Is There Room in the Middle? (RJS)

Is There Room in the Middle? (RJS) June 26, 2014

Karl Giberson has an interesting article at The Daily Beast – What’s Driving America’s Evolution Divide?. A recent Gallup Poll reported a consistent increase in the number of people who hold that humans evolved, but God had no part in the process, a steady number who hold that humans did not evolve and a drop in the number of people accepting God-guided evolution of humans. Giberson looks at a number of different aspects of this, but centers in on the question of evolutionary creation or theistic evolution. It seems surprising that there is movement away from the middle rather than movement from no evolution toward God-guided evolution.

What is of greater interest to me, however, is the failure of the “middle ground” to capture more support. Believing that God guides evolution in some unspecified way is a “have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too” position, and I would have expected movement into this category. You can accept the science you learned in high school and simply affirm that, in some undefined sense, evolution is “God’s way of creating.” This is known as theistic evolution or evolutionary creation and has been championed vigorously by people like Francis Collins, Ken Miller (although he rejects the label) Sir John Polkinghorne, myself, and others. The BioLogos organization that Collins and I launched a few years ago, and the more recently formed Colossian Forum promote this view.  And it is also the view that has been consistently—if quietly—promoted at most of America’s evangelical colleges for decades. So why is it moving backwards rather than forwards?

This is an important question for the future of both American science and American Christianity.

The data from the Gallup poll is interesting (source here). The poll asked specifically about the evolution of humans, although I’ve shortened it to evolution in the legend to the figure on the right. Over the last 32 years the percentage who accept the recent creation of humans within the last 10,000 years (Creation) has held relatively steady, between 40 and 47%. The number who say that humans evolved, but God guided the process held steady (Evolutionary Creation) between 35% and 40% from 1982 to 2011, but dropped to 32% and then 31% in 2012 and 2014. There has been a steady increase in those who say that humans evolved, but God had no part in the process (Natural Creation) from 9% in 1982 to 19% in 2014.  Deb Haarsma at BioLogos put up a nice response to the Gallup poll a couple of weeks ago, What Americans Think and Feel About Evolution.

The trend by age in the 2014 poll is even more interesting. This is the part that I would like to focus on today.

A 2012 Pew Poll on religion (source) found that 32% of those 18-29 years old claimed no religious affiliation, a number that has risen over the years.  It is tempting to attribute the decrease in those holding the middle ground (evolutionary creation) to this rise in the “nones” – but the data doesn’t really point to the youngest adults (18-29) as the cause.  Over all age groups the percentage accepting natural unguided evolution tracks fairly well with the “nones,” which is not surprising. But it is those 30-49 years old who are rejecting evolutionary creation, … at a rate much higher than either those either younger or older.

The 18-29 year old group is the only one to favor evolutionary creation over the special creation of humans <10,000 years ago. In my mind this means, contra Giberson, that acceptance of evolutionary creation is moving forward, not backward. It appears that the challenge, at least with the emerging generation, is not the vanishing middle. Rather, the challenge is the rise in secularism and increasing distrust in organized religion.

Given this I will pose the question raised by Giberson.

What is driving America’s evolution divide?

And add ones that I find even more interesting.

Why is acceptance of evolutionary creation so low among those 30-49 years old?

What are the convincing arguments for evolutionary creation?

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