Opinions wanted. When people at church assume you are anti-evolution

This comment by James @jpm from a couple weeks ago inspired me to conduct an informal survey here.

“This past Sunday, I was in a passing conversation with a man at church who was commenting on his son’s first week at college (Baylor University). He stated that he had a difficult time as his lab instructor in biology put forth that evolution was true, and his son “Didn’t want to listen to that crap.” Sigh…”

My husband and I were just discussing this kind of situation, since we are attending an SBC church for several months while we are on academic furlough in the States in Texas, and the SBC adult Sunday School curriculum just ended its seven year cycle through the Bible two weeks ago and started back in Genesis. So stuff has been coming up in conversation at church more than usual.

I’m interested in hearing about people’s approaches when fellow church-goers say stuff that makes it clear they think you agree with them on their young earth or vehemently anti-evolution opinions if you don’t agree at all. (If any of the YEC or anti-evolution folks who hang out here want to chime in with what they think is particularly obnoxious that EC people do or say, or what they would hope a friend would do in that situation, feel free.)

Do you just let it go? Do you try to correct their misconception with some kind of standard line you’ve come up with? Does it depend on the relationship you have? Would you be more likely to “come out” (I hope it’s not offensive to anyone to use that parallel) to someone with whom you had a close or long-term friendship or someone you worked closely with in ministry, or would it be easier if the person didn’t know you that well? Does it matter if the person “outranks” you or if you are looked to as a leader by the person? Do you welcome the chance to talk about it, or does it make you anxious?

My approach has always been to not say anything the vast majority of the time. But I wonder if there is a better way. I’m curious what other people do.

Interesting thoughts, Christy. This happens to me often, and I too tend not to say anything about my beliefs on the matter, which is EC. My reason for this is not that I don’t care whether they know what I believe about it or not, but rather that usually when comments like this come up, the point they are making is a statement larger than just the issue of Creation. For example, a couple months back, I was talking with some fellow church-goers who I’m not very close to but I’m okay with being open with them, and the subject was what it should look like when standing up for what we believe (ironically enough). One man gave an example of when he was in school and in biology class one person stood up and said he didn’t believe in evolution, and that he believed God created the earth in 6 days (that was in a public school). This man goes on to say that the student said this respectfully but bluntly, and that this was how we should share our faith. As much as my nature tugged at me to get into a discussion about evolution, I held back because that wasn’t the point he was trying to make. Although I did not agree with the young man’s view in the example, I did agree more or less with the point my friend was making, and that was what mattered.

Now, there is something to be said for when the conversation is about evolution (or if I need a conversation starter). In that case, you can bet that I’ll be the first one to say something about the matter, and then I will listen to the other people’s opinions and have a civil discourse with them over the matter, regardless of who I’m talking to.

Although a lot of the time, I would love to get into a long discussion about evolution, sometimes that’s not really the point of the conversation. I find that this is often the case, and rarely are people ready to really talk about evolution. However, when they are, i am fully prepared with my opening statement. :smile:

Is your interest in hearing about people’s approaches apply ONLY to fellow church-goers who say stuff that you may or may not agree with? Or are you interested in hearing about people’s approaches to other people in general non-church-going settings? Perhaps at a public school PTA meeting setting. As a non-church goer I constantly interact with people with vastly different beliefs. Most YEC who I have come across, are so locked into their beliefs that it is a waste of time discussing evolutionary facts with them. I would think it would also be a waste of time debating with a church-going person who is unwilling to learn something new, like the latest evolutionary science. If I went to church I would love to discuss with others both young and old, the homo naledi discoveries. But I am interested in that kind of stuff, most people are not. I guess my real question is, should we approach people differently because of their faith (or non-faith)?

You explained your approach to discussing evolution to a fellow church-goer. Would your approach be any different if say that other person was not a church goer? Or perhaps a Catholic or an person of some other faith, or an atheist? Do you treat people differently based on their faith?

