Evangelical Parallel Universes

(system) #1
99 percent of professional biologists think humans evolved, but half of white Evangelicals think scientists are generally in disagreement about evolution. What explains this discrepancy?
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/evangelical-parallel-universes

(George Brooks) #2

Here are the key quotes:

"29% of Americans answered that question negatively. That is to say, 29% of Americans think that scientists do not generally agree on human evolution. But then when you limit that to regular church-goers (defined as those self-reporting that they attend church at least weekly), that number goes up to 39%. And then when you confine the results even further to white Evangelicals, the number is 49%.[1] Remember, this is not asking whether you yourself accept evolution, but rather whether you think scientists generally accept it. Half of American white Evangelicals believe that scientists do not generally agree that humans have evolved. The problem is that such a belief has no basis in reality.

When Pew asked the same question (Do you believe humans have evolved over time?) to the scientists themselves, 98% said yes. And when that number is restricted to scientists with a PhD in biological or medical fields, that moves to 99%.[2] So half of us Evangelicals think there is not much agreement among scientists about evolution, but the scientists are just about as unanimous as you can get about it."

What explains the discrepancy? I think it’s pretty clear that the Evangelical community is being LIED TO by its leadership…

(John McAfee) #3

George I think the word “LIED” may be a bit strong. It implies that evangelical leadership knows the truth but intentionally mislead their people. I don’t think this is the case.
I think the problem lies in the fact that most evangelical leaders don’t understand science and have been taught to fear it. They have been told that scientists are trying to disprove God and therefore the two can’t coexist.
Unfortunately this is what happens when Theologians like John MacArthur like to believe they can use the Bible as a science book.
So, I think most church leaders have just insulated themselves from anything that challenges their presuppositions.

(John McAfee) #4

I think the discrepancy lies in the fact that we have a lot Theologians who think they understand science when in reality they don’t have a clue about the scientific process. They start with their presupposition then try to work science backwards into their beliefs. Then the people who follow these Theologians usually adopt his belief system without question.
I have yet to meet a young earth creationist who understood the difference between a hypothesis and a theory.

(James Stump) #5

Hi John (and welcome to the Forum). Your comments are spot-on in my experience. I think the overwhelming majority of evangelical leaders have the best intentions. I used to ask students (who primarily came from conservative evangelical homes) what the purpose of science is, and the most popular answer (out of a sample size of multiple hundreds) was to disprove the Bible–as though each week scientists huddled in some back smokey room trying to decide which verse to go after that week. Students got that view from somewhere, and I suspect it was from the evangelical authorities in their lives. The next question is where those leaders got the view. I’d guess that takes a more complex sociological answer, going back to the Scopes Trial at least.

(Doug B) #6

How is there ground for Theology to disagree with evolutionary theory? Do theologians have a right to suspend facts, reality itself outside some self-constructed compartment–even if that compartment is the 66 books of Bible? Clearly they do not. Theology–the study of God–uses everything we know and experience to glorify Him and edify mankind.


That’s pretty sad.


Jim, I appreciated your article and I agree that it gives pause for thought in terms of the percentages.

However, I’m also very skeptical of people’s use of stats. When you say 99 percent of PhD scientists accept evolution as true, what questions were asked of them? Even in the Science education field there is debate over how to define “evolution” in a unified way.

For example, if the question was “Do you believe that everything evolves over time” which for many years was the accepted definition of evolution then the 99 would make sense. If the question was “Do you believe in the detailed scientific evolutionary history which began at the Big Bang and culminated into all the species we have today?” This is a more specific version of evolution and I wonder what the percentage would be. I’m sure it wouldn’t be much different, but basically I want to know what the 99 percent agreed on.

(James Stump) #9

Doug, I meant it only in the sense that “experts” in the field of theology are not nearly as unified as are those in the sciences.

(James Stump) #10

Brood, I quoted the exact question people were asked, and you can use the references I gave to find the survey in its entirety. However, I’m sympathetic to your point about survey questions, and the other BioLogos post I linked to about the Pew surveys makes that point too. I don’t think, though, that you’ll find in this instance that it takes away from the fact that Evangelicals have a decidedly different understanding of the science of evolution than do professional scientists. At BioLogos, we witness (and bear witness to) that reality daily.

(Doug B) #11

Daniel Moynihan said folks are entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts. The muscle of inductive reasoning needs more exercise from evangelicals. I think we’d be pleased with the results.


This demonstrates the poverty of your own experiences, John McA. Many YEC scientists have PhDs and thus as a matter of course would understand the difference.

It is lies such as this that are one of the biggest contributors to the lack of charitable discourse between the scientific perspectives on evolutionary theory. Evolution is not equal to science, and science is not defined by evolution, nor by evolutionists. Almost all anti-evolutionists benefit from and accept 99% of science, scientific theories, conclusions, and technology. Just because they are against evolution, does not mean they are against science generally. Even theologians, philosophers, sociologists, psychologists, and journalists who have no science background, still understand that science underlies their use of computers, cell phones, internal combustion engines, cement, fertilizer, electricity, plant breeding, and antibiotics. None of this disproves God, and evangelical leaders generally do not think it does.


