Is the evolution-creationism debate over?

Creationist? Evolutionist? Who cares? We're all friends now, according to Tony Jones. (photo by Josef Tal, public domain)

The evolution-creationism debate is over, according to theologian and blogger Tony Jones. He posted yesterday about his frustration regarding a recent conference at Fuller Seminary that he attended titled “Talk of God. Talk of Science.”

Here’s an excerpt (emphases his).

What I found most interesting about the talks that I heard was that they all dealt with one particular issue in the science and religion world: evolution and creation. That was the case study around which the talks that I heard revolved (I probably heard 2/3’s of the plenary talks at the conference).

I sat on a panel on Friday evening, and, when asked about my experience of science in the church, observed what I’d seen that day. And then I said, “No one under 40 gives a crap about creationism. Only Baby Boomers care about that.”

He went on to admit he was being somewhat hyperbolic:

There are recalcitrant GenXers and Millennials who take their kids to the Creation Museum and subject them to Answers in Genesis curriculum. But, please. Those are the dark and musty corners of conservatism that will never change. As Jesus said, “The anti-science refuseniks will always be with you.”

Later, he stated his concern that “the Christians who were presenting at the conference are fighting a battle that’s already been won.”

If only, brother. Unfortunately, I have to disagree.

Should the debate be over? Without question. Any legitimate scientific concerns about the theory were put to rest decades ago (and no, showing me a list of scientists’ names will not convince me that this is not true), and I completely agree with Jones that there are far more pressing issues that the church should be concerning itself with, both within the scientific realm and elsewhere.

Are there signs that things are moving in that direction? You bet your tail-less behind. But is it over? Absolutely not. There are still way too many churches where theistic evolutionists feel, at best, part of a quiet minority, and at worst, marginalized and unwelcome.

And if you want to look at the statistics, the most recent Gallup poll shows that more than two-thirds of regular church-goers are young-earth creationists (they said they believe “God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years). Even those who attend less frequently were split 55-41, with the majority rejecting evolution. And, as I’ve pointed out on this blog before, yes, in 2012 — the year of the iPhone 5 — nearly half of all Americans hold creationist views (46 percent, according to the same poll).

These data don’t indicate to me that there’s a happy agreement on the issue. But numbers are boring, aren’t they? Let me speak from personal experience.

In college, I wrote 160 pages on the harmony between Christianity and evolution for my senior thesis. I went to the University of Maine, a public school. My then-fiancée, who went to a private Christian college, was counseled by many of her twenty-something classmates to break off our engagement because I “believe in evolution.” Also, after three years of leadership on various Christian groups at my school, I was basically forced out of all of them because one issue of a religious magazine I edited did a big spread on Christianity and evolution that came down more in favor of mainstream science than the Hovind theory.

When I started this website, the backlash from some friends and family so disturbed my wife (same lady as the one mentioned above, by the way) that we decided I shouldn’t repost articles on my personal Facebook page anymore. One of my best friends, also an in-law, told me he was praying for me and chided me to “keep reading God’s word!” Our young-adult pastor sought me out for a private counseling session (for the record, he listened very well. We came to an understanding, and I give him a lot of credit for that). Then again, at a women’s retreat hosted by our church that my wife attended, she was singled out by a mutual friend who presumed we were having severe marital difficulties because of the implications of my supposedly heretical beliefs.

And just if anyone’s keeping score, only one of any of these people I’ve mentioned is over 40.

Now, to be fair, I know I don’t do myself any favors with the fact that most of GOE’s posts aren’t exactly an olive branch to those who disagree with the site’s basic premise. But still, it doesn’t support Jones’ assertion that the topic is a non-issue. If I started a website that promoted the compatibility between Christianity and geocentrism and gently poked fun at flat-earthers, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have had my inbox flooded with concerned inquiries and hate mail.

So is the debate over? Well, if it is, it’s certainly the loudest settled debate I’ve ever heard of.

Update: Tony Jones responded to this article in the comments below. Here’s what he had to say:

“Tyler, I appreciate what you’re saying. But those who cling to creationism are choosing to live in a medieval world. At some point, arguing with them is a waste of time, because they are voluntarily recalcitrant. So you keep fighting the good fight on this issue, but I’m interested in more pressing matters.”

Can’t say I blame him. Good man, and thanks for reading!