Although I believe her question was specifically about fellow church-goers, I will address your questions. With a Catholic, I would use the same tactic I would with a fellow church-goer, but I would begin with the appeal to the authority of the Pope, since he accepts evolution. Other faiths are not usually as dismissive of evolution as Christianity in my experience, but if the situation arose, I would probably just give the scientific argument for evolution since I am not very familiar with their Holy Book(s). Most atheists accept evolution, but if I did find myself in such a situation, I would take them through Richard Dawkin’s “Primrose Path to Macroevolution”, which was layed out in his book The Greatest Show on Earth. In fact, that is the scientific argument I usually use as my outline for defending evolution from a purely scientific perspective. It is worth noting that Dawkin’s method is not too different that Darwin’s own method of easing people into macroevolution. After that, I present a few facts about there being evidence to support it and that is all I can do until they ask me more specific questions. Usually the biggest struggle is getting them to understand and accept the possibility of speciation.

In bringing up the question, I am more interested in the social/relational angle than in the intellectual angle. I don’t really want to get into a debate, because, you’re right, most people aren’t going to change their minds. My question is more, if you are friends with someone, or work closely with someone, when is it appropriate to let them continue in their wrong assumptions about you in order to maintain peace and harmony and in some cases your reputation, and at what point does not correcting the assumption become dishonest or a lack of integrity and a disservice to everyone.

It would be similar to if you had been raised a die-hard Republican and gone away to college and come out politically liberal, but your whole family (who you still generally like spending time with) is a Glenn Beck/ Rush Limbaugh loving crowd. So at Thanksgiving someone makes a comment you totally disagree with. Let’s say it’s not blatantly racist or sexist or homophobic or something you might feel a moral obligation to counter, it’s just ill-informed. Something about Obama being a secret Muslim Communist who has destroyed the Constitution, and the way they say it implies they think you obviously agree with them, as part of the family. Do you just change the subject? Smile and nod? Make a joke? Challenge it somehow? You’re pretty sure no one gives a rip what you learned in your high falutin’ poli-sci class, no doubt taught by the enemy. You don’t want Grandpa to have a stroke, you don’t want Grandma to withhold dessert from you, and you don’t want to embarrass your parents who would be sorely judged and criticized for producing left-leaning offspring.

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Right. It’s hardly ever the point of the conversation, it’s an assumption people are making about givens.

The times I have corrected people’s assumptions were times were I felt like if I didn’t, and later it did come up, the person would have felt lied to. Like when a friend showed up at my door with her collection of Jonathan Park DVDs that she really wanted to give me so I could appropriately indoctrinate my children as she had done. I felt accepting them would be lying. I know people like Patrick probably cannot imagine how awkwardly that conversation went down, but it was kind of painful for both of us. There is no way to gently say “I think that stuff is totally misguided and the only use I could possibly think for it would be to teach my kids what we don’t think” without the other person feeling judged and like you think you are smarter than they are. And if you are a functioning member of an Evangelical community there’s often no way to say “I teach my kids mainstream science” to a young earth person without them hearing “I am in league with the Devil.”

Knowing how to debate the issues intellectually is all fine and good, but knowing how to avoid ostracizing yourself and making your friends feel threatened and betrayed is more complicated. If I had the option of waving a magic wand and gaining a circle of friends who shared my faith, political views, child-rearing philosophy, and views on science and society, that would be fun. But in my real life, I don’t usually get to pick my friends from an “ideal” pool of applicants .

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Hi Eddie, do you realize that nothing will ever change if we, and I mean me, you and more people, keep our mouth shut? I don’t start controversial conversations at our church, because it may start a useless and harmful riot. But two of our pastors and others know quit well that I deviate far from the mainstream. I asked a pastor from another community to apply mathematics on the Flood, told him how, he did and he was shocked by his results. I just try to make people reconsider things and hope that they start looking for answers that fit the facts. “How could you make a joke about when your heart stopped functioning?” asked the cardiologist who had reanimated me. “Why not? I have looked past the line before and I like it there. And I got you laughing instead of looking worried.” was my answer.
So we have to speak, but “Let your conversation be always full of grace,…”.

I for one do keep my mouth shut, for the most part. Our Sunday School recently did a YEC video series and my wife may have gotten an earful on the drive home for a few weeks. I’ve stated my position at Church and will engage with a few people. However, my perception is that this conversation is a stumbling block for most people and so I’m hesitant to go there. In short, I try to adhere to the old adage ‘First, do no harm.’ If I think a conversation might lead to an argument, I tend to keep my mouth shut.


