Poll: evolution and Christianity

The Theos think tank has published a report, entitled Faith and Darwin (PDF), on British attitudes towards evolution and Christianity. The report is based on a survey of 2,060 adults across the country, and the Guardian has an interactive map of the results.

The survey was based on 25 questions, of which I’ve selected the ten most interesting below. I’d be interested to know what people’s answers are to these questions – my own answers will be in the first comment to this post. I’ve omitted the question asking about people’s religious beliefs, so please state that as well if you think it will help illuminate your answers.

1. Which of these four statements about the origin of human life do you think is most likely to be true:

  1. Humans evolved by a process of evolution which removes any need for God
  2. Humans evolved by a process of evolution which can be seen as part of God’s plan
  3. Humans evolved by a process of evolution which required the special intervention of God or a higher power at key stages
  4. Humans were created by God some time within the last 10,000 years

2. Darwinian evolution is the idea that life today, including human life, developed over millions of years from earlier species, by a process of natural selection. Which one of the following statements comes closest to your opinion of Darwinian evolution?

  1. It is a theory so well established that it’s beyond reasonable doubt
  2. It is a theory that is still waiting to be proved or disproved
  3. It is a theory with very little evidence to support it
  4. It is a theory which has been disproved by the evidence

3. Different people have different opinions on the relationship between evolution and Christianity. Which one of the following statements comes closest to your opinion (irrespective of whether or not you are a Christian)?

  1. Evolution and Christianity are totally incompatible: you can’t believe in both
  2. Evolution presents some challenges to Christianity but it is possible to believe in both
  3. Evolution and Christianity are wholly compatible and there is no tension at all between the two
  4. Evolution and Christianity are totally disconnected subjects and have nothing to do with one another

4. Some people think there is a purpose behind evolution whereas others do not. Which one of the following statements best describes your opinion (irrespective of whether or not you believe in evolution)?

  1. Evolution is a chance process with no ultimate direction or purpose
  2. Evolution involves chance but this is doesn’t disprove an ultimate direction or purpose
  3. Evolution does not involve chance as it is a process directed by God or some other force.

5. Some people believe that Intelligent Design should be taught alongside evolution in schools, whereas others disagree. Which one of the following statements comes closest to your opinion?

  1. Intelligent Design should be taught alongside evolution in science lessons
  2. Intelligent Design should be discussed in other lessons, such as Religious Education
  3. Intelligent Design should not be taught or discussed in schools at all

6. Which one of the following statements best describes your opinion of the relationship between human beings and other living things?

  1. Human beings are just another species of animal and have no unique value or significance
  2. Human beings are like other animals but are particularly complex and this complexity gives humans value and significance
  3. Human beings are uniquely different from other living things and so have a unique value and significance

7. Which one of the following statements comes closest to your opinion regarding what evolution tells us about the purpose of life?

  1. Evolution tells us that there is no ultimate purpose to life.
  2. Evolution fits well with the idea that there is an ultimate purpose to life
  3. Evolution tells us nothing about whether there is an ultimate purpose to life or not

8. Which one of the following statements comes closest to your opinion about science?

  1. Science can explain everything
  2. Science can’t explain everything yet but it will do one day
  3. Science explains many things but there are some things it will never be able to explain

9. Which one of the following statements comes closest to your opinion about the relationship between science and religious belief?

  1. Science totally undermines religious belief
  2. Science challenges religious beliefs but they can co-exist
  3. Science positively supports religious belief
  4. Science neither supports nor undermines religious belief

10. Which one of the following statements comes closest to your view of the creation account at the start of the Bible?

  1. It is a literal and accurate account of the origins of everything
  2. It is an ancient attempt at a scientific explanation which has now been disproved
  3. It is an ancient myth of real historical interest but with no scientific basis today
  4. It is a theological account which explains the meaning and purpose of the universe, not intended as science
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16 Responses to Poll: evolution and Christianity

  1. John H says:

    OK, here are my answers:

    1(b); 2(a); 3(b); 4(b); 5(b); 6(c); 7(c); 8(c); 9(b); 10(d).

