreys is professor of divinity emeritus at Samford University and is retired from more than 28 years teaching Christian theology at various schools. He also holds a Th.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is an ordained Baptist minister.

So what does Humphreys think about evolution? Here’s what he wrote in an April 22 op-ed for the Associated Baptist Press, which I’d guess is not widely considered a liberal media outlet (below, emphasis mine):

Some thinkers have called for a truce in the conflict. They argue that theology and science operate in separate spheres. Roughly, science tells us the truth about the universe, and theology tells us its meaning. Science tells us how the universe works, and theology tells us why there is a universe.

They have a point. We do not look to theology for an understanding of gravity, and we do not look to science for an understanding of the Holy Trinity. Or, as Galileo said, we look to the Bible to learn how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.

Humphreys goes on to argue, fairly persuasively, that the birth of modern science actually owes more to Christianity than people today often realize. Whether you agree with him on this point doesn’t change the fact that he, a longtime Baptist theologian and Bible teacher, thinks the current conflict between Christianity and science is “regrettable,” and called for “a truce.”

ABP has actually done a lot of good work covering what we at GOE often refer to simply as “the clash,” including last week’s report about a conference on science and theology organized by Baptists in Dayton, Ohio, as a direct response to young-earth creationism.

Let me be clear: Christians’ rejection of evolution remains a real and widespread problem. I’m not declaring victory here.

But the heart of the issue is not that intelligent, learned and theologically sound individuals in even the most conservative of communities and denominations have never come out in support of Christianity + evolution. Clearly, they have. Dude, even popes have.

The problem is that those messages aren’t permeating their relevant congregations. And that’s really not that surprising; I doubt the majority of churchgoers know even who founded their denominations (uh yeah, Wesleyans — you guys don’t count) or what their beliefs are on communion and baptism — let alone their official stances on evolution.

But if it’s just a problem with education, that’s OK with me. We can educate our brothers and sisters.

Or we can just have them read Fisher Humphreys.

Tyler Francke

  • Anonymous

    “Wesleyans — you guys don’t count”.

    Lutherans too, probably.

    Here in Australia I’ve come across YECism in Baptist, Presbyterian, “Plymouth” Brethren, Pentecostal, Wesleyan Methodist and Lutheran denominations, although Lutherans tend to be less vocal about it. Even amongst the more liberal denominations like the Anglican Church of Australia, there are pockets of staunch YECism.

    On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised to find on Facebook recently a group of Christadelphians who support science and evolution – I figure if it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.

    • I doubt there’s any Christian denomination these days that doesn’t have some instances of YECism, though it’s very interesting to hear your perspective from Australia! I always thought young-earthers were more of a U.S. phenomenon.

  • Daniel

    I couldn’t agree more with your point that other views on this topic are not “permeating their relevant congregations”. A lot of Baptist congregations are pretty autonomous and their pastors are still pretty old-school. I know here in the Bible Belt of the South, the pastor of a local mega-church does not even talk about this topic without recommending young-earth materials from prominent young-earth ministries. I have been in Baptist churches for five decades and have NEVER seen one present any openness or flexibility in this topic.

  • Ran into your blog from James McGrath. What a breath of fresh air. I work hard to convince my old high school crowd, all in their 60’s that they don’t need to throw out science to “believe”. So far, no sell, but hopefully fringe readers will get some help. I will hopefully find much to link to from here.

    • tylerjfrancke

      Thanks for reading, Sherry! Your support means a lot to us, and we’re glad you like what you’ve seen so far! And don’t give up on your friends; miracles can happen, right? 😉

  • But if it’s just a problem with education, that’s OK with me. We can educate our brothers and sisters.

    You really think so, when the doctrine/position they fervently believe is so bound up with their identity, and when they fear that their children’s salvation is threatened by materialistic evolution? I’ve come to believe that that fear is at the root of a good deal of the opposition to the acceptance of evolution as the best available scientific account of the diversity of life. See here for my thoughts on that:

    I am beginning to understand that the core motivation driving the supporters of such proposals is fear. Not fear for themselves – they are too strong in their faith to be corrupted by evolutionary science. It is fear for their children and in particular, fear for their children’s souls. There is a genuine belief that accepting an evolutionary view of biological phenomena is a giant step on the road to atheism, and in learning evolutionary theory their children are in peril of losing salvation.

    • Interesting article, RBH! Thanks for the link. I agree with you completely — I do think that young-earth creationists are often motivated by fear that anything that doesn’t line up with how they interpret the Bible is a de facto attack on their faith. Still, does that mean we cannot try to educate them as to why they do not need to be afraid of science? That interpreting scripture in a different way doesn’t negate God’s existence?

      • You’re welcome to try, and I wish you well in that effort. I’m an out atheist, so anything I might try is problematic from the start. Though I am going to a Baptist church this Sunday for an “Ask the atheist” program. That’ll be fun! 🙂

    • Incidentally, a commenter on that post put it even better than I did in the original post.

  • When I see a Baptist speaking up for the science of Evolution — Tyler we do need to work on Assembles of God on this one because that was the denomination that I left from because I had to keep my views on Evolution quiet for years as I always acknowledged it and that’s easy the reason Gary Lenaire left the church. RBH this is still a controversial perspective as you seen Pat Robertson speak up for Evolution as a science made it clear that you, Reasons to Believe, Old Earth Ministries and I all need to accomplish — science intervention with the heads of the YEC front and the KJVO fragments who are still loose upon the world. The Assembles of God is my old sector when I was 18-20 years old but I was driven into heresy because I told them it’s not the heart the words come out but the mind. They didn’t like when science was brought up.