Avoiding arguments is good. Sometimes I just don’t want to shock and disturb anyone. (We are living in Texas for two semesters, and as the Republican primary campaigns heat up and are a topic of small talk, I’m finding this harder and harder. Evidently I have pretty shocking views on a number of topics.) I wonder where the line is when it comes to integrity.

I have made an exception to my bite my tongue policy when I feel like my kids are negatively impacted somehow. When we are in Mexico, they go twice a year to a three week educational program with the kids of other families from our organization and others that do similar work. It is run by two ladies from our (non-denom) organization, but they bring in short-term volunteers from the States to help. At one of the last ones, one of the volunteers was a very enthusiastic young earth science fan. For family movie night, he brought a Discovery Institute movie about flight. The movie itself was fine. The rhetoric that my husband and I would personally object to goes right over my kids’ heads for the most part, but the guy spent ten minutes introducing the film and apologizing that it wasn’t explicitly young earth and warning parents that not all the scientists interviewed in it made young earth kosher comments so they might have to debrief their children. So after that my husband and I talked to the director and asked if she could make sure that nothing the kids were being taught in their classes would make them feel like they were second rate Christians or that their parents were going to hell if they didn’t subscribe to that way of thinking and that we would prefer they not be taught young earth science at all, if possible. The director was very understanding and supportive and said another family had talked to her along the same lines, and said something like “People are just going to have to get used to more diversity with the younger families who don’t see things the same way some of us are used to.” So that made me think that maybe there are lots of people who would be less judgmental than I generally assume people will be. But I’d still rather not go there unless I’m pushed.

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@Christy @jlock @Jan_de_Boer

Indeed, wouldn’t it be the ultimate irony if in some large group, the vast majority felt comfortable as more “evolutionary-minded” Christians, but were all keeping silent, or worse yet – even half-heartedly towing opposite party line out of a sense of obligation to what they think the community is willing to tolerate. That is a danger of adhering to a “don’t rock the boat” principle, and is the dark side of “group think”. Not that I am any kind of model for blunt confrontation. I don’t like conflict any more than the next guy, and excel in conflict avoidance.



This is a difficult topic, Christy.

It was only half a year ago that I started drastically changing my views (well, in a gradual manner anyway).

And honestly, it wasn’t because of science. It was because what I was reading in the Bible. Anyway, I made the choice to send my dad an excruciatingly long email on the topic (of which I sincerely regret), talking about these different issues. It didn’t have to do with evolution at all, actually… Just the idea of epochs before the existence of Adam and Eve.

Long story, short, we used to agree on nearly everything, and then all the sudden, out of no where, I change my views and it just hasn’t been the same since…

Now when I go to my friends Bible Studies it just becomes awkward. One guy talked about the idea that “mutations occurred” possibly creating the porcupine after the fall, of which it didn’t exist prior to that time… His explanation was that the needles of the porcupine was used for survive, and to hurt other creatures… I didn’t respond to this at the time, but it just sounded totally bizarre (also mutations sounded like evolution to me… Which seems weird because earlier on in the conversation he said evolution wasn’t true)…


