Evolution and Religion—The Debate Continues
MOST persons are somewhat acquainted with a debate that started over one hundred years ago. The issue is this: Was man placed on earth as a special creation of God, as stated in the Bible? Or, has man evolved from a lower creature? Do not mistakenly think that this is a dead issue in the 1970’s. Vigorous, even heated, language is still heard from both sides in this ongoing debate.
However, thousands of persons who have heard arguments from both sides are not sure what to believe. Why? Because certain of the participants have confused them. In what way?
Well, the average person expects men of science to support a belief in evolution; most scientists, though not all, usually do. But, on the other hand, most people also ordinarily expect that religious leaders will uphold the belief that God created man, as taught in the Bible. But with growing frequency that is not the case.
Of course, not all clergymen openly embrace and advocate evolution. A large segment of them try to take a “middle of the road” approach to the issue. They do not reject evolution as wrong; but, then, neither do they positively stand behind the Bible. Many try to make it appear that evolution and the Biblical account of creation are compatible and that both, in some way, are correct.
It is difficult for church and synagogue members to understand such reasoning. Why? They have read (or heard read) portions of the Bible book of Genesis, which shows that man was a separate creation of God, a creature that reproduces only ‘after its kind.’ But evolution says that man came forth from a lower “kind,” from animal kind. The Bible also indicates that the first man on earth was created by God about 6,000 years ago. But evolution says that man appeared over a million years ago, and then only after several million years of evolving.
Most people can see that these teachings are opposites. Both could not possibly be right. Thus they understandably expect participants in the debate to take a positive stand for one view or the other—for special creation as taught in the Bible, or for evolution.
It is not the particular purpose of this article to provide scientific details advocating either evolution or special creation. Rather, we want to give our readers an idea of how widespread the teaching of evolution is among religious organizations. With that knowledge one can better appreciate why so many people, even those claiming to be religious, do not have clear opinions on the subject.
Just what are religious men saying currently in this debate?
Some Protestant Views
Many Protestants have been startled to learn that their clergymen are rallying to the side of evolution. For instance, the Episcopalian dean of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral says:
“That Biblical myth-story was but one of many such which were developed by primitive religions. Over 100 years ago modern science began to dismantle the superstructure of religious myth-stories of origins, and of the Genesis story in particular, by means of scientific investigation. In so doing, science rendered Biblical religion an inestimable service.”
This dean’s views are largely shared by William H. Amos, who teaches at the Episcopalian St. Andrews School in Middletown, Delaware: “The sweep of evolutionary development of man (and of all life) is both magnificent and humbling, and in no way is antithetical to our religious convictions.”
Too, consider the stand that Ernest Marshall Howse, a former moderator of the United Church of Canada, takes on this issue. His church members may expect that he would credit the God of Genesis with the wonders of creation. Yet he writes: “In a billion years the stupendous processes of evolution have worked marvels.” Similarly, Roy Essex, Baptist chaplain at the University of Toronto, says: “I don’t go along with the Adam and Eve stuff.” These are only a sampling of Protestant clergymen who have taken evolution’s side of the issue in the debate.
Evolution and Catholics
Some Roman Catholics have also been strong advocates of evolution, leaving many Catholics unsure as to what to believe in this matter. One prominent Jesuit who taught evolution was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Though he died in 1955, his evolutionary ideas still strongly affect the church. The December 15, 1973, issue of the Jesuit weekly America goes so far as to refer to Teilhard’s “inspiring vision” in which the concept of “God is revealed . . . as the culmination of natural evolutionary processes.”
The Liberal Catholic Church uses Teilhard’s evolutionary views as the basis for many of their teachings. Leading them to what conclusion? The “Reverend” Christopher Francis recently told The Oregonian: “We believe that Jesus Christ is the product of an evolutionary process . . . We do not believe that he is the redeemer.”
But failure to support the Bible’s creation account in this debate reaches outside the “Christian” religions.
What About the Jews?
A Jewish rabbi, Amiel Wohl, of the Congregation B’nai Israel in Sacramento, California, appeared before the California State Board of Education regarding that State’s school textbooks in 1972. Did he come positively to the defense of the Genesis account of creation? No. Part of his statement made reference to the “Adam and Eve stories” and “other Biblical tales.”
If you are Jewish, such a statement may surprise you. But it is hardly inconsistent with the stand taken by the recently released Encydopædia Judaica. In its article on evolution this Jewish work does not clearly favor the Bible’s creation account.
But are such statements by religious men upholding evolution limited to the “mainline religions”? No, more and more members of the churches that are not quite so prominent are also finding that religious leaders and outstanding members of their organizations do not always positively support the creation account.
What About Mormons and Evolution?
As a case in point, consider the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, whose members are often referred to as Mormons. To understand the stance of some current Mormons on the subject of evolution, it is helpful briefly to consider the views of its first president, Brigham Young, who lived in the nineteenth century. Was he one who clearly advocated the Bible’s creation account? We read in the Journal of Discourses:
“As for the Bible account of the creation we may say that the Lord gave it to Moses, or rather Moses obtained the history and traditions of the fathers, and from these picked out what he considered necessary, and that account has been handed down from age to age, and we have got it, no matter whether it is correct or not.”—(14:115-16), 1871.
From this statement it is evident that Mormonism has not taken an unequivocal stand on the validity of the Bible on this issue. Understandably, Mormons today whose professional field of interest in some way involves evolution often endorse at least some form of that teaching.
Thus Mormon William Lee Stokes, professor of geology at the University of Utah, says that he holds the Scriptures “in high regard.” But the 1973 edition of his textbook Essentials of Earth History states: “Although a century of investigation has revealed a great number of weaknesses in Darwin’s theory, the central idea that natural selection is the guiding principle in evolution remains as powerful as ever.”
A Mormon biologist at California’s American River College, George L. Moore, has a similar opinion:
“I believe in organic evolution to a point. It is quite logical the development of atoms to simple life forms as proposed by leading texts today . . . The exact mechanisms (steps) of course are still open to some discussion and how far this type of evolution proceeded in the development of different forms of life is not a serious conflict in my personal beliefs. Other evidences for evolution are extremely strong also and I feel very comfortable with them . . . I do believe that evolution is presently taking place through natural selection.”
Duane E. Jeffrey, an assistant professor of zoology at the Mormon-controlled Brigham Young University in Utah, states pointedly: “The question of whether species evolve is no longer open; it has long since been resolved affirmatively.”
Yes, religious leaders and prominent members of their flocks in Catholicism, Judaism and Protestantism do not positively support the Bible in this continuing debate. Because of their divided stand many of their religious followers are confused, not sure what to believe about evolution.
What are your views in this matter? Can you state clearly why you believe either one or the other, evolution or the Bible’s account of creation? If there is uncertainty as to what you believe in this respect, could the reason be that your own minister, priest or rabbi is himself not taking an undivided stand on this issue? What does he believe? The only way to know is to ask him.