    A couple of comments on specific questions:

    4: This depends on what you mean by “ultimate”, and on what level you’re looking for “direction or purpose”. Evolution in itself is purposeless, but I don’t believe that prevents God from using it for his purposes in a manner beyond scientific observation.

    5: My ideal answer would be: “ID should not be taught as ‘science’, but the science curriculum should include discussion of broader social issues surrounding science and public attitudes towards science, which would include discussion of creationism and ID”.

    6: Again, none of these options is particularly satisfactory. My answer could oscillate between (b) and (c) depending on what level of explanation we’re looking at.

  2. Paul Huxley says:

    I’d call myself a Reformed Christian. Here are my answers.

    1. ‘A’ is deluded, ‘B’ is within Christianity but dodgy, ‘C’ is reasonable and possible, but ‘D’ is most likely. So D.

    2. ‘B’, but with sympathies to C and D.

    3. ‘B’ – there are a whole load of theological questions raised (which are difficult to resolve) if a Christian goes Darwinian.

    4. ‘A’ if we’re talking about secularist evolution. If we’re talking about a theist who believes in evolution then C. ‘A’ is not a position a Christian can reasonably hold, ‘C’ perhaps is.

    5. ‘A’ – it’s an interesting way to get into the philosophy of science and understand what it is and isn’t. It’s impossible to be neutral in any area of study and ID vs evolution is a great example of that.

    6. ‘C’ – anything less and we flatly deny the Bible.

    7. ‘A’ – at least in terms of unguided (secularist) evolution. You can’t hold a viewpoint that there is no active, living, present God and ask for there to be objective meaning in life. Evolution itself doesn’t teach this, but the worldview it bases itself on does. If we’re talking about a guided, Theistic evolution then I don’t know what I’d answer of the three.

    8. How about D. – Science can’t explain anything? Well, not to the extent that it should be, when done by secularists. But C will have to do for the purposes of the poll

    9. Again, it depends if we’re talking about science as a ‘netural’ ‘secularist’ pursuit (in which case A or C if we’re talking about true science done accurately. In terms of what’s done today there’s a huge mix, with climate-change prophets, multiverse theorists and hardcore evolutionists being in the A camp, and many others in the C camp.

    10. A. B is totally out, C is very weak and D is acceptable.

  3. Phil Walker says:

    I didn’t look at your answers before providing my own, nor your comments.

    1. Somewhere between c and d. I’m not tied to timescales, but I am willing to fight for the distinction between bara and asah.
    2. Cut out the human life bit and I’m at a, modulo some concerns at the margins. Leave humans in and I’m perhaps slightly to the “a” side of c.
    3. b.
    4. b, I guess. It’s not a very well-put question.
    5. Somewhere between a and b. ID is better “philosophy of science” than science proper.
    6. c. This isn’t a scientific question, right? ‘Cos if it is, Dawkins’ll get modernistic on your butt.
    7. c.
    8. c.
    9. Frankly, I don’t care for generic “religion”. What does it believe? b.
    10. d, c’mon. I’m an evangelical, not a modernist. 😉 (Plus, I don’t know what c even means.)

  4. Derek says:

    OK. Lurker giving a first post, but I’m mainly just leaving a comment to say I don’t like any of the options. And I realize that it says “comes closest to” on each of the questions, but I don’t want to try to figure out which options I’m closer to.

    1(0.5d); 2(somewhere between a and b); 3(0.5d); 4(any); 5(pass); 6(c); 7(c); 8(c); 9(any); 10(parts of b,c,d + other)

    1: I’m happy just to say “Humans were created by God” and leave it there. Evolution, Creation within the last 10k years, Creation ten googul years ago, Oyarsa’s magic nuclear explosion dust, whatever.

    2: It’s a well established theory, certainly not waiting to be proved, but I have no idea on the beyond reasonable doubt part. Use the evolution paradigm as long as it works.

    3: I don’t want to say *totally* disconnected, but I don’t see a need to deal with them together anymore.

    4: What John H said.

    5: I don’t know enough about ID to be able to give a good enough answer to this one.