Hi Christy.
Generally I keep my big mouth closed. At our church we have the rule that the Bible tells the historical truth and to behave accordingly. I have a different opinion, but I see the wisdom to prevent the useless and harmful discussions that don’t solve anything at all, because almost everybody is basically unwilling to change his/her opinion.
But honestly, I have more problems with the attitude of the settled Biologos members.
I have to add that I’m a bit exceptional, my I.Q. is beyond the scale, “where numbers have lost their meaning” said the man who tested me. (Consider that you were living in a world where everybody had far less than half your I.Q.-score. How would you handle that?)
Brad Kramer started this summer a conversation, “Do humans have a non-physical soul?“ in the category Theology/Philosophy. I followed the discussion but did not join it. It became a typical talk between alpha people, very intellectually and very friendly, but without a yes or no result.
What disturbed me was the absence of result and the inevitable popping up of Plato. At school I learned about Plato that he forced opponents to suicide by drinking poison, and about his stubborn refusal to test whether the idea’s he dreamed up were true. How can one like such a person and work? In addition, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, astronomer, co-inventor of radar, inventor of the stationary communication satellite, inventor of the satellite belt, teacher, one of the top three SF-writers, just to name a few of his capabilities, said about Plato: “If had not been there, then we would have gone to the stars two thousand years ago.”.
How would you say politely and without hurting feelings that there is solid proof that we have a soul, that our soul is possibly 4D, one dimension more than our body, that the soul is the bearer of our memory and our personality, that here are many proofs and testimonies on www.iands.org, that the study of near-death-experiences is now the domain of mainly atheists while it should be the domain of Biologos. In addition, to me it seems possible that our soul has us.
I’m not an alpha but a beta person. I have usually a different approach and also faster and better results than other people, or even completely different results.
Galileo was right but was not believed. Many other people ran into the same problem.
Watch Margaret Heffernan: Dare to disagree | Talk Video | TED.com and learn how doctors killed many babies at a single hospital, because they refused to let themselves be convinced by solid proof that Rontgen radiation is generally fatal for unborn children. And the same happened in all hospitals all over the world, resulting in many millions dead babies. For no other reasons than arrogance and stubbornness.
As example of my different approach a few serious questions, related to Genesis. Please try to answer them, before reading the answers below, 1) can a stone float on gas? 2) look at a map or globe of the Earth, what is clearly visible but never noticed? 3) give a different, more worldly and more likely interpretation of the story about the Tower of Babel.
On Internet I found an article by Mr Paul Seely, a theologian, “proving” that the Flood was not global by stating that the ice on Greenland would have floated away if the Flood had been global. I do not doubt his intentions and integrity, but it is my considered opinion that he only proved that he does not understand the principle and mechanics of floating: the ice could not float because it was glued to the ground by millennia of pressure and frost, and floating requires that the water can exert upward pressure on the bottom of the ice layer.
Prof. Robert Coe is a geophysicist whose primary research involves the application of paleomagnetism to a broad spectrum of problems. He did much research on Pole-shifts. Planets have generally a magnetic field, but only if they are turning and have a very hot gaseous interior. Why? Because generating a magnetic field requires an electric current. An electric current is a moving electrical charge. At home we use electricity by letting the negative electrons run from a spot with low tension to a spot with high tension. Generators produce electricity by forcing electrons in opposite direction by magnetic fields. Inside the Earth it is done completely different Atoms have a nucleus consisting of one or more positively charged protons and an equal number negatively charged electrons. If the atoms are part of a very hot gas, then the collisions of the atoms beat electrons out of their orbit, resulting in positively charged atoms. The Earth is turning East, so the charged atoms are also moving East, which means that an electric current is moving East, causing a magnetic field in and around our Earth. Some 12 to 25 times during each million years the axis of the magnetic field changes at irregulars intervals its position in relation to the turning axis of the crust. Those changes are called “Pole-shifts”.
But Pole-shift is misleading and incorrect name. The crust and the interior under the crust are both turning flywheels. And the mass of the crust is completely negligible compared to the mass under the crust. So it has to be the crust that shifts and the correct name is crust-shift. Have a look at Cataclysmic pole shift hypothesis - Wikipedia. Charles Hapgood was completely correct. But he and Albert Einstein lacked only the insight that the interior of the Earth is mainly gas and that the Earth is continuously is expanding, which causes additional unbalance of the crust. Also the size and the speed of the floods caused by the shifts are beyond the imagination of anyone, until it is explained. Geologists are still convinced that the interior of the Earth is solid and fail or refuse to see that if it is solid, then there has to be a temperature gradient of a few degrees Celsius per kilometer depth, which means that the temperature has to be above the critical temperature,of any known material within an additional thousand kilometer depth. That is why it has to be gas. And then there are still several thousands kilometers below, where the gas-law rules, meaning that the temperature goes up with the pressure to 6-figure numbers. Aside from this there is according to geologists more water under the crust than above the crust. And that water has to be steam.
I have repeatedly tried to contact Prof. Coe, but I never got any reaction at all. Maybe you or someone you know is able to ask his opinion about this.
The pressure and temperature immediately under the crust are some 20,000 bar and some 2,000°C. The specific weight is 3,000 kg/m3. The specific weight of stone is some 2,500 kg/m3, which implies that a stone will float there on gas. Vapor of basalt will condensate against the somewhat cooler underside of the crust, forming liquid lava, floating on gas. This has the advantage that any new crack or hole in the crust is immediately filled. Please note that geologists do not know why, how and where lava is formed. Ask them where and how lava is formed if you cannot believe me.
If you look at a globe of the Earth, you see continents and large islands surrounded by water. In Genesis you can read that the Spirit of God was hovering above the wild waters. (Dutch translation). After the creation Earth had a crust of granite, completely covered by a worldwide ocean. Then the Earth started expanding, which caused that the crust broke into pieces. The cracks were filled with lava, which started to form the bottom of the future oceans. The expansion continued and slowly the volume in the cracks increased, finally resulting in dry land on the pieces of the original crust.
The Tower of Babel. Previous human civilizations had lots of time to emigrate into Space and colonize other planets or to build habitats near another star and live there. (Don’t be too surprised if they are not Homo Sapiens, but Neanderthals and/or Denisovans.) Their descendants are still in Space and must have visited, in my opinion, Earth for fresh food and human company. At least that is my interpretation of the “Sons of the gods” who are mentioned in the Bible. Some local ruler or warlord must have dreamed to go also high in the sky and steal his share of the riches of those spacers. Not hampered by lack of knowledge about space, the distances, the lowering of air pressure and temperature with hight, and worse, the lack of knowledge of building towers. If you design a tower, you have to do that top-down. If you have reached the maximum weight capacity of a wall, then the next meter of that wall has to be slightly thicker. because it has to bear the weight from above plus its own weight. And every next meter will have to be the same percentage thicker. Presume that after 40 meters the wall thickness has doubled, then the next 40 m the wall thickness has to double again. Start with a wall thickness of 0.20 m, then the wall thickness doubles every 40 m height, which means that the wall thickness for each additional 400 m will require a 1,000 times thicker wall as foundation… Start with 0,2 m and 400 m lower the wall has to be 200 m thick. Building a mountain is cheaper and easier.
Because they did not start with really thick walls, the lower part of the wall stated crumbling under its own weight before they had reached some 100 m high…The builders did not understand why their building material failed and could not come to an agreement about a problem. “Not speaking each others language” still means not being able to agree about something. The failure of that pretentious project and the loss of the investments that had been made, must have caused a severe economic crisis, total collapse of the local government and moving of the population.
It seems to me that Biologos should slightly modify its approach and look for several subjects more for physical explanations instead of religious explanations. Noah and his crew survived the Flood. But they were not the only survivor group. That he survived was a miracle, but there were also 32 other small survivor groups.
Other subjects deserve a more religious approach. Many people believe that death is the end of our existence and are scared of death. Proving that death is like birth, a passage to the next phase of our existence, might reduce the fear for death. It also might reduce the sorrow of people who lose loved ones. And it might reduce murder: getting rid of someone by killing him is no longer a solution as your victim will wait until you die and will get even before a Higher Judge.

