Required Reading: Assemblies of God on Faith/Science

Can Pentecostals embrace science?  Can they find a way to love both God and Gould?

For those of us trying to understand the conservative vision of education from the outside, the newest edition of the Assemblies of God’s Enrichment Journal is a treasure trove.  This edition offers a series of articles for the denomination’s readers about the proper relationship between faith and science.  As General Superintendent George O. Wood explains, the dangers for young people in the church are stark.  He quotes “Mike,” who declared, “I knew from church that I couldn’t believe in both science and God, so that was it.  I didn’t believe in God anymore.”  Wood hopes that this volume will help Assemblies of God members negotiate a more profound and religious relationship between science and faith.

For those unaware of the distinctions among conservative Bible-based Protestant groups, the Assemblies of God, very briefly, is the largest denomination of Pentecostal believers, claiming 65 million members worldwide.  Pentecostalism, also very briefly, is a form of conservative evangelical Protestant belief that came into existence in the early 20th century.  It combines conservative Bible-based theology with an emphasis on baptism by the Holy Spirit.  Pentecostal services are typically vibrant, dramatic events that can include speaking in tongues and divine healing.  As historian Grant Wacker argued in Heaven Below (2001), the attraction of early Pentecostal churches derived from their combination of a powerful “primitivist” theology with a comfortable cultural “pragmatism.”

In an opening piece, Amos Yong of Regent University encourages Pentecostal readers to “work to overcome the history and culture of anti-intellectualism that persists in some segments of the Pentecostal church.”

Perhaps the most interesting section of this issue for those of us outside the conservative tradition is its forum on the variety of evangelical positions for the age of the earth.  Kurt P. Wise makes the case for a young earth, Hugh Ross for six long ages, and Davis A. Young for an old earth.

With each article, we see the very different intellectual playing field for evangelical intellectuals.  Among mainstream scientists, the first question is usually whether any new approach offers better insight into the natural world.  Among evangelical thinkers, the first question is whether any scientific approach offers better insight into the natural world while allowing Christians to maintain an authentic faith.

As Kurt Wise argues in his pitch for a young earth, “believers” enjoy a more promising guide to the natural world.  Wise insists, “We should look at the eyewitness account from God before we begin inferring the meaning of circumstantial evidence.”

Everyone interested in the creation/evolution debate will be well served by reading through these articles.  Some of the most fervent young-earth creationists such as Answers in Genesis’ Ken Ham have condemned such forums.  Any consideration of an old earth, Ham blasted in a blog post, results in a “dogmatic, intolerant stand against those who take the position we do at AiG.”

But for those of us outside of evangelical circles, an understanding of both the different evangelical views of science and the ways evangelicals construct their scientific arguments will go a long way to decoding the stubborn controversy over evolution and creationism.


Pro-Evolution V: Conclusion


Evolution is not a story people made up to explain the world.  It is a story people discovered about the way the world works.  It doesn’t dethrone any god.  It merely explains how the world came to be.  In other words, evolution has nothing atheistic about it.  Rather, it simply explains the mechanisms by which the world works, however that world came to be.

Those who refuse to accept the truth of evolution don’t do so because the Bible demands it.  They
refuse to accept evolution because of a series of historical accidents.  Certain sects and denominations have been saddled with an anti-evolution orthodoxy that their followers have been forced to accommodate.  They can remain obstinate only so long as they remain within the charmed circle of their own beliefs.  When and if they examine the evidence for themselves, they agree that the best explanation is an evolutionary one.

Most important, if creationism and evolutionism were really two competing scientific models, they would attract mainstream scientists to each side.  Such is the nature of science.  In the case of creationism, it has only attracted—at most—a handful of scientists with any claim to mainstream
scientific credentials.  This astonishing dearth can’t be explained away as mere prejudice on the part of evolutionists.  Consider the case of Kurt P. Wise.  Wise trained at Harvard University, under the tutelage of Stephen Jay Gould.  Though Wise reported some taunting from his evolutionist fellow students, Gould himself always respected Wise’s firm creationist beliefs.  As a convinced
evolutionist, Gould saw no need to ridicule someone like Wise.  Rather, Gould hoped Wise would study the evidence on his own, confident that any such study would demonstrate the truth of evolution.

Creationists can’t claim the same confidence.  They are constrained to assert their belief in the truth of creation, because, unlike Gould’s quiet confidence in the fact of evolution, creationists generally believe in creation by faith.  As a faith, they must cling to their belief whatever the evidence may show.  As Kurt Wise himself put it, “if all the evidence in the universe turned against
creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate.”  Even the most scientifically skilled of creationists must acknowledge that their ultimate authority is beyond evidence.  They must go where orthodoxy
leads.  True science, on the other hand, follows only facts.


John F. Ashton, ed., In Six Days: Why Fifty Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation (Master Books, 2001).