Creation, Evolution, and US Pastors (RJS)

Creation, Evolution, and US Pastors (RJS) May 16, 2013

A bit over a year ago BioLogos commissioned a survey conducted by Barna Group to understand the views of clergy on questions of creation and evolution. The results of the survey are now being released by BioLogos and you can see the initial summary from the survey  in April edition of their monthly newsletter The Conversation and in The Forum. I am going to looks at some of the results of this survey over a few posts.

In Mar. and Oct. 2012 a phone survey of 743 senior pastors and priests was conducted. The cooperation rate was quite high. For the 602 protestant senior pastors included in the first two graphs here Barna reports a cooperation rate of 96% suggesting that the results are representative of the group. The graphics on the BioLogos site displays the results of the survey in the form of a pie or circle chart. Here I will plot the results in the form of bar graphs to provide a different visualization of the same data. The data comes from the press release of the survey.

Categories of views. The responses provided by the pastors to a series of questions were used to separate them into seven different categories with respect to views of origins. These seven categories are defined as follows:

YEC: Young Earth Creation. Believe that God created life in its present form in six 24 hour days. Assert that the earth is less than 10000 years old. Absolutely certain of these perspectives.

Lean YEC: All others who believe that God created life in its present form in six 24 hour days, but who express qualified uncertainty or who doubt “young” age of the earth.

PC: Progressive creation. Believe that God created life in its present form over a period of time, but not via evolution. Absolutely certain of this perspective.

Lean PC: All others who embrace an old earth view, but who express qualified uncertainty.

TE: Theistic evolution. Believe God created life, used a natural process like evolution. Absolutely certain of this perspective. Express the belief that natural selection can explain the rise of new species.

Lean TE: All others who embrace the idea that God used a natural process to bring about life in its present form, but who express some qualified certainty.

Uncertain: Believe that God created life, but admit they are not certain how.

Of the pastors surveyed 54% either lean YEC or are certain of the YEC perspective, 15% prefer a progressive creation view and 18% prefer a TE perspective, although only 3% are certain that TE is correct. It is not surprising that most who take a TE view are not “absolutely certain.” If I were given such a survey it is not clear that I would be categorized as absolutely certain – although I know far more science than the vast majority of pastors.

Non-Mainline Pastors. The survey broke down the pastors between mainline and non-mainline churches. Predictably, pastors of mainline churches were far more likely to accept the possibility of the theistic evolution perspective (48%) compared with non-mainline churches (7%). The results for non-mainline pastors are summarized in the graph to the right. Within this group 68% accept YEC, 15% Old Earth progressive creation, 7% theistic evolution, and 10% are uncertain. The significant difference mainline and non-mainline pastors may lead some conservatives to point to liberalism as the root cause behind the move toward theistic evolution, but I don’t think it is quite that simple. The mainline is a diverse group and, while some are not, many of these churches and pastors are thoroughly orthodox in their theology.

View of Scripture. The view of scripture clearly plays a role however. The surveyors asked the pool of 743 pastors and priests “On a slightly different topic now, those who affirm the authority of Scripture have different ways of understanding that. Which view is closest to yours?” The options were: (1) Some portions of the Bible are symbolic, but all that it teaches is authoritative (first columns, white numbers); (2) The Bible should be taken literally, word for word (second column, yellow numbers). The remainder of those surveyed either indicated some other view or declined to answer.

Regardless of their view of origins , the majority, >83%, of each classification and 91% of the total,  have a high view of the authority of scripture. The nuance is different, but the respect for scripture is not all that different. Those who hold to YEC are almost evenly split between the two options, while all three of the other groups, including those who are uncertain, say that the statement “some portions of the Bible are symbolic, but all that it teaches is authoritative” comes closest to their view.

Church Size. Finally, it is interesting to note the influence of church size on the response by the senior pastor or priest. Relatively few pastors of large churches, defined as those with 250 or more adult weekend worship attenders, claim the view that “the Bible should be taken literally, word for word” comes closest to their view. This is not simply a more sophisticated view of scripture, but carries over to the influence of church size on views of origins as well.

The final figure to the right looks at the classification of Senior Pastor’s/Priest’s views of origins broken down by church size again defined by adult weekend worshipers. This data not broken down by mainline, non-mainline or by denomination, and is not limited to Protestants alone as far as I can tell.  The correlation with church size is quite striking. Fewer than half (38%) of senior pastors of large churches (those with 250 or more adult weekend worshipers) lean toward or are certain of YEC, while 26% are certain of or lean toward TE. The differences are even more pronounces when only pastors of very large churches are considered. These men are less likely to lean toward YEC than toward TE, and few if any claim certainty for either view. In fact, a significant 31% believe that God created life, but admit they are not certain how without leaning toward any of the three major views.

Of all the results reported here – the correlation with size is the only one that surprised me.  This, perhaps, bodes well for the future.

What do you think?

Do any of these results surprise you?

How would you classify yourself? Why?

If you wish you may contact me directly at rjs4mail[at]

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  • Rick

    Interesting on the church size issue, because another study, done by Lifeway in 2012, said this:

    “Pastors of larger churches are less likely to believe in evolution than those in smaller congregations. Only 4 percent of pastors in churches with 250 or more in attendance strongly agree that God used evolution to create humans. In comparison, 13 percent in churches with attendance of 0-49, 14 percent with 50-99 and 12 percent with 100-249 feel the same”

  • Rick

    This was just Protestant pastors, just fyi

  • RJS4DQ


    I tried to reply in more depth – but the system lost it and now I only have a moment. The two are consistent I think. Only a small percentage of those surveyed here would “strongly agree.”

