Is Evolution a Must-Win Issue?
Why are political and religious leaders giving up on creationism?

In the aftermath of the presidential election, many conservative Republicans are doing some soul searching. Are they out of step with most Americans? Have they been pulled too far to the right by their base? And are the culture war issues that have kept evangelicals in lock-step with the GOP for the last 30 years now doing more harm then good?

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who is already testing the waters for a run for the White House in 2016, recently did an interview with GQ where he was asked about the age of the earth. Rubio ducked and dodged and finally said, "I'm not a scientist, man." Mr. Rubio's non-answer puts him at odds with last year's slate of Republican candidates. Eager to win conservative Christian voters, many of them spoke openly about their distrust of evolution.

Rick Perry made headlines when he called evolution "a theory" with "some gaps in it." Ron Paul was an outspoken creationist, as was Rick Santorum who garnered the early support of evangelical leaders. Mitt Romney, who ultimately became the Republican candidate, took a middle of the road stance saying he believed God created the universe, but he also said, "evolution is most likely the process he used to create the human body."

The fact that Romney still won the evangelical vote by a wide margin indicates evolution/creationism does not determine the way most evangelicals vote. Still, Senator Rubio's refusal to engage the question may be a sign that at least the science front of the culture war may be winding down. Additional evidence came last week when Pat Robertson–who is no stranger to controversial statements–rejected the idea of a young earth as well.

Ken Ham, the young earth creationist behind the Creation Museum near Cincinnati, Ohio, slammed Robertson for his comments saying, "Not only do we have to work hard to not let our kids be led astray by the anti-God teaching of the secularists, we have to work hard to not let them be led astray by compromising church leaders like Pat Robertson."

Why are both Christian politicians and media figures abandoning evolution as an issue in the culture war? It may be too soon to say for certain, but perhaps losing ground both politically and culturally is causing some Christians to be more discerning about which battles are really worth fighting.

Dr. Joshua Swamidass is a professor in the Laboratory and Genomic Medicine Division at Washington University in St. Louis. In a recent column for The Wall Street Journal, Swamidass proposes that both Republicans and evangelicals need to provide a more sensible position on both evolution and science in general. He writes, "Christians who try to push their view of creation through political coercion are misrepresenting their faith. The ‘good news' is how God saves us. Not how he created us. And it is through persuasion rather than force that he brings us to knowledge of Jesus." Read his full article here.

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December 03, 2012

Displaying 1–10 of 76 comments

Debby

January 06, 2013  6:03am

You have to realize that Darwin became a Christian and renounced his own theory! God created all things even dinosaurs, read....ever seen leviathan mentioned in Job? Here's your sign! evolution is the adaptation of animals, fish, etc to their surroundings, they have to adapt in a new environment when it's hostile.