I know lots of linguists. If you have linguistic questions, I can help out, otherwise I’m pretty useless as far as the things you are pondering.

I think it’s a lot less painful if you don’t try to take all the biblical narratives as literal history you and don’t try to scientifically prove spiritual truths.


If you are still interested in replies, I have two. In Church I have been very clear about my pro evolution views. The pastor asked if I would be willing to present a small workshop on evolution, since some questions had come up at the local annual conference (United Methodists). I said I would be delighted to do it. I expected 10 or 12 folks, not the 65 who showed up. I was also very pleasantly surprised that most of the crowd was with me from the start, and a few who werent had some of their misconceptions addressed. At this Church (in a suburb of Washington DC) I have never felt any hostility or even questioning of my scientific views. .

The other story is totally different and relates to an earlier comment by Eddie. I was also in a University and government research setting for my whole career. And there I felt it impossible to admit to my Christianity for a long time. The atmosphere was so anti religious, that jokes at the expense of Christians and the assumption that everyone was an atheist made if difficult to speak up. At the NIH (from which I recently retired) I felt similarly constrained, despite the fact that Biologos founder Dr. Francis Collins was our boss. I did begin to be more open, feeling that I had an obligation to at least stop hiding my faith. The reactions ranged from incredulity and discomfort, to revelations that the person I was speaking to was also secretly a Christian.

