Evolution vs. Creation: I’m Over It

Evolution vs. Creation: I’m Over It May 9, 2013

Last week, I attended and participated in a conference at Fuller Seminary called “Talk of God, Talk of Science.” I’m always happy to return to Fuller, and I was warmly received, particularly by president-elect, Mark Labberton. Fuller’s a good place, people. Believe me.

Anyhoo, the background of the conference is that it was supported and underwritten by the Templeton Foundation, particularly the Scientists in Congregations Project. By a show of hands, it seemed that over 1/3 of the attendees were part of that project. Everyone at this conference was a fan of science. Everyone wants faith and science to embrace and make whoopee. That was the de facto assumption in the room.

What I found most interesting about the talks that I heard was that they all dealt with one particular issue in the science and religion world: evolution and creation. That was the case study around which the talks that I heard revolved (I probably heard 2/3’s of the plenary talks at the conference).

I sat on a panel on Friday evening, and, when asked about my experience of science in the church, observed what I’d seen that day. And then I said, “No one under 40 gives a crap about creationism. Only Baby Boomers care about that.”

I realize that’s somewhat hyperbolic. There are recalcitrant GenXers and Millennials who take their kids to the Creation Museum and subject them to Answers in Genesis curriculum. But, please. Those are the dark and musty corners of conservatism that will never change. As Jesus said, “The anti-science refuseniks will always be with you.”

I think that’s true. The “science vs. evolution” debate is over. No one with any significant cultural capital believes in a young earth (and don’t tell me that Colbert plaything Louie Gohmert has cultural capital). So I worry that the Christians who were presenting at the conference are fighting a battle that’s already been won.

In a follow-up question, I was asked what are the vexing issues for science at faith for younger Christians. For one, I think the science regarding human sexuality needs to be thoroughly vetted in churches. I remarked that if the scientists and theologians had given their talks on that topic, there wouldn’t have been nearly so much mutual admiration in the room.

And how about the bioethics of stem cells and of human cloning?

There are lots of issues that science has brought to the fore that the church has not dealt with sufficiently. If we’re still beating up on the creationists, it’s because we’re too timid to wade into more turgid scientific waters. It’s time to turn our attention to more pressing matters of science and faith.

Next to me on the panel was longtime friend, Andy Crouch. He said that, being married to a scientist who studies quantum theory, they have dinner table family discussion about science all the time. He admitted to not understanding quantum theory all that well, but he did say this: Unlike some previous scientific paradigms, quantum theory bends not toward closed systems of rationality, but toward openness, mystery, and paradox.

If he’s right, these will be fruitful times to be a science-appreciating Christian.

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  • Michael Jordan

    Tony, I think this is exactly correct. For too long, the whole science/faith thing has boiled down to creation/evolution. But what it means to be a Christian truly open to scientific discovery is another question entirely. Thank you!

  • carlholmes

    Andy and Tony in the same room, and the world did not explode from awesomeness? I agree that these are good times to study both. I love science, I love Jesus. I believe God is revealing Himself in the world and letting us see His handywork bit by bit!

  • I wish I could agree with you about the under 40 crowd but I certainly appreciate your optimism.

  • Nick Jackson

    Yep. I’m under 40, and I give no shits. I love Peter Enns’s blog, I love Scot McKnight’s, but more and more I find myself skipping past anything they have to say about creation and evolution.

  • Chris Baca

    While this assessment might be true of the wider world, it’s certainly not true in my neck of the woods. I attended (and still work at) a pentecostal university in the south, and the idea that I would “believe in” evolution is still pretty controversial. Not to mention most of my peers (I just graduated in December) still refuse to accept evolution as truth. It seems preposterous to me, but only because my own networking extends past the reaches of the religious south.

  • You should watch a documentary called The Revisionaries. Its about how creationists took control of the Texas Board of Education and infused creationism as much as they could into Texas curriculum. Texas is the 2nd most influential state in public education behind California.

    When I was a 8th grade Science teacher a few years ago, I was surprised by the number of students that argued for creationism. Even more shocking to find out that many of their parents didn’t believe in it or teach it to them.