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Karen

December 17, 2012  8:53am

Anonymous, With regard to Jesus referring to Genesis "literally," I suggest this doesn't necessarily imply what you think it does. Consider this example: in teaching a child the value of persistence even if he was slow, could I not point to Aesop's fable of the Rabbit and the Tortoise and ask the child, "What did the tortoise do? Which animal won the race?" I would be treating the text literally in a way, but no one would understand me as teaching that the story referred to historically true events. I am using real true elements in the story–rabbits and tortoises exist and have the characteristics of speed and slowness respectively–but nevertheless everyone understands this is a "fable" to make a point. Nevertheless, the moral of the story is true and is the real point of the entire narrative. I'm not suggesting Jesus was necessarily using Genesis as a fable in this Aesop's sense, but neither does his use of this text in a literal way necessarily mean that all of its elements (e.g., 24-hour "days") are to be considered literally historically true in the modern scientific sense. The key is how did the community in which Genesis was written understand it? How did Jesus and the NT Christians and early Fathers integrate the meaning of the text with what they understood from the science of their day? This discussion really does revolve around the interpretation of Scripture. I think it is disrespectful and untrue ultimately to accuse someone who has a different interpretation of Scripture than I do of not believing the truth of what the Scripture teaches. My own experience is that even when as a child I unquestioningly accepted evolution as the "how" of the development of species, etc., I never questioned that God created and was the Designer and Power behind it all. Now as an adult Christian, I certainly don't accept the premise of the philosophy of Naturalism that underlies the Theory of Evolution, but I do give serious weight to the understanding of believing scientists like Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project and author of The Language of God, who sees clear evidence in human DNA for evolutionary change such as is described by the Theory. I don't find that folks like Ken Hamm and the folks at the Creation Research Institute engage credibly with such Christians, who are scientists. Rather, I find Hamm to be a little too much like the caricature portrayed in one of Sheerahkhan's earlier comments and, in the final analysis, to generate a lot more heat than light on the subject. It seems to me the length of this thread means that this issue isn't going to be resolved anytime soon, though. I think that will be true as long as modern Christians remain under the impression that the only way to approach the Scriptures is from a modern historical-critical interpretive method and as long as they tend to remain ignorant of much of the traditional understanding and interpretation of Scripture bequeathed to us by the same Fathers of the Church who bequeathed us the canon of the Scriptures itself. In that respect, I appreciate the contributor above who alluded to Augustine's non-literal understanding of the "days" in the Genesis account. If we had more respect for and understanding of the interpretive methods of our esteemed forebears in the faith, I don't think we'd be in this apparent standoff between "science" and "faith" in the first place. Rather, this false dichotomy is the distinct inheritance of the mindset and presuppositions about the nature of truth and of the truth of the Scriptures that have developed only in very recent times.

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sheerahkahn

December 13, 2012  12:51pm

Don, I'm going to have to yield and say that what you have brought up contains, in my opinion, so many nuanced tangents that anything I write beyond what I have written already would be speculative, and stretching credulity to it's limits. As I said, I'm still investigating this which is the reconciliation of physical evidence to prime source historical evidence with regards to scriptural statements. In short, and at least in my opinion, it would have been considerate of G-d to have included a materials and methods, along with results, and a discussion of the results in the bible. Alas, I'm afraid all we got was the abbreviated abstract so I'm stuck investigating with what is written; And furthermore, what exactly do some of the terms actually mean as far as how we understand the world today? Unfortunately for me...some of this is just so mind-boggling odd that it begs further review, and so I dig further into the literature (read: Science papers, Archeological papers, and historical papers)...and after all that...I start to worry...have I missed seeing the forest for the trees? Which is why I am stopping at this juncture...I have so many questions, few answers, and those few answers beg so many more questions that I just want to ground what I have first before I go any further. I guess this is me saying I have reached my limit of what I can safely discuss with the confidence of competency.

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Reader

December 13, 2012  12:46pm

Don B. and Sheer, thank you for your courteous dialogue. It's helpful as I wrestle with the meaning of the Adam story in the midst of evolutionary history. One element I had not seen before reading Don B's recent post was that death is actually a gracious response from God, given the theological framework provided. The options post-Genesis 3 were either "live in eternal suffering" or "die." Obviously, the plan of God culminating in Christ is a third option- "live eternally having been made whole once more." In funeral services, we thank God that for the deceased "death is past, pain is ended." While physical death retains its tragedy, the temporary peace and permanent resurrection gives hope. Thus I turn back to Sheer's explanation of spiritual death and concur- physical death cannot be the only explanation. And so I look elsewhere in the Pentateuch, and come to the closing chapters. Specifically, Deuteronomy 30 gives this definition of life and death: 15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. 16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In this passage, I read that death and life are inextricably connected to a connection with God. And isn't that what evangelicalism has defined as hell- disconnection from God? Could that be the death, Biblically-defined, that Adam and Eve experienced right then and there? The symptom was immediately felt- shame and the desire to hide from God. Adam and Eve set physical and spiritual boundaries between them and God. Christ tore those down in His body on the cross. One side note: I don't agree with Don B that God cant be in the presence of sin. God allowed lying spirits in the throne room of heaven (Job and 1 Kings 22). Jesus lived in the presence of sin for decades. I would revise to say that God can't be in the presence of sin without something changing, and thank God it is that when God draws near, sin is taken away.

