February 16, 2009

More on Darwin, and the ELCA

Filed under: Church,Science — Bob Gifford @ 12:53 pm

As a follow-up to yesterday’s evolution post, here are some thoughts on denominational views on Darwin. Pew has assembled statements by major religious denominations on the compatibility of evolution with their religious doctrines. It seems most Christian denominations are cool with evolution, as well as Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and even some Muslim religious authorities. The Lutheran denominations are split, with the smaller and very conservative Missouri Synod opposed, and my denomination, the larger more moderate ELCA…um, well, it’s not really clear.

I have to laugh. In classic ELCA inclusive, Minnesota-nice, don’t offend anyone style, the ELCA statement is, shall we say, non-committal:

The ELCA does not have an official position on creation vs. evolution, but we subscribe to the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation, so we believe God created the universe and all that is therein, only not necessarily in six 24-hour days, and that God actually may have used evolution in the process of creation. In fact, to deny the possibility that evolutionary processes were used is seen by some as an attempt to limit God’s power.

So the ELCA doesn’t take a position on evolution, but concedes that God may have used evolution. And that denying evolution is seen by some (but one would assume, not by others) as constraining God’s power. My paraphrase of this statement is that evolution may be true, unless it isn’t.

I love it. Yes, this is an example of Olympic-level waffling, but the ELCA is loath to ever get ahead of its membership on anything. There is a strong congregationalist strain in the ELCA that views the full-time ELCA synodical and headquarters staff as serving, and therefore subservient to, local churches. This can be very frustrating, as in the battles over gay clergy, but it is also a good thing. The ELCA does not shove down pronouncements from on high when there is not an existing consensus among its members.

But there is an exception to this ELCA mindset when it comes to ministry. No one in Chicago will waffle when it comes to our call to help the poor and destitute here in the US and around the world. If a church is to only take a stand on what’s truly important, it seems the ELCA has chosen well.

February 15, 2009

Darwin, God and Americans

Filed under: Science — Bob Gifford @ 12:06 pm

This past Thursday was Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday, so it seems appropriate to check in on how he’s faring in the US. A chart from Pew (via):

A majority of my co-religionists, mainline protestants, agree with evolution, but just barely. This could lead me to despair about the scientific ignorance among a group often labeled as “liberal” Christians, but I really wonder about these polls. The evolution question is presented as a yes/no, binary question, i.e. do you believe in evolution or not. But beliefs on evolution fall on a spectrum with many intermediate positions between the absolutist views on each end. Moving from conservative religious to atheistic, this spectrum includes:

  1. Young earth creationists – the earth was created by God 6,000 years ago
  2. Old earth creationists – the earth was created by God millions or billions of years ago
  3. Intelligent design – evolution has occurred, but living things can not be fully explained without invoking ongoing acts of creation
  4. Theistic evolution – life was formed through evolution, which was actively guided by God
  5. Deistic evolution – life was formed through evolution without God’s active involvement, but the evolution of humans was fully predetermined from the outset by God’s creative act*
  6. Random evolution – life was formed through evolution without any divine act, and the arrival of humans was an entirely chance occurrence

When Pew asks whether “evolution is the best explanation for life on earth”, what question are respondents hearing? Are they hearing “evolution is how God made life”, or are they hearing “evolution replaces God as the creator of life”? As a staunch believer in and defender of evolution, even I might be tempted to answer “no” if I thought the question implied an atheistic, random evolution in which we are merely the latest result of a meaningless genetic random walk.

I suspect the nation’s views towards evolution are far richer and more varied than these polls suggest. So I am not one of those decrying the ignorance of Americans regarding a bedrock principle of biology, at least not based on this poll and others like it. I do, however, decry the ignorance of pollsters regarding the nuanced beliefs of Americans regarding evolution and religion. It’s not a yes/no question.

* This view most closely matches my own, but this is not to say that I am a deist. I believe in a personal God, but a personal God competent enough to create a universe that doesn’t require constant tweaking of its mechanical processes.

Powered by WordPress