Fresh look at evangelicals and the evolution dispute can help guide newswriters

A recent Gallup Poll showed 38 percent of Americans agree with what’s known as “young earth creationism,” which believes God created humanity in its present form some 10,000 years ago.  

That percentage, the lowest since Gallup began asking about this in 1982, was a tie with those saying humanity developed over millions of years “but God guided the process,” so-called “theistic evolution.” Meanwhile, 19 percent said God played no part, double the number in 2000.

The long-running dispute over evolution continues to present journalists with a big challenge in providing fair treatment, particularly if they lack expertise in Bible interpretation. Thus the importance for all media professionals of “Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation?,” a July book from InterVarsity Press, known for quality presentations of conservative Protestant thinking.

This dialogue book presents respectful but vigorous disagreements from two evangelical camps that share belief in God as the Creator and the full authority of the Bible. BioLogos of Grand Rapids, Mich., champions of “evolutionary creation” (it prefers that label to “theistic evolution”), which harmonizes the Bible with Darwinian evolution. Debate partner Reasons to Believe (RTB) of Covina, Calif., advocates “old earth creation” and criticizes standard evolutionary theory on scientific and biblical grounds.  

RTB began in 1986 under leadership of the Rev. Hugh Ross, a pastor with a Ph.D. in astronomy.  BioLogos was founded in 2007 by Francis Collins (.pdf here), director of the Human Genome Project and currently director of the National Institutes of Health. The two groups held 15 meetings that provide the substance of the new book. 

Both BioLogos and RTB support the vastly long timeline that has long been standard among scientists. Their dialogue book sidesteps the third option of "young earth creationism," which -- here is the crucial fact to note -- journalists often depict as equal to all "creationism." This belief in an earth that's thousands rather than billions of years old is often linked with literalism on creation in six 24-hour days. That view is widespread in the Southern Baptist Convention, and theologians from that denomination posed the questions to dialogue participants. 

A fourth option, also sidelined here, is the “intelligent design” movement, which agrees with RTB that Darwinism cannot scientifically explain the origin of species but is usually coy about arguing that God is nature’s designer. Here is a recent presentation: “Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis” by Michael Denton, a biochemistry Ph.D.

Within evangelicalism, the hottest dispute regards Adam and Eve. (The Religion Guy surveyed that discussion in a 2011 cover story for Christianity Today.)  RTB embraces the traditional view that they were “directly and immediately created” by God rather than evolving from lower primates, and that all subsequent humans descended from these two “original parents.” 

Biologos sees evidence of a “common ancestry between humans and animals,” and says humanity did not originate with a single pair but “several thousand individuals, more than 100,000 years ago.” Thus Adam and Eve might be a specially chosen pair or symbolic group within humanity’s forebears, or literary figures “in a highly compressed history of all our ancestors.”

On the basis of modern genetics, BioLogos also supports  the Darwinian concept that “all species arose and diversified through a process of descent from a common ancestor.” RTB, however, finds no sufficient proof that such “processes are sufficient to account for life’s origin, history, and the design of biological systems.” Then the debaters consider how to interpret the fossil evidence of hominid forms prior to homo sapiens and what defines our species, which both groups believe is unique and created in “the image of God.”  

Heavy scientific and theological stuff, and well worth absorbing as the debates proceed. Journalists need to understand the differences between these various groups -- because there are stories there to cover.

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