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Don B.

December 13, 2012  8:48am

Hey Sheerahkahn, That verse is Romans 5:12. Without going into insane amounts of detail, "life" was regarded a little differently that we regard it today. Plants, though life, were not considered to be at the same level as animal life. Adam when he ate to fruit (the apple is a later interpretation, Genesis is not clear as to what the fruit was), he brought sin and death into the world. The death he brought was physical and spiritual. If Adam had not eaten of the fruit, then he would have access to the tree of life and been immortal. Though it is not clear, I believe that the tree of life was not a "one time" thing, meaning that it's fruit was more of a sustainer of life, as opposed to a "one bite and live forever" sort of thing. Adam and Eve could have regularly consumed from the tree of life to live forever, and God gave them permission to do so because He only singled out the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So by God cutting off their access to the tree of life, then death was an eventuality. The fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not "poisoned" per se, but was forbidden by God. God could not allow Adam access to the tree of life due to the suffering Adam was under due to sin. Many see Adam's banishment as punishment from God and maybe a little severe, but this is not so. Think about it this way. God loves us and does not want the taint of sin on us. God did not want Adam suffering under sin for eternity, so that is why he denied him the tree of life. It is clear that Adam lived from many years after the banishment, but eventually did die. Adam brought sin into the world and the entirety of Creation was affected by this. With the cherubim guarding the tree of life, no one (including animals) can be immortal, so everything now dies. If Adam had not sinned, theoretically, he would still be alive today, as would any animal or person that ate of the tree of life. The spiritual death is related in the idea that we must be redeemed from sin to enter heaven. The reason for this is God is holy and cannot be in the prescience of sin. Also, like Adam, God does not want us to suffer an eternity under sin, so before we begin our eternal life in heaven, our sins must be removed. And that is what Christ did for us.

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sheerahkahn

December 12, 2012  11:46pm

"Is this something you have wrestled with? The interpretation you gave seems very well thought out, and if you could help me with this one issue, I would greatly appreciate it." I take it you're referring the Roman's passage...forget the exact one...but the wording goes like, "As Adam brought sin into the world..." And of course, the G-d's direct command to Adam in the garden, "eat of any tree, but of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you must not eat for if you eat of it, you will surely die." Now, herein is where I started asking questions. Okay, Adam is given free rein to eat of any tree in the garden...so, okay, lets look at the digestion process. In order for the nutrients to be excised out from that apple it first has to be hydrolyzed and broken down into "digestible" parts...which then hits the intestines and would probably just fly on through without so much as a "Oh hey, look where I'm at!" if it weren't for the flora and fauna that is crawling around inside all our guts...and there is "consumption" of material, and that material is wasted out from the flora and fauna which is then absorbed by the filia that act as catchers for the all the good nutrients the flora and fauna were kind of enough to break down for us. So, just to live, things "die" and Adam eating any and all fruit in the garden means something is to "die." Which then raises the question..."okay, if ain't a physical death, what kind of death is G-d talking about?" And so...this is where I get stuck...it's difficult to make this leap because it begs so many questions that I feel, intellectually, that I'm really stepping out into space off a cliff of stability: When Adam ate the apple, did he die? Physically, obviously not, but something went terribly wrong, so what was it? What up-ended us? How did Adam "die"? So I'm left with spiritual death, and then I think what are the consequences of a dead spirit? And that...is where I am at...what are the consequences of a dead spirit...how does it manifest itself? What is it's physical expressions? So, I think "death" has always been with the world...Tyrannosaurus Rex, Allosaurus, Velociraptors, and the hundreds, if not thousands of dinosaurs all armed with teeth and claw...meat eaters, and not just the meat eaters, the plant eaters also ate plants which is death, so...yeah...when you start thinking about what exactly death entails the subject really becomes quite expansive. So...I'm stuck at spiritual death, but alas, that is where I stopped...perhaps someone with far more insight can explain spiritual death better than I can.