    6: What John H said.

    9: How well science and religion interact with each other is like asking how well science and politics interact with each other (or religion and politics): It depends on who’s making them interact and what their agenda is. Any of those can be true statements depending on who is considering the two elements.

    10: I’ve always been struck by the way the Genesis creation account is a refutation of other early creation myths of other cultures (something which has been pointed out by more learned people than me). So it’s not (b) because Genesis isn’t trying to reach through time and smack down current theories, but it does seem to be trying to smack down other theories of its day. It’s not (c) because while it does have real historic interest, it’s a lot more than that. It is certainly theological, and it is certainly not intended as modern science, which is (d), but I don’t quite like the way (d) is worded for some reason.

  5. K Bryan says:

    1(b); 2(a); 3(c); 4(b); 5(b); 6(c); 7(c); 8(c); 9(d); 10(d).

    Comments on some specific questions:

    3) There is no _real_ tension between Christianity and evolution, but there is much perceived tension. The perceived tension is based upon a particular literal interpretation of Genesis.

    4) I’ll avoid getting into a long discussion on the definition of random and just say this: randomness only exists from the human perspective because we can only say an event is random from a perspective of incomplete knowledge. God has perfect knowledge, therefore no events are random from His perspective.

    5) Intelligent design simply is not science. See Judge Jones’s decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover for an excellent and succinct explication of why:

    7) Evolution cannot speak to the purpose of life because the purpose of life is not a scientific question, regardless of what Richard Dawkins and his ilk say.

    8) Science deals solely with the natural world, so it cannot address questions that deal with what exists outside of the natural world. See Sir Peter Medawar’s excellent little book _The Limits of Science_.

    9) Science is neutral re religious belief. See my response to question 8. The evidence produced by science can be used to support either theism or atheism. Christians got on quite well being Christians, and atheists got on quite well being atheists before the invention of modern science a couple hundred years ago.

    10) Genesis as theological account. This is not a modern concession to science; it goes back to the early church fathers. Augustine gave a clear exposition of Genesis as theology in his _Literal Meaning of Genesis_. Reading the Genesis creation accounts in light of what we know about the ancient near east and the early Israelites makes the theological nature of those accounts clear.

  6. Chris Jones says:

    I am a traditional Lutheran (with severe theological holdover from my days as an Eastern Orthodox). The Lutheran Synod I belong to is in fellowship with the one John H belongs to.

    I made my answers and comments before reading anyone else’s, but my answers are the same as John’s (except for question 9, on which John is wrong: see Ps 19.1). I also entirely concur with John’s comments.

    The real answer to several of these is “none of the above,” but here, for what it’s worth, are my answers from the available choices — followed by some notes of explanation.

    1 B
    2 A
    3 B
    4 B
    5 B
    6 C
    7 C
    8 C
    9 C
    10 D

    Notes:

    1 B Humans evolved by a process of evolution which can be seen as is manifestly part of God’s plan

    3 This is the question which most demands “none of the above.” The whole difficulty with the evolution debate is that the verb “believe in” means one thing in the phrase “believe in evolution” and something entirely different in the phrase “believe in Christianity.” It’s wrong to make science into a religion, and it’s equally wrong to make the Christian faith into a science.

    4 Evolution “involves chance” in the same way that quantum mechanics “involves chance,” but in neither case does the “chance” element exclude divine providence or sovereignty. The stated choices are scientifically, philosophically, and theologically shallow.

    5 Another “none of the above” question — in this case because I don’t understand what “Intelligent Design” actually means well enough to have an opinion as to whether it is worth being taught. [After reading John’s comment, his “ideal answer” would be my answer as well.]

  7. joel hunter says:

    1. b *
    2. a
    3. d *
    4. b
    5. b
    6. c
    7. c *
    8. c
    9. d *
    10. d *

    I agree with a previous commenter who noted that several responses depend on whether you interpret the “conflict” as apparent or real.