    I am over the debate myself, but it keeps coming back no matter how much I try to ignore it. I can’t say that it is just in dark corners, or that it is just older people that care about it (I’m a Gen Xer, and probably at least half the people I know my age that I have been able to discuss this topic with that don’t go to church believe in young Earth).

    I completely agree with you that “There are lots of issues that science has brought to the fore that the church has not dealt with sufficiently.” But that can still be accomplished while also addressing creationism. If Lord of the Rings has taught us nothing, it is that bad things can grow to great power in dark corners if we ignore them long enough 🙂

  • Drew Sumrall

    Tony, ‘the dark and musty corner of conservatism’ (of those who believe in YEC) is half of America. http://www.gallup.com/poll/155003/hold-creationist-view-human-origins.aspx

    • ChrisOakes

      Obviously, Tony believes half of America has no “significant cultural capital.” And that’s likely what Christian “progressives” such as Tony believe about evangelicals as a whole.

      • Craig

        I’d say that the percentage of Americans lacking “significant cultural capital” is well above 50. But that’s not your point. Does Albert Mohler have significant cultural capital? If not, what do we mean by the term?

      • Seems like “cultural capital” needs to be defined, specifically the “culture” part.

        Because realistically, a guy like Albert Mohler has 0 capital in the broad culture of the United States in 2013. He would not be invited as a guest on any major news show/talk show/TED arena or be invited to say a few words at any significant cultural/political event. He could not have an op/ed published in any major newspaper. He has no significant cultural capital.

        • Oh no…no invitation to TED.

          Because I’m sure that’s his goal.

    • Phil Miller

      That poll question could be interpreted a few different ways, though. I could imagine that there are people who are not YEC adherents would say that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years. In other words, I don’t think the question that Gallup asked was specific enough to weed out all the different ways people think about the age of the earth and the universe.

  • Yeah, I really gotta disagree. While the under-40 group may very well be more accepting of evolutionary theory (myself included), this battle has most definitely not been won. The most recent Gallup poll (link at bottom) does show a trend in acceptance of evolutionary theory, but its rejection still comes out on top in America (assuming I’m reading it right). Heck, my church gathering recently suggested (sic) the possibility that Genesis wasn’t meant to be taken literally, and you’d have thought they were going to burn us at the stake.

    I’m not going to say you’re completely off your rocker, but there’s a huge portion of the country that isn’t as far ahead as you’re suggesting. I can’t have the conversations you’re talking about having not because I’m scared to (we broached the homosexuality topic recently too), but because the people I’m around everyday aren’t anywhere near ready to hear what you’re talking about.


    • ccaffrey

      Here’s a tool to help those who really can’t buy the 7-day creation literalism but don’t quite know how to make the leap. “Why in the world would we assume that God’s days are the same as ours? That’s us trying to make God human-size.” I’ve actually seen a real look of relief on some people’s faces when I gave them that “out”.

      I also have queried, “If Jesus used parables because he knew the limitations of people’s understanding, and Jesus was the Son of God….why isn’t it possible that God also spoke in parables regarding Creation, knowing we had no way to fathom the intricacies involved?”

      One more (to move them towards environmental stewardship) – “A ‘dominionist’ attitude that allows us to write off whole species of animals is in direct contradiction to God’s instructions to Noah, to save them ALL.” Sometimes, it helps to give the fence-sitters some ammunition (so to speak).

      • ccaffrey

        Sometimes you’ve got to meet people where they are. Of course if you want to make some really quick turnarounds in theliteralists in the South, just tell folks at the local barbecue and seafood places they are not supposed to be eating pork and shrimp : )

        • Of course, we could just read about Peter’s dream of the food descending and the Voice saying, “Take and eat”…but that would also be a “banality”, no doubt.

  • mhelbert

    Yeah, but how do you really feel?

  • Craig

    The young-earthers have certainly lost the debate, and nearly everyone else has certainly grown weary of it. But I’d bet that the majority of Christians–of any age group–still haven’t harmonized the truth of the evolutionary theory with their own religious beliefs.

    • Lindsey

      Good point. I think a lot of Christians have grown uncomfortable with the sheer amount of facts you have to discard in order to continue believing in a literal 7 day creation, but they’re hardly embracing evolutionary theory because it feels contrary to their faith.

