What do Pastors Believe about Origins?

What do America’s professional Protestants think about evolution and creation?  Biologos has published the results of a survey of US Protestant pastors.

Those concerned with creationism and evolution have published many surveys of the ways evolution is taught in public schools.  Those surveys tend to focus on the ideas of high-school biology teachers.  Most recently, the work of Penn State political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer offered a thorough nation-wide look at what biology teachers think and teach.

Source: Biologos Forum

Source: Biologos Forum

This survey, in contrast, asked 602 “senior pastors” for their views.  The results invite a few comments.

First of all, we should note that this is not a survey of religious Americans’ views about evolution and creation.  Rather, this is specifically a survey of a spectrum of US Protestant pastors’ views.  There were no leading Catholics involved, much less Muslims, Jews, Hindus, or any other religious group.  That matters.

Second, the numbers themselves make some interesting points.  We are not surprised by the majority (54%) who call themselves young-earth creationists.  We are surprised, though, by the strong showing for “uncertain” (12%) and the relatively weak showing for “theistic evolution” (18%).  Could these two answers be reasonably combined to form a much stronger bloc—nearly a third—of American pastors who take a theistic but uncommitted view of evolution?

Finally—for now, though the Biologos editors have promised to dig in more deeply to these survey results in the future—what about the striking Biologos note in its seventh point?  As the Biologos editors point out, a majority of pastors with young-earth creationist (YEC) beliefs agreed that publicly challenging those views might cost them their jobs.  In other words, for pastors with YEC beliefs, even a whiff of doubt or skepticism must be avoided.  This seems to confirm the accusations of anti-creationists.  If YEC pastors feel obliged to maintain their positions—feel dug in to YEC beliefs regardless of evidence or personal struggles—it seems fair to accuse YECs of closed-mindedness, obdurate clutching of YEC due more to social and economic pressure than to Biblical conviction.

Certainly, Biologos is not a disinterested party.  The organization hopes to promote “evolutionary creationism” or “theistic evolution.”  And my social-science chops, I’m afraid, aren’t sharp enough to offer a good critique of this survey methodology.  But if we take Biologos’ word for it, there might be a large number of YEC pastors out there who stick to their YEC guns for other reasons than Bible-based conviction.


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