    1. If the question were stated more precisely, (a) might be true.
    3. If we’re going to discuss theological details, then I’d have to nod toward (b) (while still maintaining d). But it’s historically contingent (e.g., substitute ‘geology’ or ‘a moving earth’ for ‘evolution’–these aren’t usually seen as “challenges” for Xity anymore).
    7. I could go for (b) under a negative construal. Evolution “fits well” with the view that there is an ultimate purpose to life precisely because it does not entail an ultimate purpose to life (again, substitute ‘geology’ or ‘a moving earth’ for ‘evolution’). It seems to me that here is the root of much misunderstanding: the absence of teleology in biological evolution is reinscribed as a metaphysical claim, a positive ascription of reality. That’s sneaky metaphysics and theists shouldn’t fall for it. We didn’t seem to have as much of a problem with the theory of gravity (abandoning the Architect-sustainer conjecture of Newton).
    9. Sticking to my non-overlapping view here. But I’d nod toward (b) again (for the reason given above in #3).
    10. But oddly enough, (a) is a possibility if it were stated more precisely. But under the “normal” meanings, I think it is unhelpful to explain my views with those loaded terms.

  8. Ross says:

    1. 6000 yrs
    2. disproven
    3. totally incompatible
    4. no direction
    5. ID should be taught
    6. unique value
    7. no purpose
    8. explains many things
    9. science supports belief
    10. literal & accurate

  9. John H says:

    Thanks for the interesting and varied answers. A couple of thoughts in response.

    Chris: regarding #9, I think we were probably reading the question slightly differently (or coming at it from a slightly different direction).

    Astronomy, for example, provides plenty of material that resonates with the beliefs of those of us who recognise that “the heavens declare the glory of God”. However, I’m not sure that the scientific study of the heavens provides an apologetic for Christian belief.

    In any event, what I probably had more in mind were the findings of evolution, which do undoubtedly pose a “challenge”: in particular, how we fit the biblical narrative of humanity’s creation and fall into the story that evolution tells us about how we developed. I don’t think that is an insuperable “challenge”, but it certainly is a challenge. (I agree with Joel that it’s challenge is going to be time-limited: give it a century and Christians will find evolution about as “challenging” as 99% of us find heliocentrism.)

    Joel:

    It seems to me that here is the root of much misunderstanding: the absence of teleology in biological evolution is reinscribed as a metaphysical claim, a positive ascription of reality. That’s sneaky metaphysics and theists shouldn’t fall for it.

    Bingo. That’s a critical (but also quite tricky) distinction to maintain. One reason why I dislike the term “theistic evolution” is it tends to end up with people importing teleology into evolution at the scientific level. What we need to keep a handle on is that evolution is “purposeless and undirected” in exactly the same way that the weather is.

    Ross: Thanks for your response. We’re clearly at opposite ends of the Christian spectrum on this issue, and I’m not in the business of trying to persuade you to change your mind on it. What I would be interested to know (from the point of view of understanding the YEC position more thoroughly) is on what basis you consider evolution to be “disproven”.

    Also, given your answer to q.3 (“a. Evolution and Christianity are totally incompatible: you can’t believe in both”), what is your take on those of us in this thread who would say we do believe in both (taking into account Chris’s important point about the very different meaning of “believe in” as applied to evolution and Christianity)?

  10. Mark Nikirk says:

    Charasmatic Evangelical -> wanna be Lutheran 😉

    Humans evolved by a process of evolution which can be seen as part of God’s plan
    It is a theory that is still waiting to be proved or disproved
    Evolution presents some challenges to Christianity but it is possible to believe in both
    Evolution involves chance but this is doesn’t disprove an ultimate direction or purpose
    Intelligent Design should be discussed in other lessons, such as Religious Education
    Human beings are uniquely different from other living things and so have a unique value and significance
    Evolution tells us nothing about whether there is an ultimate purpose to life or not
    Science explains many things but there are some things it will never be able to explain
    Science neither supports nor undermines religious belief
    It is a theological account which explains the meaning and purpose of the universe, not intended as science

  11. Tony Verkinnes says:

    1. Which of these four statements about the origin of human life do you think is most likely to be true:

    Humans were created by God some time within the last 10,000 years

    2. Darwinian evolution is the idea that life today, including human life, developed over millions of years from earlier species, by a process of natural selection. Which one of the following statements comes closest to your opinion of Darwinian evolution?

