Friday, November 09, 2012

Religion and science, and a clever electoral protest...

Do you remember, back in September, when Representative Paul Broun (R-Georgia) was revealed to have given a talk to a religious group in which he called Darwin's theory of evolution, embryology, and cosmology "lies straight from the pit of hell"?

Well, he won his seat again on Tuesday. Not a difficult thing for him, since he was running unopposed in his district. However, he had an unexpected write-in opponent: it seems that at least 4,000 people in his district voted for Charlies Darwin.

The write-ins were suggested by critics of the physician/representative, and were apparently first suggested by plant biologist Jim Leebens-Mack to protest the remarks.

I like this. It is a non-violent and creative way of telling Rep. Broun that they don't agree with his characterization of settled scientific principles. This is especially important, considering Broun's position as a member of the House Science Committee. He needs to know that not everyone agrees with his characterization of the sciences.

Now, I understand that some people sincerely hold the religious belief that God created the Earth, indeed the whole Universe, in six 24-hour periods less than 10,000 years ago. And that's fine. However, it should also be noted that this belief is not universally held by the religions of the world, nor even by all Christian denominations.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has, on its website, a summary of several religions' and denominations' positions on evolution. There is far from consensus on the subject.

Just among Christian denominations, while the Southern Baptist Convention and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, have rejected evolution, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Roman Catholic Church have all affirmed that there is no conflict between their theologies and the theory of evolution.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has not issued a definitive statement, but has said that while they believe that God created the universe, he did not necessarily do so in six 24-hour days and may have used evolution in the process. When it comes to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), it kind of depends on who you ask, but as early as 1931, the First Presidency of the church issued a statement asking the membership of the church to "leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research..." In other words, believing in evolution is not an impediment to being a good Mormon.

There is similarly "no inherent conflict" between Judaism and belief in evolution, and the same is true of Buddhism. The Pew organization also found that while there is no single teaching on evolution within Hinduism, most Hindus do not see any conflict between their religious beliefs and evolution.

Muslim belief is not united on the matter of evolution. Those who interpret the Qu'ran literally reject evolution, but theologically liberal Muslims do not necessarily see any conflict between their beliefs and evolution.

As it usually happens, rank-and-file members of denominations and religions do not necessarily follow the lead of the religious organizations they belong to. The Pew Forum did a survey in 2007 which found that, overall, 48 percent of Americans agree that "evolution is the best explanation for the origins of human life on earth". That means, of course, that more than half of those surveyed either do not believe that evolution explains how we got here or have no opinion on the matter.

But, more than half of American Catholics (at 58 percent), Orthodox Christians (at 54 percent) and mainline Protestants in America (at 51 percent) do believe that evolution explains the development of human life. That's a lot of observant Christians who have no problem with evolution. The numbers are smaller among members of historically Black Protestant churches, with only 38 percent believing in evolution, while among Evangelical Protestants surveyed, just 24 percent agreed with the statement that evolution explains how we got here. Just 22 percent of Mormons and 8 percent of Jehovah' Witnesses agreed that evolution is the best explanation for how we got here.

The highest numbers of agreement came from non-Christian religious respondents and from those unaffiliated with any specific religion or denomination. Among Buddhists, 81 percent of believers agreed with the statement approving of evolution, while 80 percent of Hindus believed in evolution, 77 percent of Jewish respondents agreed, and 72 percent of those unaffiliated with any religion did so. Forty-five percent of Muslims surveyed agreed that evolution can explain the development of humans.

Yes, that's a lot of numbers to go through. I think it is important, however, to look at that information in order to understand that, despite what those like Rep. Braun who are vocal proponents of creationism and Intelligent Design seem to believe, it is not a given that in order to believe in God and be a religiously observant person, one must reject evolution or believe that Darwin's theory is of the Devil.

No comments: