Creation, Evolution, and US Pastors

A bit over a year ago BioLogos commissioned a survey conducted by Barna Group to understand the views of clergy on questions of creation and evolution. The results of the survey are now being released by BioLogos and you can see the initial summary from the survey in April edition of their monthly newsletter The Conversation and in The Forum. I am going to looks at some of the results of this survey over a few posts.

Senior Pastors 2 dsIn Mar. and Oct. 2012 a phone survey of 743 senior pastors and priests was conducted. The cooperation rate was quite high. For the 602 protestant senior pastors included in the first two graphs here Barna reports a cooperation rate of 96% suggesting that the results are representative of the group. The graphics on the BioLogos site displays the results of the survey in the form of a pie or circle chart. Here I will plot the results in the form of bar graphs to provide a different visualization of the same data. The data comes from the press release of the survey.

Categories of views. The responses provided by the pastors to a series of questions were used to separate them into seven different categories with respect to views of origins. These seven categories are defined as follows:

YEC: Young Earth Creation. Believe that God created life in its present form in six 24 hour days. Assert that the earth is less than 10000 years old. Absolutely certain of these perspectives.

Lean YEC: All others who believe that God created life in its present form in six 24 hour days, but who express qualified uncertainty or who doubt “young” age of the earth.

PC: Progressive creation. Believe that God created life in its present form over a period of time, but not via evolution. Absolutely certain of this perspective.

Lean PC: All others who embrace an old earth view, but who express qualified uncertainty.

TE: Theistic evolution. Believe God created life, used a natural process like evolution. Absolutely certain of this perspective. Express the belief that natural selection can explain the rise of new species.

Lean TE: All others who embrace the idea that God used a natural process to bring about life in its present form, but who express some qualified certainty.

Uncertain: Believe that God created life, but admit they are not certain how.

Of the pastors surveyed 54% either lean YEC or are certain of the YEC perspective, 15% prefer a progressive creation view and 18% prefer a TE perspective, although only 3% are certain that TE is correct. It is not surprising that most who take a TE view are not “absolutely certain.” If I were given such a survey it is not clear that I would be categorized as absolutely certain – although I know far more science than the vast majority of pastors.

Non-Mainline Senior Pastors 2 dsNon-Mainline Pastors. The survey broke down the pastors between mainline and non-mainline churches. Predictably, pastors of mainline churches were far more likely to accept the possibility of the theistic evolution perspective (48%) compared with non-mainline churches (7%). The results for non-mainline pastors are summarized in the graph to the right. Within this group 68% accept YEC, 15% Old Earth progressive creation, 7% theistic evolution, and 10% are uncertain. The significant difference mainline and non-mainline pastors may lead some conservatives to point to liberalism as the root cause behind the move toward theistic evolution, but I don’t think it is quite that simple. The mainline is a diverse group and, while some are not, many of these churches and pastors are thoroughly orthodox in their theology.

View of Scripture. The view of scripture clearly plays a role however. The surveyors asked the pool of 743 pastors and priests “On a slightly different topic now, those who affirm the authority of Scripture have different ways of understanding that. Which view is closest to yours?” The options were: (1) Some portions of the Bible are symbolic, but all that it teaches is authoritative (first columns, white numbers); (2) The Bible should be taken literally, word for word (second column, yellow numbers). The remainder of those surveyed either indicated some other view or declined to answer.

Pastor-Priest view of scripture 2 dsRegardless of their view of origins , the majority, >83%, of each classification and 91% of the total, have a high view of the authority of scripture. The nuance is different, but the respect for scripture is not all that different. Those who hold to YEC are almost evenly split between the two options, while all three of the other groups, including those who are uncertain, say that the statement “some portions of the Bible are symbolic, but all that it teaches is authoritative” comes closest to their view.

Church Size. Finally, it is interesting to note the influence of church size on the response by the senior pastor or priest. Relatively few pastors of large churches, defined as those with 250 or more adult weekend worship attenders, claim the view that “the Bible should be taken literally, word for word” comes closest to their view. This is not simply a more sophisticated view of scripture, but carries over to the influence of church size on views of origins as well.

Pastors Church Size 2 dsThe final figure to the right looks at the classification of Senior Pastor’s/Priest’s views of origins broken down by church size again defined by adult weekend worshipers. This data not broken down by mainline, non-mainline or by denomination, and is not limited to Protestants alone as far as I can tell. The correlation with church size is quite striking. Fewer than half (38%) of senior pastors of large churches (those with 250 or more adult weekend worshipers) lean toward or are certain of YEC, while 26% are certain of or lean toward TE. The differences are even more pronounces when only pastors of very large churches are considered. These men are less likely to lean toward YEC than toward TE, and few if any claim certainty for either view. In fact, a significant 31% believe that God created life, but admit they are not certain how without leaning toward any of the three major views.

Of all the results reported here – the correlation with size is the only one that surprised me. This, perhaps, bodes well for the future.

What do you think?

Do any of these results surprise you?

How would you classify yourself? Why?

If you wish you may contact me directly at rjs4mail[at]

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