by Ryan Gear
Last week marked 156 years since Charles Darwin published Origin of Species. Had Darwin lived an incredibly long life, he would be able to see that a high percentage of Christians in 2015 still have trouble with his theory that species evolve over time.
Not only that, he would see that Catholics and Protestants have trouble with the science affirming some human element in climate change. According to a study by Arbuckle and Konisky, a belief in biblical literalism, the same belief behind the denial of evolution, also correlates with a denial of climate change.
While world leaders convene this week in Paris for the COP21 conference on climate change, could it be that the biblically influenced denial of science is actually what is slowing our country’s progress on mitigating climate change? If so, perhaps the place to begin is with a treatment of the Bible’s relationship with the theory of evolution.
Conservative Christian groups like the Southern Baptists and Missouri Synod Lutherans believe that the theory of evolution is incompatible with the Bible’s teaching of creation in Genesis chapters 1 and 2 (Roman Catholics and mainline Christians see evolution as compatible with Christian faith). The groups who reject evolution do so because the Genesis creation accounts appear to have God creating the heavens and the earth in six 24-hour days.
Even those who hold to a more literal reading of the Bible have proposed that Genesis 1:1 leaves room for a gap of unknown time, making it possible to reconcile evolution with a literal reading of the Bible. This is not the only way of reconciling faith and science. In a post I wrote for the religion blog Onfaith entitled 10 Things Evangelicals Aren’t Supposed to Say, I cited evidence that there are actually two creation accounts in Genesis chapters 1-2.
This evidence, however, is unconvincing to a significant percentage of American Christians. The Pew Research Center found that:
Only a minority of Americans fully accept evolution through natural selection. About two-thirds (65%) of U.S. adults say humans have evolved over time, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey on science and society. But only a little more than half of that group (35%) expresses the belief that humans and other living things evolved solely due to natural processes. About a quarter (24%) of U.S. adults say that evolution was guided by a supreme being. The same survey found that 31% of Americans reject evolution entirely, saying that humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.
As to the role of religion, a full 64% of American white evangelicals reject the evidence accepted by 98% of American scientists, that humans and other species evolved. According to the Gallup Poll, the percentage of Americans who reject evolution has remained relatively unchanged since 1982.
Evangelical Christian and scientist Francis Collins believes that it doesn’t have to be this way. As head of the Human Genome Project, Collins argues that DNA essentially proves the theory of evolution to be true, and that evolution does not have to be a threat to any religious person’s faith. As a believer in theistic evolution, Collins writes:
But I have no difficulty putting that together with what I believe as a Christian because I believe that God had a plan to create creatures with whom he could have fellowship, in whom he could inspire [the] moral law, in whom he could infuse the soul, and who he would give free will as a gift for us to make decisions about our own behavior, a gift which we oftentimes utilize to do the wrong thing.
I believe God used the mechanism of evolution to achieve that goal. And while that may seem to us who are limited by this axis of time as a very long, drawn-out process, it wasn’t long and drawn-out to God. And it wasn’t random to God.
Even though secular scientists may not agree with his explanation, Christians can. It is a better alternative to denying evidence-based science and human discovery, altogether. More importantly, due to the correlation between biblical literalism and climate change denial, it just might save our planet.