Creation vs. Evolution vs. Catholicism

The Barna Group, commissioned by BioLogos, has just released an intriguing new study about sharp divides among “today’s pastors” about science, faith, and the origin of species. The study shows an almost even split between those who believe in Young Earth Creation and those who do not, with the do not group being divided between proponents of theistic evolution and progressive creationism. Young Earth Creationists have their stronghold in the South, while theistic evolution is most common in the Midwest. Most clergy think that questions of faith and science are important, but, at the same time, a majority fear that disagreements are distracting from the greater Christian witness.

There is little there to shock, unless you realize one glaring omission: Catholics. While the survey of Protestant ministers actually excludes both Orthodox and Catholic leaders, the Orthodox have only about one million members in the United States, making their omission excusable (at least from a statistician’s point of view). Catholics, on the other hand, are no minority to be trifled at. As the largest single Christian denomination in the United States–one in four Americans belongs to the Roman Catholic Church–their absence from a survey about the origins of life suggests an array of possible biases, all of them disturbing. It is likely that, in lockstep with history, that Catholics are still being treated as second class Christians or (perhaps implicitly) not real Christians at all. It would not be the first time the self-proclaimed Protestant establishment drew a sharp line between Christianity and papism–even if it can no longer express the dichotomy in those terms in our politically correct age. Equally possible, Catholics may have been excluded because their presumed answers would have tipped the scale away from a picture of conflict between conservative and progressive thought on origins. The Roman Catholic Church never engaged in the kind of systematic anti-evolution campaigns that so many Protestants did at the turn of the twentieth century in response to Darwin. In fact, for more than sixty years the official Catholics position has been that there is no conflict between evolution and Christianity, leading to a de facto triumph of theistic evolution among leading Catholic divines. Admitting Catholics into the dialogue would throw off both the slim majority of Young Earth Creationists and the geography of creationism (with the South and Southwest being an area of significant Catholic presence).

Or maybe the Barna Group just never thought to include Catholics. But would that really be better?

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2 thoughts on “Creation vs. Evolution vs. Catholicism

  1. Steve says:

    Good point about leaving out the Catholics. I resolved many decades ago that I would not be prejudiced against them but it is something I have to continually self-monitor. Enjoyed attending mass with a friend a few weeks ago. It was a Friday and he goes every day. It is perhaps not surprising that growing up and attending Harding and not being a professional student of history, that I did not know of the extent of persecution of Catholics by Protestants for a long time. I have to admit that I had been given primarily one side of the story. About seven years ago, a friend suggested I rent a DVD about Martin Luther that was in German and with English subtitles. He knew I was headed to Berlin for a conference and thought it would be a good way for me to review my German. I was watching the movie and getting caught up in following the hero when my older son walked in and after just a few minutes exclaimed “Oh, this movie is biased against Catholics.” That broke me out of my momentary stupor. It was basically hagiography, useful somewhat for the language training and perhaps some history, with proper discrimination. Didn’t mean for this post to be a travelogue, but it calls to my mind that when my wife and I were in Scotland two years ago, while touring a castle restored to about the 15 th century, it suddenly occurred to me that these were the people and culture I descend from, at least in part, and that therefore Catholic heritage is my heritage. I’ll never convert, of course, but I’ve been trying to think like that. Go back far enough and we all were Catholic. I had never let that soak in before.

    • Whatever Protestant’s ongoing collective issues with the theology or ecclesiology of the Roman Catholic Church, I would hope at least that most are beyond considering them outside the Christian family, but my hopes are often dashed on the rocks. I’d really like to know what motivated their exclusion here.

      As a side note, I’m envious of all the traveling you’ve done.

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