Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Majority of Protestant pastors aren't sure, says BioLogos survey

Today, BioLogos posted an article about a survey on pastors' views of origins that BioLogos commissioned from Barna.  The results confirm my own experience: most pastors are creationists (69%), and most of them are young-age creationists.  Theistic evolution accounts for only 18% of respondents, and only 3% of respondents are described as "absolutely certain" of theistic evolution.  It's that certainty statistic that really caught my eye.

BioLogos classifies the respondents primarily according to their position on origins (young-earthers, old-earthers, theistic evolutionists), but they also include that secondary classification based on "certainty" for every position.  If we disregard the origins positions and instead make certainty vs. uncertainty our primary classification, we find a really striking result:


I don't know about you, but when I hear the various parties debating origins, I get the sense (sometimes explicitly stated) that everyone's sure they're right.  Some folks even portray "doubt" or "uncertainty" as a sin against God.

Yet, when I talk to people who don't have a dog in the fight, most of what I find is uncertainty.  They're not quite sure what to make of the whole debate, and there is sometimes an underlying anxiety about it all.  People ask me what I "recommend" (as in my summer reading list), and beneath that question I sense the worry that they'll read the "wrong" stuff, regardless of what "side" they might be reading.  There isn't an unshakable allegiance to anyone or any organization.  People just aren't sure.

I find it a bit ironic since most creation/evolution organizations present their position with fearless (some would say arrogant) certainty. Oftentimes, the flaws of other positions are openly berated and mocked.  But if these issues are really so cut and dry, why don't we find more Christians being "absolutely certain" of their position?  And why isn't there an overwhelming majority position, with only a few "fringers" going against the flow?  Could this uncertainty be a recognition of the complexity of the issues?  Do pastors see that there aren't easy answers to every question about origins?

My big question for everyone in this debate is how do we deal with uncertainty?  What should we do about this?  Repudiate the doubt?  Embrace postmodernism?  Probably not.  I think the least we can do is acknowledge the existence of honest uncertainty.  These complex issues aren't always easy to understand even for the experts, and simple answers to deep questions very often don't satisfy.  Humbly acknowledging that we don't know everything is not an affront to God or His Word.  It's just human.  It's what we are.

For myself, embracing my own uncertainties, my own fallible human-ness, has led me to a much more open attitude.  I'm still committed to young-age creationism, but I'm well aware that I don't know everything and that I could be wrong.  So I find myself much more ready to listen to disagreeable positions and the Christians who hold them, even though I may find them unconvincing.  That has earned me an odd credibility with people of all positions (who might still think I'm wrong), mostly because I think people can identify with my uncertainty.  Being able to talk with others about these issues goes a lot farther towards genuine resolution than demanding their allegiance and condemning their doubt.

Perhaps I'm asking too much of the weary creation/evolution combatants.  Some folks are surely a lost cause, but since a 2:1 majority seems to agree with me ("I'm just not sure"), there's reason for hope.  I just wish more uncertain folks would make their voices heard.

(Before you email: Yes, I do recognize the irony of my own conviction (certainty) that certainty is hindering resolution of the creation/evolution debate.  So I must confess that I'm not sure that more uncertainty will help break the cultural deadlock, but it's worth a shot.  Nothing else has worked.)

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.