Tyler Francke

  • “But is the debate over? Absolutely not. There are still way too many churches where theistic evolutionists feel, at best, part of a quiet minority, and at worst, marginalized and unwelcome.”
    So very true! I’m not sure what out-of-the-way corner of Christendom you have to reside in to think the debate about evolution is over and done with, but as you ably point out, this is about as far from a settled issue as you can get!

  • I’ve spent my time in the wars to explain truth to these people. It will not work. They are a psychological phenomenon known as compartmentalized thinkers. It enables them to hold contradictory thoughts in their minds and never let the two meet and conflict openly. They therefore never learn the mechanism of reconciling one’s conflicts. They are this way because it’s safe. The world is too threatening. It allows them the hypocritical stance of believing in all science as it pertains to making their lives comfortable and fun, i.e., computers, dishwashers, cars, and medicines, but wrong when it conflicts with the safe explanation of the world and where they are going upon death. It’s all neat and tidy and they aren’t going to let truth or facts disturb their calm. I have given up on them several times, only to be seduced again by my “persuasive powers” only to learn anew that I cannot penetrate through that darkness for anything. Save the children is my motto. The adults are forever gone–unless something explosive happens in their world–then they become atheists. There is no middle ground.

    • Saving the children is a noble goal, but it’s certainly not easy. Every now and then, though, you’ll find someone who’s actually open to listening, and that can be nice.

  • PS: I posted your post to a bunch on a FB page I frequent: The responses were typical: I will never believe that we come from monkeys! You get your experts, and I get mine. Mine are just as good as yours (From the Creation institute and from Answers in Genesis. Bahhh…

  • The mystery, for me, is why the theologians aren’t out bragging at how great is their God, to have created the brilliant system of evolution. Instead, they seem to prefer a God who is a bumbling fool.

    • I hear you. There certainly are some theologians who see evolution as an incredibly elegant means of creation by an incomparable God, but they are the minority.

  • Joy Fisher

    My Dad was quite fundamentalist (ish) – from the ‘Brethren’ of the UK. But even though he stood up for me when I told a teacher (at about 8yrs old) that I didn’t want to write down that it was a ‘fact’ that humans developed from amoebas, he also explained to me, privately, that evolution probably happened over thousands of years and even though God translated to us that He created all in ‘7 days’ – He also states that a day, to the Lord ‘is as a thousand years’ – in other words – time is of man’s making – there is no ‘time’ in heaven where God is. So, even though it’s written that God ‘named the light & dark as ‘days’, my feeling is He gives us many descriptions/comparison/parables to us to help us understand the concept of His being in a human way.

    People in old testament times also appeared to ‘live longer’? Maybe this was also a time of a completely different concept of ‘time’ and different perceptions/realities?

    As we grow older, it is often said that time appears to be going more quickly? I’m sure the perception of the ‘reality’ of ‘time’ is something that can easily be controlled by God if necessary – He moved shadows as one, obvious & simple example? (Isaiah 38:8). But, I seriously believe He can easily change people’s perceptions of time (as, I believe, He can ‘do anything’ that is to His glory).

    I believe, we all have our own perceptions of time, and, also other things – which can, and do, change frequently. I don’t believe the choice of perception is always ours (consciously anyhow).

    To conclude, I would think that, if someone like my Dad had even the basic insight into the explanation of evolution – then, I’m guessing even the hardest fundamentalist must at some point or points – allow themselves to (even mentally) ask questions?

    Thanks for the opportunity to try to put into words what was in my head.

  • Tyler, I appreciate what you’re saying. But those who cling to creationism are choosing to live in a medieval world. At some point, arguing with them is a waste of time, because they are voluntarily recalcitrant. So you keep fighting the good fight on this issue, but I’m interested in more pressing matters.

    • Hey, great to hear from you! Thanks again for your thoughts. I think there’s definitely some truth to what you’re saying, and I look forward to the day when we can all agree this issue is finally settled. In the meantime, I agree matters like sexuality, stem cell research, cloning, quantum theory and others are far more pressing (and more interesting!) and should be occupying the attentions of the scientifically minded among us.

  • Perhaps it’s best to understand the “win” for theistic evolution in terms of already-not-yet. As I see it, the work has been done and it’s only a matter of time (and not much at that, I think) before it trickles out to the masses.