    • davehuth

      I agree. I think a lot of theological work is still in front of us. I too am weary of these discussions being about how to successfully face off evolution theory against creationist holdouts. But this is not nearly the end of it!

      Christian theologians I respect most are working hard with the “OK, so now what…?” questions that inevitably follow in the wake of evolution. There’s no simple switch to flip. Evolution presents a challenge and requires revision of Christian theological ideas and doctrines. In this, I believe the atheists are correct.

      • stardreamer42

        The response I like for the “Now what?” questions is to suggest that evolution is one of God’s tools. Instead of trying to dig all the mud by hand, he made himself a trowel.

  • jhart

    The “science vs. evolution” debate is over.

    I tend to agree… but not because there has been resolution. The under 40s just don’t want to think about it. Created in 6 literal days? Evolution over millions of years? Under 40s will still debate the topic when it comes up… but they don’t care enough to bring it up. Not because there is a common understanding of an answer, but because it isn’t worth the time spent talking about it.

    And totally agree that the science of sexuality is where the Church needs to be heading. The issues surrounding human sexuality are not going away any time soon…. The Church needs to know how to respond intelligently.

  • Lindsey

    I suppose the debate is over in a sense, at least in the
    online/lectureship/scholarly world, but I don’t think it has trickled down to
    churches yet. In my experience, church leaders have largely abandoned the
    debate and (begrudgingly?) accepted that creationism doesn’t hold water.
    However, that’s a far cry from saying that our churches are upholding and
    affirming science. I think there’s a general feeling of “does it really matter?”
    or “how does this affect my life?”

    Which may be why discussions about the intersection of human
    sexuality and faith are much more pressing to the under 40 crowd. What you
    believe about sexuality (as it relates to homosexuality, abortion, gender
    roles, etc.) has a far greater impact on people’s individual lives in a way
    that evolution vs. creationism simply doesn’t.

    Also, this is purely anecdotal so take it with a grain of
    salt, but I’m in my mid 20s and I can’t recall a single conversation with my
    peers about evolution but we’re involved in ongoing discussions about
    sexuality, so I fit the description.

  • RJAxtell

    What you say may be accurate about your community, but it’s definitely not true about mine. A couple weeks ago we visited the travelling dinosaur exhibit that was at the Mid-America Air Museum in Liberal, KS. One of the displays showed where dinosaurs fit in “Young Earth Theory,” “Old Earth Theory,” and “Evolutionary Theory.” I was flabbergasted that this was in a museum (there was an elementary school field trip right behind us), but then I realized that I am still in Kansas.

  • Triston Dyer

    I think young people want to get beyond the nonsense of scientists: There was nothing and then nothing happened to nothing and then nothing magically exploded for no reason, creating everything and then a bunch of everything magically rearranged itself for no reason whatsoever into self-replicating bits which then turned into dinosaurs. Go home Science, you’re drunk. It is no wonder the Bible calls atheists fools.

    • Steven Waling

      And therein lies the problem. When you reduce the incredibly rich complexity of science to a bunch of fortune-cookie banalities like this, which is essentially the old logical fallacy of ‘argumentum ab absurdum’, no wonder you become susceptible to a bunch of preachers who got their degrees from the University of Stupid. Try reading some proper science.

      • That was a psalmist that “reduce(d) the incredibly rich complexity of science to a bunch of fortune-cookie banalities.”

        But, they were just inspired…what would they know.

    • Sven2547

      There was nothing and then nothing happened to nothing and then nothing magically exploded for no reason, creating everything and then a bunch of everything magically rearranged itself for no reason whatsoever into self-replicating bits which then turned into dinosaurs.

      That’s not what scientists are saying at all.

      This post is really quite typical of creationist rhetoric: they are forced to misrepresent science to make their nonsense seem more reasonable.

    • wygrif

      Evolution =/= cosmology. Nice try though. You might want to check out Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion for why that argument doesn’t get you anywhere close to where you’re trying to go.

  • I’m oh-so-tired of the debate, too. But I disagree that it’s over. My children attend a private school where the debate, unfortunately, rages on. They are at this school because one of them has a learning disability and this school was a great fit for her.

