On Tuesday Nov. 27, televangelist Pat Robertson shook up many viewers when he asserted that young-earth creationists were wrong. In response to a viewer’s question, he responded “Look, I know that people will probably try to lynch me when I say this, but Bishop Ussher wasn't inspired by the Lord when he said that it all took 6,000 years. It just didn't. You go back in time, you've got radiocarbon dating. You got all these things and you've got the carcasses of dinosaurs frozen in time out in the Dakotas.”
This may not sit well with some literalists who believe that evolution is the root of all that is wrong with modern society. Some contend that evolution undercuts a person’s special status as a product of a creator. They assert that without a divine creation and purpose, life has no meaning or accountability.
What is not generally recognized is that the large majority of Christian denominations are not literalist and therefore have no problem with stellar or biological evolution. Pat Robertson is actually in full agreement with most major denominations.
As far back as 1998, Molleen Matsumura, then at the National Center for Science Education, found “of Americans in the twelve largest Christian denominations, 89.6% belong to churches that support evolution education.”
Their official position of support for evolution was taken from three sources. Leaders of some denominations contributed pro-evolution statements to the 1995 Voices for Evolution., Some denominations endorsed “Religion in Public Schools: a Joint Statement of Current Law.” And finally some denomination representatives were plaintiffs in the McLean v Arkansas case where they opposed a law requiring the teaching of “creation science.”
These non-literalist churches that have no problem with evolution include: United Methodist
Church, National Baptist Convention USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), National Baptist Convention of America, African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church, and others. [see: http://ncse.com/book/export/html/2410]
However, many members of these denominations (and sometimes their ministers) are unaware of the official position of their church on evolution. Pat Robertson’s proclamation may help many people discover that their church has no quarrel with a concept that is as central to biology as atoms are to chemistry.
Matsumura’s 89% evolution-friendly figure that addresses only the top-12 denominations is probably an over-estimation. The much smaller or independent churches not surveyed are often not big enough to issue any public position-statement on evolution but are more likely to be literalist.
The next time you are on a college or university campus, you might walk down the science hallway and ask at each science professor’s door: “Where are you on Sunday morning?” You will find that a sizeable number will be in church.
Many scientists are Christian and see absolutely no conflict between their religious beliefs and their research on how the physical and biological world works. And many are genuinely and pleasantly surprised that Pat Robertson has let the secret out: for a large majority of Christians, there is no conflict between evolution and their religion.