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A different anonymous

December 12, 2012  5:22pm

Sheerahkahn, I appreciate the time you took to explain your reading of Genesis 1-3. It's obvious you've put some serious thought into it. I agree with you that the "why" and the "how" are two different questions, and that intention of Genesis 1-3 is not to give us a detailed explanation for "how" the world was created. Having said that, I think we must also recognize that while the "why" and the "how" are two *different* questions, they are not two *unrelated* questions. In other words, the "how" must be consistent with the "why", not only in Genesis 1-3, but in all of Scripture. Scientific evidence must be interpreted on its own terms. I think you and I would agree on that, and that is why earlier in this thread I wrote that I accept that current scientific evidence supports evolutionary theory. When one is studying science, it is not fair to impose one's theological understanding into the evidence, because science and theology ask different questions and examine truth from different perspectives. But for that same reason, Scripture must also be interpreted on its own terms. In other words, when studying Scripture, it is not fair to impose one's scientific understanding into the text. When one reads Genesis 1, one should not be asking, "Does this interpretation agree/disagree with what science teaches?" Unfortunately, that is the mistake often made by people on both sides of the "Creation vs. Evolution" debate. When studying Scripture, the primary question to ask is, "Does this interpretation reflect what the author intended to communicate, regardless of whether or not it agrees with contemporary scientific understanding?" Please don't misunderstand. I am in no way implying that either you or Mr. Walton are unfairly imposing evolution into your interpretation of Genesis 1. I'm not even saying that I disagree with your interpretation. I'm not familiar enough with that interpretation or its biblical support to be able to disagree. I do thank you for the book recommendation and for your summary, as it has given me some things to think about; and I'm interested in looking more into it as time allows me. What I *am* trying to say, is that the interpretation you gave contains, at least on the surface, one inconsistency with Scripture, the way I've understood it. Since you have obviously put some serious thought into it, I'd like to know if you have wrestled with this issue and, if so, what conclusions have you reached. If you could share that with me, it would be a great help for me. Here's the inconsistency that I see. You wrote, "And voila, the life is now teaming in vast seas, and on land...spreading, changing, developing, growing, and expanding." But this process of life spreading, changing, developing, growing, and expanding–as understood by evolution–also includes *dying*. And yet, Scripture seems to communicate the idea that death is the direct result of human sin. No matter how eloquently I have heard people try to portray evolution as compatible with–or at least not opposed to–biblical teaching, I have yet to encounter someone with a satisfying response to that apparent inconsistency. Is this something you have wrestled with? The interpretation you gave seems very well thought out, and if you could help me with this one issue, I would greatly appreciate it.