    The irony of it all for me is that I find myself trying desperately to protect my girls from the hyper-conservative Christians who believe in YEC (among other things) at their school when most people who send their kids to private schools do so to protect them from “the secular world.” It doesn’t seem to me like a musty corner. I feel quite outnumbered most of the time.

    My oldest said one day as we were reading out of her Zoology book together, “More Bible? I thought we were going to learn science!”

  • Frank Mayo

    Tony, In a science class or whispered in a church foyer yes it’s been over since the Scopes trial. But from a pulpit, as anyone who even occasionally visits BioLogos can attest, harmonizing the truth of the evolutionary theory with Christian belief is too muddled to preach! Try it sometime and see.

  • When you say, “No one with any significant cultural capital believes in a young earth” do you mean there is no credible scientific evidence for young earth or that there might be, but the major leaders in yec are acerbic and the way they present any evidence is unpalatable because of the messenger?

  • atravelersnote

    Tony! Nice one. I think we need to finally break down and do that interview? On this very topic! Lmao! Seriously.

    • Seriously, your ‘a’ is ‘o’ ?

      You should seek immediate medical attention.

  • Phil

    I think the relationship between faith/religion/theology (pick your poison) and quantum physics is a ticking time bomb. I’m not sure its an “issue” but I think that’s basically because the average lay person (of science and religion) is fairly ignorant to the relationship, much less quantum theory. Quantum entanglement and enigma are both topics that deserve some examination and discussion!

  • Teilhard

    Good article. Perhaps it is because of my upbringing, but I am still surprised that young earth creationists get as much media time as they do given that the vast majority of Christians (Catholics, Orthodox, mainstream Protestants) agree that biological evolution is the most likely explanation for the diversity of species.

    Christians have done a poor job of communicating their love of good science and how science can bring us closer to understanding our Creator. Evolution is one example where too few theologians have grasped how the wonders of evolution fit within basic Christian tenants.

    I have started a blog devoted to the philosophy of Teilhard de Chardin who devoted his life to the synthesis of evolution of Christianity. Many of his ideas are even more relevant today.


    W. Ockham

  • Lausten

    The debate may be over, but educating people about who won is definitely not. For Christianity this means helping those who are stuck in the 19th century find a path to the modern world. IMO, science believing Christians have a problem doing this because they worry that if they start thinking about where the lines are drawn, they will end up challenging not only some outdated version of faith, but their own version of faith.

  • Robin Swindle

    I wish it were true that most Christians under 40 accepted evolution, and we could move on past the creation vs evolution debate. I completely agree with you that it would be much more productive for the church to engage with science on issues of human sexuality, bioethics and I would add climate change. Unfortunately, from where I stand, that just isn’t the case. I am a member of a United Methodist Church, and although it is it is one of the more conservative congregations in our district I would hardly call it the musty corners of evangelicalism. Our pastor conceded during a questions sermon series that Theistic Evolution is a legitimate position for an orthodox Christian to hold. However, I am definitely in the minority even among my under 40 peers for holding it. A few weeks ago, my church brought in Dr. Ellen Black from Liberty University as a guest speaker. She spent the majority of the service spewing contempt for science. Most of the congregation ate it up. As far as I know, one person other than me raise serious objections to the way she mocked and misrepresented evolutionary theory.

  • According to a recent Gallup poll, those that attend church weekly believe in creationism over God guided evolution by a 67-25 tally. And among those who attend church “almost every week”, it’s still 55-31.

    It might not be an issue in your circles but it still relevant in the aggregate American Christian fold.

  • tanyam

    Here’s where I see the concern about creationism alive and well: in ethnic church communities. So the question is whether those are “on their way out” or in fact, “on their way up.” Go to your local state college campus and look for the Chinese Bible Study, the Korean Church, — and I bet you’ll find plenty of young people who think this is a major issue for orthodox Christianity.

  • Frank Mayo

    If it’s over can anyone please name a single bible study series for children that accommodates evolution into it’s text or illustrations, because I for one would love to read my granddaughter such bible stories. Or should I just tell her that someday she will, to paraphrase Marcus Borg, put away such childish things even if her pastor never does.

  • [“The “science vs. evolution” debate is over.”]

    Did you mean “creation vs. evolution”?