  • Can’t help but wonder if those who aren’t YEP have not had enough scientific facts that not only support the young earth theory, but once learned, one can’t help but be completely convinced that the Scriptural timeline, starting with creation, is the only truth. I homeschooled my girls through middle school, girls who grew up with the evolution theory (so did I). After making a decision to start our history lessons with Genesis and work our way through Egyptian culture, etc AFTER creation time line, we were so sure of the young, 6000 year old earth that even 5 years of secular college couldn’t convince my girls of anything other than this.

  • Rick

    Perhaps you are right.
    I think the “leans” are what is interesting. If a reasonable theory was put forth regarding sticking points (ie. “Adam”, Rom. 5), then it sounds like some may be open to rethinking the issue.

  • Bill White Jr.

    What about old earth creation?

  • RJS4DQ


    PC (progressive creation) is old earth creation.

  • Chuck Sigler

    It seems to me that the question that separates YECs and (YEC leaners) from the others is how Genesis one is interpreted, literally or as some version of the framework hypothesis. Particularly if you are TE or TE-inclined, you will hold to a framework view of Genesis one. See the four posts by Denis Lamoureux on Peter Enns’s blog here on the Patheos Evangelical channel for a well-articulated audio and slideshow presentation of Lamoureux’s book, “I Love Jesus and I Accept Evolution.”

  • RustyPettus

    I noticed that most tend to lean towards a view (58%) and 12% are uncertain.

    I would say I am in between YEC and PC. I think there are flaws with all views and most of the time proponents of them are set on one view and you can’t go outside of it. YEC and the 6,000 year mark is an example. I don’t have a problem with an older earth just not a billion old one.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Gail, I’m abit confused by your post. Are you saying that there are all these scientific facts that support YEC, and that all the scientists saying otherwise are simply ignorant/lying, and that once they accept that, they’ll all become YEC?

  • John C. Gardner

    I am an uncertain Christian theistic evolutionist(cf works of John Walton and John Collins of Covenant Seminary) who believes that God choose either specific individuals(figuratively Adam and Eve) to be the first couple or designated them to be from a small population of early humans(e.g. Collins). I believe in a real fall and a spiritual death that takes place as a result of that fall(e.g. caused by our sin and original sin). We are saved from damnation by being in Christ.

  • Jakeithus

    Interesting results. Personally, I find some form of Progressive Creation to make the most sense scientifically and theologically, so it’s surprising and a little disheartening to see it as the least held framework representing in this survey.

    It raises an interesting question personally, as YEC and TE are much more highly advertised/discussed than PC. Is the low number of adherents to PC a result of having less exposure, or is less exposure a result of fewer adherents, or some combination of the 2.

  • David Opderbeck

    One always wants to see more about data and methods with these things. Of those surveyed, it would be interesting to see any correlations relating to age, education, geography, and gender. My guess is that pastors in the sample who are younger, went to certain colleges and/or seminaries, are located in Blue states, and are female, are more likely to lean “TE.” I’d further guess that the strongest correlations are age and college / seminary attended. Given that sort of diversity, I wonder about the statistical validity of the sample.

  • RJS4DQ


    Some of the kind of information you mention is in the press release I got. I will post on it in the next couple of weeks. There are regional differences, denominational differences, and age differences.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    That should be interesting!

  • abb3w

    Though Progressive Creation might also encompass the “Intelligent Design” camp.

  • RJS4DQ


    Many who are in the “Intelligent Design” camp favor Progressive Creation, that is old earth creation. A significant number favor YEC (either certain or lean). Some actually lean toward TE with a handful of reservations about the complete sufficiency of natural processes.

    “Intelligent Design” itself only claims that natural processes alone are not enough and there is (or may be) scientifically detectable evidence for design.

  • DRT

    I really wonder how much fear and self deception play into this. When someone leans toward YEC is that a nod toward non-YEC perspectives? If I am a pastor that would get fired if I were non-YEC, would I answer non-YEC or leans to YEC?

    The fear part of my response is obvious, but the self deception part is less so. If I were a pastor whose job would be in jeopardy if I were non-YEC I may need to deceive myself of my views to maintain integrity.

    One day the dam may break on this, and all will come out of the closet.

  • Andrew Dowling

    It’s extremely frustrating to hear YECers basically say that they stick to YEC because to divert from that would disrupt their theology . . . .guess what, that’s not a logical counter-argument! Science has rendered YEC completely untenable. That so many American Christians still adhere to a form of it . . .it’s very disheartening because you see that same distrust of science seep into the issue of climate change and people not vaccinating their kids because they believe the myth it increases autism risk.

  • I agree heartily with the problematic thinking you point out here, Andrew. Theological views DO tend to trump all else way too often. Yet many claim they have been come to at least partly through “historical” (rational, non-revelatory) evidences such as fulfilled prophesy and the not-so-historical claims of not visionary appearances but the bodily resurrection of Jesus. If objective fact-finding is said to be critical here, why not also the use of our best fact-finding science to determine when, and at least some of how the earth and humans came to be? Please… more consistency, YECers.

    And, to me, much better than the stretch of theistic evolution is panentheistic evolution (per Process theology).

  • Eric Freeman

    What disheartens me is that YEC discourages Christian kids from pursuing scientific fields. Biology and astronomy are the most prominent, but others become tainted as well. It also encourages fruitless battles over evolution in college. Finally, it pushes educated people away from the church.

  • Ken Hoeft

    Yes! I agree 100% in a young earth being 6,000 years old. God created the earth and everything on it in 6 /24 hour days. And, the first earth was destroyed by water and this earth is reserved for fire, 2nd Peter 3; 6 & 7. Ken Hoeft

  • What kind of correlation will it give to the rise of atheism, to your mind?

    Lovely greetings from Germany
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    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son