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sheerahkahn

December 12, 2012  12:11pm

"What is in the scriptures that is determinative in all of us coming to this view?" I actually like this question, Tim because it forces all of us to stop and think about why is the issue of evolution such a thorny topic for the Church in general. Unlike Laird, I'm not a P.h.D, I'm just a bench monkey who's has been in the biotech/pharmaceutical field for the past eighteen years, but I have had to field this question to many of my co-workers when the topic of faith and science comes up. "How can you be a Christian and a Scientist at the same time? What about evolution?" Now remember, this discussion is happening in a lab, not in some guys house with tea and crumpets and pile of literature acting as a sole-source for the topic. I'm in the middle of the arena and the perception is one of "You know what the truth here is [Sheer] how can you be one of them?" And I tell them, "evolution is not a matter of faith, nor is faith in G-d tied to evolution. Genesis 1-3 is quite vague in terms of the 'how' but quite clear as to the 'why' of all that we see around us." This world and all we see in it is a G-d's signature to the Universe...to all of the realms of G-d's kingdom which extend beyond our here and now, we, on this pale blue dot, in an insignificant corner of the Milky Way galaxy, spinning in a remote part of this universe...we are that exceptional, glorious testament to G-d's love, mercy, and forgiveness. We, on this piece of rock, made by billions-of-years old star-dust, formed so that we can attest to G-d's greatness, and mercy...we are pathetically small, insignificant, and yet because of G-d...we're astoundingly important. Allow me a moment to explain this..just...allow your mind to wander, and then later, reflect on this thought...then you can decide if I'm full of crap or not. ________________________________________________________ Imagine G-d guiding the development of life on this planet, imagine that all of the universe is watching, wondering, what is he about? G-d has a plan in his head, and the universe watches as he fashions the solar system, and the third planet, adding things from space, directing the necessary materials that he knew he needed long before they popped into existence. And then...something strange, something wonderful...life. A small, insignificant, simple life form begins swimming in a soup that most would take a mop too to clean up. And there, in that moment, G-d smiles as he sees his plan unfold. The Universe is still watching, still wondering, "what is he going to do?" And voila, the life is now teaming in vast seas, and on land...spreading, changing, developing, growing, and expanding. And the whole while, G-d is right there, in the midst of it all, like a conductor in all his glory during the grandest moment of the symphony G-d is in the center of it all. And voila...an life form, bi-pedal, more ape-like than anything the Universe would consider worth paying attention to other than to keep an eye on it so it does under-hand throw a pile of poop at it, and G-d singles out that life-form. The universe is watching. G-d whispers, "Watch this!" The amazing thing about all this is that the Universe watched G-d conduct life to it's present form, but more importantly, and quite shockingly...became one of us. It's as if you can hear the universe collectively say in one gasp, "What is he doing?" This is how I see it...Satan hates humanity, yes? Satan cannot stand the sight of humanity because we carry the reflection of G-d. We reflect the one thing Satan wanted more than anything else...to be G-d. So, if Satan can't be G-d, why not corrupt his reflection to think it can be G-d. Because as Satan see's us, we're nothing but apes. We belong in a zoo, we are contemptible in his eyes, and unworthy of notice. And yet G-d decided to be born, to live like us, to look like us, to smell like us, to eat like us, to defecate like us, to cough, to be sick, to be sad, to be hungry, to be human in all i

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Tim

December 11, 2012  4:25pm

Laird "It is shocking the number of outright lies and misrepresentations of science that come out of the YEC camp)." You didn't put even one lie on the table to be examined. Do you expect folks to believe you with merely an accusation? There are hundreds of thousands of strong believers in Christ, with big degrees, who are duped on many different issues of faith. "This case is closed, and the attempts of junk creation science ... of the bad thinking that leads to the false dichotomy..." Are you not creating your own dichotomy that all scientifically intelligent truthers agree with you and everyone else is misled or lying? I will ask a question: You say you have a "high view of scripture". You claim that having a billion+ year old earth and universe is a determinative belief for believers. What is in the scriptures that is determinative in all of us coming to this view?

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Laird Edman

December 11, 2012  12:50pm

I am an evangelical Christian, a firm believer in a high view of scripture, the historic creeds of the church, and the necessity of new life in Christ. And I am a scientist and a college professor, and I want to stress that this issue is indeed very important. We must allow the science to be science (and on this score it is truly abundantly clear–we live on a planet billions of years old, in an even older universe, and evolutionary processes are what have led to the diversity of species we have. This case is closed, and the attempts of junk creation science are not just embarrassing, they are harming the kingdom of God. It is shocking the number of outright lies and misrepresentations of science that come out of the YEC camp). We are losing huge numbers of young people out of the church because of the bad thinking that leads to the false dichotomy that one can either accept evolutionary explanations OR one can be a Christian. This is harmful, and I beg my brothers and sisters to examine this issue more clearly. The evangelical church will indeed become a silly little idiosyncratic cult if the absurdities of YEC aren't abandoned soon. Our young people recognize this and are voting with their feet. I'm not saying the church will fall–there will always be a church. It just won't be the fundamentalist American church that denies what God is showing us so wonderfully in creation.

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