According to a new Pew poll, Republicans are less likely to say that “humans have evolved over time” today than they were as recently as 2009.
To many, this is surprising. After all, why would opinions be shifting in this direction — and why now?
The answer is unclear, though there are theories. In any event, this feels like a good time to revisit the notion that evolution and Christianity aren’t mutually exclusive.
Of course, outside the Protestant world, the notion these two things can coexist isn’t terribly controversial. As I wrote at The Week in 2012: ”In general, Catholics have been open to the notion that there is no contradiction between evolution and faith, with Pope John Paul II going out of his way to reaffirm this in 1996.”
And in his 1908 classic book Orthodoxy, the Roman Catholic convert G.K. Chesterton observed, “If evolution simply means that a positive thing called an ape turned very slowly into a positive thing called a man, then it is stingless for the most orthodox; for a personal God might just as well do things slowly as quickly, especially if, like the Christian God, he were outside time.”
However, for those who come from a Southern Baptist tradition, for example, such talk is almost tantamount to heresy.
Interestingly, though — prior to the Scopes Monkey Trial — many Protestants largely agreed with their Catholic brethren.
From my column at The Week:
[A]s Baylor professor Barry Hankins told me in a recent podcast interview: “[S]ome of the best conservative, evangelical theologians of the late 19th century were willing to consider ways in which evolution — not Darwinism or Darwin’s theory of how evolution took place — but evolution, itself, could be part of God’s plan. But by the 1920s, the categories had hardened.”
After I posted that, a reader…sent me this citation from B.B. Warfield’s A Biblical Inerrantist as Evolutionist: “Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield of Princeton Theological Seminary, the theologian who more than any other defined modern biblical inerrancy, was throughout his life open to the possibility of evolution and at some points an advocate of the theory.”
For those who believe evolution and Christianity can coexist (or that it’s at least not an issue worth fighting about), the good news is that more prominent Protestants appear to be returning to a pre-Scopes Trial openness. For example,
During a recent panel discussion, Tim Keller, who pastors New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church, said, “[T]he Bible does not teach that the Earth is young.” Keller went on to explain that “the genealogies are not complete.” (By this he means that Bible verses stating “so and so begat so and so” imply ancestry, not specifically fatherhood.) Ultimately, Keller concluded that a belief in (or against) an old Earth shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for salvation. “[It's] not in the Apostle’s Creed,” he explained, “and therefore there’s wiggle room.”
It will be interesting to see if this re-emerging theological openness to evolution as part of God’s plan will trickle down and reverse the trend Pew has just observed.