  • Tony hasn’t spent a Thanksgiving with my family — or hung out with the students at C.U. in Boulder. Sadly, the controversy is still with us. (though, to be sure, less so).

  • God bless Tony Jones! lol

  • FO

    Atheist here.
    I appreciate your struggle to make mainstream evangelicals accept science, but it does seem like all these people that you mention here, who without doubt are doing their best to understand and follow Jesus’ words, end up rejecting science.
    For me this represents a major failure of the Gospels to teach people how to find the truth, to correctly interpret the teachings of Jesus, at least from what I understand is your POV.

    How do you reconcile the fact that genuine faith leads so many people to believe something utterly wrong?
    How do you cope with the fact that the teachings of Jesus are so easy to misunderstand?

    • It’s a good question. I guess I just recognize that people are imperfect and will never match up to the ideals I believe in regardless of what they are. And really, I can’t match up to them either so I’m not any different.

      And this particular debate doesn’t really have much to do with the teachings of Jesus. It has everything to do with modern laypeople misunderstanding a creation account that is thousands of years old and written in a very different language and culture. So I don’t think it’s that surprising that there would be misunderstandings, especially when you have large, well-funded “ministries” that are trying to make people see things their way to serve their own agenda.

      • FO

        Fair enough.
        Thanks.

  • Thomas Donlon

    “And if you want to look at the statistics, the most recent Gallup poll shows that more than two-thirds of regular church-goers are young-earth creationists (they said they believe “God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years). ”

    Belief that God created humans in their present form within the last ten thousand years does not necessarily mean that someone is a “young-earth” creationist.

    1) People who believe in evolution may also accept that statement. They may believe that humans evolved to their present state in the last 10,000 years and they may believe that God guided evolution. So since God is the author of everything and no sparrow falls to the ground apart from his will or knowledge, belief in the arising of modern humans in the last 10,000 years does not make someone a young earth creationist. Some evolutionists will be comfortable with that statement too.

    2) Other people may believe in an old earth but think God created humans recently in some special way.

    Because people who believe in these two scenarios may answer “Yes” to the question of whether God created humans in their present form in the past 10,000 years … the total figure does not at all represent what people believe about the age of the earth.

    So the total will include

    % of young-earth creationists

    +

    % of gap theory adherents

    +

    % of those who believe God created man using evolution and especially the phrase “in their present form” seems to set modern humans in a different category than earlier hominids … so hominids, neanderthals all could have been earlier and even though humans may have been largely similar to us for some years prior to 10,000 years ago. In popular thinking, modern societies, reading and writing and large cities are within that 10,000 year time-frame. So the belief that humans are a recent creation doesn’t mean that they also must believe the earth and universe are that recent.

    = total of those who believe God created humans recently.

    Admittedly you can subtract some percentage from the total because evolution in the question was given as an alternative … but some of the stipulated “natural” wording may have led some believers in God to select the “God created” option rather than the evolution selection which didn’t glorify or give any credit to God in the process. A number of Christians may not believe that the evolution of humans came about by a natural process, but rather a God directed Evolution. There is a term “theistic evolutionists” that some evolutionists will strongly prefer over a natural process evolution label.

    In any case, the number of people that are young earth creationists should not be inferred by the wording of the question.

    I know that this poll has been widely used to suggest that an alarming percentage of American’s believe in a young earth … but the actual percentage of people who are young-earth creationists can not and should not be culled a survey question that asks a particular question about the date of “humans in their present form” being created by God.

    The results of this survey is only shocking because those who interpret the poll aren’t thinking the way that many of those who are answering the questions are thinking.

    Please excuse the fact that I am not commenting on other worthwhile elements in this blog article, I’ve just seen that survey a number of times being cited in the manner you cited it, and I’ve already given it a lot of thought and have did some prior research into the wording of the survey questions …

    • Hey Thomas, thanks for your message. Since I wrote this post a couple years ago, I, too, have done some more research about these polls, and I agree with the points you make here. Though I believe the polls ultimately reflect the truth — that we do have a very large and significant science education problem in the U.S., particularly when it comes to biological science and evolution — I do believe the survey questions are usually misleading, and hence, their results are overblown.

      The mass media’s reporting on the evolution-creationism controversy, overall, is a huge mess.