My guess is that these students likely got this misperception from their reading of popular literature, television news, Newspapers, national geographic, etc., etc. where many writers like to push the buttons against faith and scripture. Which is also likely where some evangelical leaders obtained their perceptions. Without actually defining science to a non-scientist, this becomes an emotional response to a non-scientific definition of science. If such a perception was not clarified by yourself, then you would have done a diservice to these students. So my question would be, after you had clarified the scope and breadth of science, to include all the fields of chemistry, biology, engineering, physics, plant breeding, oil exploration, locomotion, medicine, pesticides, aeronautics, etc., did they still feel that the purpose of science was to disprove the bible?

(Jeff Wishart) #14

I think the important thing to take from this discussion is what a great band “The Choir” is/was. I followed them while they were still “The Youth Choir”.


Very interesting article.

I get the impression that many Churches are able to remain insulated from information and perspectives that are freely available in the surrounding culture (science, philosophy, whatever) because they rely on certain members of the congregation or the greater Evangelical world who act as authoritative “interpreters” of the outside world. These interpreters can be pastors or even lay members who come off as knowledgeable on secular issues that are viewed as problematic, and on a larger scale, they are often authors with solid evangelical bona fides. Their role is to offer a quick (and often questionable) digest of some subject on which they present themselves as an expert, like evolution or the formation of the canon, going on to give a firm evangelical response to the subject (what can be accepted, what should be rejected). They pretty much serve as the informal information gatekeepers, and they tend to give off the impression that they’ve done all of the work and looked at all of the primary literature, so the other Churchgoers simply don’t need to go any further, especially if they want to keep their faith from undergoing some turbulence. Some of the creationist websites seem to see themselves as interpreters, often giving out articles on all kinds of subjects (even movie reviews) that have an unhealthy number of links to their online store, providing their own PhDs to give the final word on each new finding, sparingly referencing mainstream articles and removing any comments sections.

Weird that this would work in the age of free information, but enough guidance from the interpreters, combined with enough warnings about wading too far into the secular worldview (which apparently covers a lot of ground and disqualifies a lot of legitimate sources of information) makes it an effective system.

It’s never an official or a recognized role, but these are the people who buffer the evangelical community and keep it insular, and I suspect that they are also the reason why such bizarrely disconnected views, like the theory-in-crisis view, have such staying power. It seems to be a role that works to keep the subculture safe (and marginalized), and it probably exists in one way or another in every group that feels the need to protect itself from the surrounding world or from some kinds of information. A little bleak, I know, but on the bright side, online sites like this one work to bypass this buffer to some extent, with some success…

(James Stump) #16

That’s a different issue. The same Pew study shows that just about the same percentage of white evangelicals as Americans generally believe science to be a generally positive thing (84% to 85%). As for a definition of science, there is no consensus on that, and that is what allows evangelicals to adopt their own version of it and say it is generally positive, while simultaneously rejecting what the overwhelming number of scientists agree on.

(James Stump) #17

I didn’t do a “post-test” with the same question, as the data would have been corrupted, because they knew unequivocally that I their teacher did not believe the purpose the of science to be to disprove the Bible.


Thanks. It would have been beneficial to have this clarification in your original statement in order to prevent a misleading perception. The fact that they have wrongly adopted the equation of science=evolution, is not self inflicted, but a result of the propoganda efforts of many evolutionists, and it is this that causes the seeming self contradiction.

[quote=“jstump, post:16, topic:4688”]
while simultaneously rejecting what the overwhelming number of scientists agree on.
[/quote] while they reject a particular theory, which most scientists accept, they do not reject the vast majority of scientific facts, theories, conclusions. It is important to emphasize that they are not anti-science, nor are they science denialists.

This is a false dilemna. It assumes that when something is properly explained, the students will not benefit from the explanation, but only from the “authority” of the teacher/explainer. If this is true, then the credibility of appealing to the student’s beliefs about evolution, should they accept it to be true, would be based only on the say-so of the teacher, and not on the evidence itself. If we carry this thinking process throughout academia, that students only accept evolution on the basis of the belief of their instructor, then the theory of evolution lies on shaky ground to be sure.

The fact that they themselves already do not believe the purpose of science to be to disprove the bible, since they use it daily, and since the internal combustion engine, the microscope, antibiotics, and plant breeding does not disprove the bible as they would recognize, would be more significant than the arbitrary unsubstantiated assertion of ideology that science has a different purpose.

Thus they are perhaps unaware that they are subconsciously differentiating between scientists ideologies, and the practice and benefits of science itself.

(James Stump) #19

You seem to be implying that you have THE correct definition of science for everyone and all times. If that were true and you’d publish it, you could win the Nobel Prize (if there were a category for philosophy of science!). Science is a culturally conditioned activity, which is why it is possible to sustain an evangelical parallel world of “science”. For the anti-evolution version of science to succeed as science, it needs to persuade scientists, not just consumers of science. If it can only do the latter, it is just rhetoric.


I don’t think any definition of “science” would deserve a Nobel prize. There are many definitions or descriptions of science which all point to the same thing, that science is not limited to, nor delineated by, evolution.

Science[nb 1] is a systematic enterprise that creates, builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.[nb 2][2]:58

*Contemporary science is typically subdivided into the natural sciences which study the material world, the social sciences which study people and societies, and the formal sciences like mathematics. The formal sciences are often excluded as they do not depend on empirical observations.[3] Disciplines which use science like engineering and medicine may also be considered to be applied sciences.[4]*wikipedia

Thus the point is simple. Being anti-evolution, does not equate to being anti-science. Otherwise, no scientists could ever be against evolution, which is self-evidently false. Using science as an equivocation for evolution is wrong regardless whether creationists or evolutionists or atheists do it.