    It is a theory which has been disproved by the evidence

    3. Different people have different opinions on the relationship between evolution and Christianity. Which one of the following statements comes closest to your opinion (irrespective of whether or not you are a Christian)?

    Evolution and Christianity are totally incompatible: you can’t believe in both

    4. Some people think there is a purpose behind evolution whereas others do not. Which one of the following statements best describes your opinion (irrespective of whether or not you believe in evolution)?

    Evolution is a chance process with no ultimate direction or purpose

    5. Some people believe that Intelligent Design should be taught alongside evolution in schools, whereas others disagree. Which one of the following statements comes closest to your opinion?

    Intelligent Design should be taught alongside evolution in science lessons

    6. Which one of the following statements best describes your opinion of the relationship between human beings and other living things?

    Human beings are uniquely different from other living things and so have a unique value and significance

    7. Which one of the following statements comes closest to your opinion regarding what evolution tells us about the purpose of life?

    Evolution tells us that there is no ultimate purpose to life.

    8. Which one of the following statements comes closest to your opinion about science?

    Science explains many things but there are some things it will never be able to explain

    9. Which one of the following statements comes closest to your opinion about the relationship between science and religious belief?

    Science positively supports religious belief

    10. Which one of the following statements comes closest to your view of the creation account at the start of the Bible?

    It is a literal and accurate account of the origins of everything

    For what it’s worth. 🙂
    I’m a brand new Lutheran.

    tony

  12. John H says:

    Tony: Thanks for your comment. I’ve got much the same questions that I asked Ross before, namely:

    1. If “Evolution and Christianity are totally incompatible: you can’t believe in both”, how do you account for those of us who are under the impression we do?

    2. On what evidence do you consider evolution to have been disproved?

  13. Andrew says:

    I’m a Reformed evangelical biology/chemistry teacher at a public high school.

    1) none of the answers fit me, but probably between b-c
    2) b – it has a lot of evidence, but it still has some gaping holes and disparities
    3) b
    4) c
    5) a
    6) c
    7) c – natural selction is by itself a-teleological
    8) c
    9) c
    10) d

  14. Mack Ramer says:

    1-B; 2-A; 3-B; 4-B; 5-B; 6-C; 7-C; 8-C; 9-B&C both; 10-D

    Not surprised that I almost entirely agree with you, John.

  15. Tony Verkinnes says:

    John…
    1. If “Evolution and Christianity are totally incompatible: you can’t believe in both”, how do you account for those of us who are under the impression we do?

    I would say you are wrong. You either haven’t done you’re homework, or you seem to put more weight in so-callled science (in this instance I use the term loosely) than scripture.
    To my mind, takes way more faith to believe in evolution. There are just to many holes, suppositions and out right lies.

    2. On what evidence do you consider evolution to have been disproved? Darwin. He wrote: If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.
    (Sea SLugs, Bombardier Beetles and the E.Coli bacteria would be 3 fitting the bill)
    Oh, and those rascally, as yet not found, transitional fossils.

    tv

  16. 1: b

    Although I’m not not sure I understand what (a) is to be taken as meaning other than “I don’t believe in God” in which case it’s strangely worded. Wouldn’t even a classical deist be (b) rather than (a)?

    2: a

    3: b/c

    4: a and c but not b

    5: c

    I just can’t stand the phrase. Why go with “intelligent” rather than “just” or “graceful” or “merciful design”?

    6: a and c but not b

    7: c

    8: ?

    I can’t even halfway answer this without getting super-semantic-y.

    9: c

    Science supports religious belief because if you have a religious belief that is threatened by science you will hopefully be prompted to think “Hey! It turns out that what I have is not a religious belief at all, but merely a factual statement with an undetermined truth value!” And then you can go out and get an actual religious belief.

    10: a/b/c/d

    There is a lot of different stuff in there!

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