The blog Open Parachute is one of several that has highlighted the survey conducted recently, giving the perspective of a thousand Protestant clergy on subjects like evolution and the age of the earth.
As with all surveys, one has to look at who conducted it, who participated, and who would self-select out of the process. LifeWay is a conservative Christian organization, and so it seems unlikely that many mainline Protestants would have participated. There are hundreds of thousands of clergy in the United States, and so it is possible that this survey represents 1% or less of Protestant clergy in the U.S. And so it is perhaps encouraging rather than disheartening that, of the small number of Protestant clergy likely to be polled by and respond to a LifeWay survey, a significant number even of those conservatives accept mainstream science.
One also needs to consider that in a large percentage of Evangelical Protestant churches, the congregation hires or fires the minister, and so pastors in such contexts often say what their congregations want to hear on subjects like there. This is, I believe, one of the most tragic aspects of such churches: the person hired to teach and lead is forced to lead in the direction of the congregation’s most ignorant bullying members in order to keep their jobs, and so are effectively prevented from teaching and leading as they believe they should. This is not true in every instance, but I know it is true in many.
The survey does confirm some conclusions supported by other research. For instance: “Pastors with graduate degrees are more likely to strongly disagree that Adam and Eve were literal people than those whose highest level of education is a bachelor’s degree (16 percent vs. 2 percent).”
Read that carefully and think about it: the more a pastor has studied – not more science necessarily, but presumably in the first instance more theology and Biblical studies – the more likely they are to conclude that Adam and Eve were not literal people. Let that sink in, because it ties in with the previous point. The more someone has studied the Bible – not just read it and interpreted it however they saw fit, but studied it in depth and in detail – the more likely it is that a key stumbling block for the acceptance of mainstream science will be removed. Think about that.
Keep in mind as well other surveys such as the Clergy Letter Project, with more than 12,000 Christian clergy having signed to indicate that they see no necessary conflict between evolution and their faith. How many of those are Protestant?
Christians regularly feel threatened when their beliefs are challenged. But when someone whom they respect shows a sensible positive way of responding to the challenge, and illustrates that rethinking one’s belief on a particular topic is not synonymous with losing one’s faith, then they may view the issue differently and respond in a less defensive and more positive way.
So who is responsible for the dominance of anti-evolutionism and anti-science stances in general in certain Christian circles? All of us who are Christians and fail to openly and proudly stand up for our convictions, and who do not articulate clearly why a stance that embraces mainstream science is not only closer to the truth, but in important ways more Biblical and more in keeping with the historic Christian faith, than the so-called Biblical literalists, whose allegedly literal readings ride roughshod not only over science but over Scripture.
And so if you are a Christian who embraces mainstream science, I call on you to be courageous. Please don’t let bullies damage our faith tradition and science education. Together, we can stand up to them. You are not alone.
As an example, here’s a Christian, Ken Miller, talking about the evidence for human evolution and how we are related to other primates, addressing the matter from both a scientific and a theological perspective (HT Unreasonable Faith):