  • T.S.Gay

    My comments on this blog have always acknowledged that if you take the totality of earth time, this spirit age in which we live is miniscule. I believe I’m close to correct that if you compare the earth history to humans in the analogy of one year, material existence is 365 days plus many hours. This spirit age is just hours compared to a years time.

    However, Google humans. Our diaspora is consistently estimated to be 60,000 to 70,000 years out of Africa, This is not a comment about human origins. Rather, the journey we have taken as a species and its implications. Why never discussed? It impacts our prejudices and is deeply intertwined with people’s spiritual beliefs. The research of the Luca Cavalli-Sforza team at Stanford has debunked any multi-regional theory of diasora like that of the influential Coonists. What this means is that 2000 generations ago, we humans started our migration out of Africa. And through DNA samples of the Y chromosomes of isolated people groups we can know that we all have the same male father. This means we are all black originally( sorry aboriginines- your fathers came from Africa also). It also means our modern ideas of race are significantly distorted. It also means that because of the plural nature of modern reality, the ability to take DNA samples of isolated groups, and to identify the markers( mutations) that establish the migratory routes is fast diminishing( thank you Luca Cavalli-Sforza for hypothesizing that the blood of isolated people groups could lead to significant understanding of the journey of man). It also has many individual ramifications- think of a person in California living an African lifestyle who in reality is much more European. Think of a Muslim, or Christian, or Buddhist, or Hindu in the far east whose family is actually animastic, just several generations removed. Think of the ramifications of a North or South American Indian actually being your relative from northeast Asia just a relatively few generations removed. Europe actually killed and had cave drawings later than our ancestors killed the mastadons in Asia. We originally didn’t go from Israel to Europe, although that was a spiritual migration of Christianity. Also, we are much younger as a journey group than evolution would have you believe. Just one more thing…..for believers…..think how patient our God has been to evolve the spirit being that is today’s human. And this has huge implications also.

  • Ryan Kingston

    Just like the Gay debate this debate has been handled in an extremely reckless way by Conservative Evangelicals. It seems that the tactic by Right Wing Conservatives is to totally demonize anyone they feel does not agree with them. Furthermore blatantly lying and ignoring credible scientific evidence to continue living in some fairy tale Jesusland mentality at all costs seems to be acceptable. The message seems to be we can lie and demonize people as long as it supports our “truth”. The church has become a very sick culture.

  • Rob

    I noticed a false dichotomy in this article and wanted to challenge it. I don’t think you can just dismiss this debate on when so many choose to embrace atheism on the grounds of origins. Creationism is not just the playground for “recalcitrant” fundamentals; but truly something being studied at the physical and cosmological level of Einstein, Hawking, and Sandage. Your article just passes it by as if 7 day creation, 6000 year old earth, etc. etc is all of Creationism. I know you are trying to move on from this debate; but you mislead in your caricature of Creationism. Did God cause beings to appear or did he just deistically set in motion our evolution from soup and microorganisms is a better question to argue over, not at the level you are suggesting where one side are stubborn baffoons and the other side are cool headed intellectuals…much more nuanced and sophisticated than that. Read anything about Michael Behe or Stephen Meyer to get some info on design and origin of life if interested.

  • chad

    i remember 5 years ago we had a guest speaker talk about the “hot topic” of Creationism vs. Evolution. after the talk, in which the speaker spoke of his belief in a 7literal day creation, my high schoolers were really confused as to why this even mattered. who cares? i’m afraid we’re not looking at the 18-29 demographic enough, or taking them seriously when we look at the future of Christianity.

  • A P

    Polls indicate that over 50% of Republicans are Creationists and do not believe in evolution. I can’t tell you how many conservatives I have heard make this same case — that Creationism is the realm of a few fringe lunatics — who are then shocked and appalled to learn that their side of the political spectrum is actually pervaded by this view.

    • Barry Kort

      Republicans are rapidly becoming extinct, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

  • Becky

    I’m married to a physicist myself. His bete noir is people who apply poorly understood concepts from quantum mechanics to their pet spirituality. We are reasonably devout Catholics, so it’s not like he’s hostile toward religion, but he’s pretty hostile to misrepresentations of quantum mechanics in the name of religious woo. These, sadly, are ubiquitous …