Evolution Is Not a Matter of ‘Belief’

Human DNA is 99% similar to that of Chimpanzees

Human DNA is 99% similar to that of Chimpanzees

Source: Huffington Post

By : Author, ‘The Evangelicals You Don’t  Know’

Do you “believe” in evolution? A new survey reveals that your answer can be predicted in  large part by your political loyalties. The Pew Research Center finds that two  thirds of Democrats accept the validity of evolution, in contrast with the 43  percent of Republicans who accept it. The latter figure, remarkably, has shrunk  by 11 percentage points since 2009, when Pew performed a similar survey.

In a time of great divides over religion and politics, it’s not surprising  that we treat evolution the way we do political issues. But here’s the problem:  As settled science, evolution is not a matter of opinion or something one  chooses to believe in or not, like a religious proposition. And by often framing  the matter this way, we who are involved in the news media, Internet debates and  everyday conversation do a disservice to science, religion and our prospects for  having a scientifically literate country.

As a progressive, I’m tempted to blame willful ignorance by those on the  “other side” when I see the sharp rise in Republicans rejecting evolution, and  the always-high percentage of white evangelical Protestants (64 percent in the  Pew poll) who believe that humans were created by God in their present form  (that is, with no evolution involved).

But partisan politics isn’t the end of the story. More than a quarter of  Democrats reject evolution, as do half of Protestant blacks. Women are 10  percentage points more likely to reject evolution than men.

Willful ignorance plays a part in this dynamic, but so does the poor job done  by the field of science in engaging the public. And the way the  evolution-vs.-creation standoff is framed in the popular conversation, you can  understand why many are led to believe we have an either/or decision to make:  evolution or God?

Consider the headlines and social media chatter surrounding the Pew survey  release. “Surprising Number Of Americans Don’t Believe In Evolution,”  announced The Huffington Post. As CBSNews.com put it, “Republicans’ belief in evolution plummets.” Facebook sports  a page titled “I don’t believe in evolution.” As its owner elaborates, “I  don’t believe that we evolved from monkeys; I believe that God created us.”

For starters, “belief” means something different in a religious conversation  than it means when we’re talking about science. In the case of faith, it usually  means accepting the moral and spiritual truth of something and giving it your  trust and devotion. In talking about evolution, it is more precise to call it  “scientifically valid” or “an accurate account of what we observe.” No leaps of  faith or life-altering commitments are required.

Second, despite the way it’s often discussed by creationists and  anti-religion zealots, evolution says nothing about the existence of God. A  scientific concept backed by an overwhelming amount of supporting evidence,  evolution describes a process by which species change over time. It hazards no  speculations about the origins of that process.

Third, as a good number of Christians in this country understand, it is more  than possible to accept the validity of evolution and believe in God’s role in  creation at the same time. Even among theologically conservative Christians, we  see an “evolution” in the understanding of faith and science. “Divine  evolution,” anyone? It’s a concept that is catching on as more evangelicals come  to see evolution as God’s way of orchestrating an ongoing process of  creation.

In sum, we are not faced with a stark choice between God and science. Unless  we read the Bible as a collection of facts as we would a textbook (which,  admittedly, some 30 percent of Americans do), people can place their trust in  God the creator and accept the scientific validity of evolution.

What’s sad about this misunderstanding over evolution and faith is the effect  it has on the ability of religious conservatives to participate in science,  either as a career track or in the informed-citizen sense. Largely because of  the evolution standoff, pastors and parents in the evangelical sphere often  steer young people away from science-related careers. And this general mistrust  of science in our country — due in part to evolution rejection — hamstrings our  ability to make thoughtful decisions informed by facts and evidence in addition  to loyalties, beliefs and emotions.

You don’t believe in evolution? No problem. It does not ask that of you.

This blog post originally appeared in USA Today on Jan. 10,  2014.

Additional Reading

Darwinian Evolution: Islam or Christianity?

Exposing Creationism of Zakir Naik, Tahir ul Qadari, Yusuf Estes  and Harun Yahya

Pope John Paul II and Me: ‘Truth Cannot Contradict Truth!’

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