I have mentioned the strong anti religious sentiment among academic scientists before. It isnt universal, and it isnt always hostile or career damaging, but it can be. The whole concept of keeping one’s faith a secret seems like an anomaly, and it should be, but it isnt.

I work at a humanities university, which here means ‘social sciences and humanities’ (in English translation). We had our opening day this past week. The rector delivered his speech to the incoming 1st year students, which began by relating a story about a religious pendant he had been given by his mother. In the speech, he included both Jewish and Christian references. As a N. American, I was a bit surprised. But here, it fits with the territory. Religion is not as scary as more and more N. Americans are coming to see it; rather, it is essential to living a full, embodied human life.

N. America currently faces a growing anti-(‘organised’)religious situation; a legalistic culture, not only in Academia, and a highly individualist system which too easily puts religion into the ‘private’ box. Both ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’ are responsible for this according to their recent policies. As I recall from an interview I conducted with a decorated physicist in Russia a few years ago; Russia is a post-atheist nation (where the Church is re-surging), having purged the ghosts of the Soviet past, while the USA (he specified), is a ‘pre-atheist’ nation. The ‘nones’ and ‘atheists’ are growing there and neither IDists nor BioLogos will significantly be able to stop this.

In regard to ‘conservative’ evangelical Protestant Christian churches, BioLogos has identified an important problem that needs more attention in USA culture. You have far too many under-educated, self-absorbed but ‘pious,’ anti-science figures, including ‘pastors’ spreading fear of knowledge in their insulated ‘sect’-communities. Catholics, who are usually more globally oriented (what’s happening in Rome, Brasil, Jerusalem and Beijing?) and who constitute the largest single category of Christians in the USA, don’t have the same problems with evolution and creation that evangelicals do. And they seem to have largely gotten over the duplicitous ideology of IDism, wisely so. It might profit BioLogos to address this ‘gap’ among Christians, exploring conditions outside of the Protestant fold (and how about the Orthodox?).

What I wonder is how much BioLogos really wants to change evangelicals, e.g. Brad Kramer says he wants evangelicals to ‘evolve.’ Kramer’s ‘stylish’ colloquial usage of ‘evolution’ nevertheless conveniently ignores the dangers of evolutionism, which BioLogos tokenly says it is against (but doesn’t actually demonstrate in its columns). Otoh, maybe evangelical churches need to become more ‘catholic’ in their approach, which would make the transition to accepting limited biological evolutionary theories easier.

If a person comes across as ‘anti-evolution,’ you can just ask them Eddie’s repeated question at BioLogos: “what does God actually do in the evolutionary process?” No one has a ‘scientific’ answer to this question (including IDists and TEs), so any answer is going to be speculatively theological, whether individualist Protestant or otherwise. By including philosophy (where are the BioLogos philosophers, while Jim Stump ponders over evolutionism/evolutionist?), one may hope to create a science, philosophy and theology/worldview discourse that assists those who feel outcast in USA “when people assume you are anti-evolution.” One button pushed, the right button, and the script flips upon the outdated and the ignorant.

Brief advice - “when people assume you are anti-evolution”:

  1. Clarify that you are not ‘anti-evolution,’ but rather ‘anti-evolutionism’ and explain to them the difference (e.g. ‘evolution’ began in English language as a way of God’s creation);

  2. Identify that acceptance of limited biological evolution is the large majority position of Christians worldwide and suggest there is (may just be) a chronic problem in USAmerican churches regarding evolution and creation, processes of natural history and origin of life and humanity that they might wish to consider for their own spiritual health;

  3. Affirm that one doesn’t need to ‘throw away’ real-historical Adam and Eve, original sin or personal responsibility, simply because some biologists are ideologists for ‘universal Darwinism’ (e.g. Dawkins) and a small few Christians have unwisely jumped on the anti-Adam & Eve bandwagon.

Your post touched on a very important aspect in the United States. The separation of Church and State is absolute in the United States. So the Government must be absolutely a-religious in everything. At NIH, in the military, in public education. Once a person works as a representative of the Government, their actions and statements must override their religious beliefs.