Well, now I’ve seen it all. There are many ways that accommodationists try to show that faith and science are compatible, but never before have I seen a scientist with this aim play so fast and loose with the data. Dr. Joel Martin, the Curator of Crustacea and chief of the Division of Invertebrate Studies at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, has written an astonishing article in the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach, “Compatibility of major U.S. Christian Denominations with Evolution”. (I can’t resist adding that besides his upcoming book, The Prism and the Rainbow: a Christian Explains Why Evolution is not a Threat, he also edited Crustacean Sexual Biology.)
Martin is a good marine biologist, but, it seems, not so good at presenting a fact-based argument about the compatibility of science and faith. His goal in the EE&O paper is to correct what he sees as a “misconception” about science and faith:
One of the persistent misconceptions among the public, especially in the United States, is that evolution is embraced by a mostly secular component of society and is viewed with distrust by persons of faith. This misconception is probably fueled by poll data indicating that, for example, 53% of both Protestants and Catholics in the U.S. feel that “science and religion are often in conflict,” with 41% of that group referring specifically to evolution as an area of conflict . . .
He sees this “misconception” as feeding the persistent anti-evolutionism of the American population:
This perceived divide (secular= pro-evolution, religious=anti-evolution) can be a stumbling block to the teaching of evolution and other sciences, especially if students assume that the topic is going to be contradictory to their religion before hearing what it entails.
So how does Martin try to correct this misconception? By looking not at the views of believers themselves, but at statements made by theologians, or official “dogma”, of the churches themselves. His aim is to show that most American Christians belong to churches whose doctrine accepts evolution, and thereby to dispel the idea that “persons of faith” view evolution with distrust.
Martin surveyed 24 branches of Christianity, ranging from Roman Catholicism (the largest, with 67 million adherents in the U.S.) to the New Apostolic Church (the smallest surveyed), and either looked for a church’s official statements about evolution/faith compatibility or wrote to church officials asking for their position. The data are given in Table 1 of his paper. (The table didn’t include figures for Christian “megachurches,” though Martin indicates that most don’t seem to accept evolution.)
I think his assessment about whether churches “officially” accept evolution or not is generally accurate (I have a quibble about the Greek Orthodox data, but never mind), and the table and official statements are quite useful if you’re interested in theology. When Martin totals up the number of American Christians who belong to evolution-accepting faiths versus evolution-denying faiths, he gets 94,050,000 Americans in the former class and 45,850,000 in the latter, with 9,800,000 belonging to the “unclear” category. Voila! Nearly 63% of American Christians are of evolution-accepting faith! (This is, of course, heavily weighted with Catholics, who represent 71% of the “evolution-accepters).
The problem is obvious: the proportion of faiths that accept evolution is not the same as the proportion of believers who accept evolution. Martin recognizes this:
Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, we cannot assume that all members of a given denomination agree with, or are even aware of, the “official” position of the group to which they belong. Such statements, if they exist, might not reflect the opinions of, and might not even be known by, the general membership of the group. I know Presbyterians who are creationists and Baptists who are not. Any large group will contain a diversity of beliefs and opinions.
But he nevertheless concludes:
These data could be helpful in teaching evolutionary biology by dispelling the myth that persons of faith, and specifically Christians in the United States, are opposed to it on religious grounds. Although the number of Christians opposed to the idea that evolution is compatible with their faith is still quite large—again, as represented by their organizing bodies and/or spokespersons rather than surveys of individuals (but see Mazur 2004)—the position that evolution is somehow contrary to the Christian faith is a minority one.
And he summarizes the data in his abstract by saying, “there is more acceptance than non-acceptance of evolution among Christians, based on statements from their organizing bodies or spokespersons.”
This is pretty dire, I think. This soothing conclusion comes simply from ignoring what individual religious people really believe, and surveying the official positions of their churches—positions that (as Martin concedes) most believers probably don’t even know about. To pretend that most people find evolution compatible with their faith by looking at official theology is misleading. The vocal opponents of evolution are usually not churches but people. After all, the “misconception” that Martin sees involves not churches but persons of faith.
Take Catholicism. There was no more ardent Catholic than William F. Buckley, but of course he hosted the famous Firing Line debate that pitted IDers and creationists like Behe and Phillip Johnson against evolutionists like Eugenie Scott and Ken Miller—and Buckley took the creationist side. And in my travels I’ve encountered several Catholic creationists.
But we don’t need to rely on these anecdotes. Go back to the Pew Forum survey again, and look at all the figures about faith/science conflict, including Catholics—53% of whom find science and faith often in conflict. Do the following data paint a picture of compatibility between the magisteria?
And if you break down opposition to evolution by faith, you find that only 33% of Catholics (as opposed to 32% of the American public) see life as having evolved over time due to natural processes. And 27% of Catholics, in opposition to the official dogma of their church, see life as having been created at one time and remaining unchanged since—only a bit less than the 31% of the public in general:
But does the Catholic Church really accept evolution? To make his case, Martin cites (along with a snippet from the Vatican newspaper and an archbishop), the most important statement that the Church has made on the issue of evolution: that of of Pope John Paul II from his 1996 message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:
Today, almost half a century after the publication of the Encyclical, fresh knowledge has led to the recognition that evolution is more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was concluded independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.
What Martin leaves out is the Pope’s additional words that the human mind could not have evolved, but was, along with the soul, instilled in the human body by God (my emphasis):
. . . It is by virtue of his spiritual soul that the whole person possesses such a dignity even in his body. Pius XII stressed this essential point: if the human body takes its origin from pre-existent living matter the spiritual soul is immediately created by God (“animal enim a Deo immediate creari catholica fides nos retinere inhet”; Encyclical Humani generic, AAS 42 , p. 575).
Consequently, theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the mind as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. Nor are they able to ground the dignity of the person.
6. With man, then, we find ourselves in the presence of an ontological difference, an ontological leap, one could say. However, does not the posing of such ontological discontinuity run counter to that physical continuity which seems to be the main thread of research into evolution in the field of physics and chemistry? Consideration of the method used in the various branches of knowledge makes it possible to reconcile two points of view which would seem irreconcilable. The sciences of observation describe and measure the multiple manifestations of life with increasing precision and correlate them with the time line. The moment of transition into the spiritual cannot be the object of this kind of observation, which nevertheless can discover at the experimental level a series of very valuable signs indicating what is specific to the human being. But the experience of metaphysical knowledge, of self-awareness and self-reflection, of moral conscience, freedom, or again, of aesthetic and religious experience, falls within the competence of philosophical analysis and reflection while theology brings out its ultimate meaning according to the Creator’s plans.
(For a critique/explication of this statement, see Richard Dawkins’s piece “Obscurantism to the rescue”.)
My own judgment is that the Catholic Church does not accept evolution as it’s understood by scientists, who think that the human mind, like the human body, is the result of evolution, and that the mind emerged from matter. By asserting that mind (and “soul”) did not evolve but were instilled in humans by God, the Church can be seen as an advocate of intelligent design. It differs in degree but not in kind from IDers like Michael Behe, who accept some evolution by natural selection but also assert that other traits were created by a supernatural intelligence.
If you move Catholics from column “A” to column “B”, the proportion of American who belong to non-compatibilist faiths goes from 45.85% to 75%. But this whole enterprise of totting up faiths is misleading. It is individuals who reject evolution, fight science textbooks, and make trouble for evolution—many of these in opposition to the “official” positions of their faiths.
Martin is wrong to claim that it’s a “misconception” that “[evolution] is viewed with distrust by persons of faith.” That happens to be the truth. We can’t make opposition to evolution go away by massaging the data.