Devout Christians who affirm evolution

Many evangelical Christians are shocked when they hear that other evangelical Christians, perhaps even prominent ones, believe that evolution is true. But knowing about such Christians can open up space for important questions and constructive dialogue.

Many have grown up believing that evolution is the enemy of faith, that it is basically equivalent with atheism (or, at least, theological liberalism), that it entails a denial of miracles or the supernatural, a rejection of the authority and truthfulness of Scripture, and is threatening to cherished Christian beliefs about creation, sin, salvation, the uniqueness of human beings as made in God’s image, etc. Of course, belief in evolution requires none of these other commitments (or rejections). But the past legacy of religious and cultural wars in America have linked them together in the minds of many (on both sides, whether religious or non-religious, conservative or liberal).

Interestingly, there is a huge disconnect between popular (esp. American) evangelicalism’s general rejection of evolution and what many actual scientists holding to evangelical faith (and attending evangelical churches and even teaching at evangelical institutions) say about evolution. I find this disconnect interesting . . . and troubling.

As an example, a recent survey of of the members of the American Scientific Affiliation and Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation (a large affiliation of scientists who hold to evangelical faith, including the authority of the Bible), found that 66% of respondents affirmed the statement: “biologically, Homo Sapiens evolved through natural processes from ancestral forms in common with primates.” Moreover, the greater the respondent’s expertise in a relevant field (e.g., biology, genetics, biochemistry, etc.), the more likely they are to affirm the consensus view (evolution). To quote the report:

Employed scientists are more likely to accept the consensus science than retired ones. Scientists employed in areas that are more likely to do basic science, likewise. Finally, the areas of expertise closest to the areas of age of the earth and evolution are also more likely to accept this than areas that are further away. Going to a Christian college versus a secular one has no bearing on whether the mainstream science is accepted.

After reading this survey a while back, I became interested in knowing about prominent Christians who affirm evolution. I’ve been compiling a list, which I share below. It’s not exhaustive (far from it), but gives a nice sampling of Christians (many evangelical) who hold to the consensus view within the sciences.

Of course, many Christians do not believe in evolution, and their voices need to be heard too (rational discourse demands this!). My point in sharing this list is not to create a popularity contest or to say something like “all the important people believe this, therefore you should believe it” . . . but simply to indicate that devout and intelligent Christians can think very differently about this issue and to raise awareness about those who affirm evolution.

I think this should provoke our curiosity about how these believers integrate their science with their faith. Being scientists and theologians who are making important contributions to their fields, and who have a passion for Christian faith, discipleship, worldview, and ethics, they might have some important things to say! Many, in fact, have published books on the relationship between faith and science generally, or more specifically about how Christian faith relates to particular questions and discoveries in their fields of expertise.

Also, with any list of this kind, it is always important to note each scholar’s particular field, expertise, and contributions if one is to properly weigh their voice as an authority. So, I’ve included some of these details and encourage you to google these names yourself.

So, here is the list:

Prominent Christians Who Support Evolution

  1. John Stott (biblical scholar; prominent 20th century evangelical)
  2. Denis Lamoureux (Canadian dentist, theologian, evolutionary biologist)
  3. Francis Collins (scientist, genetics expert)
  4. Alister McGrath (theologian and scientist with three doctorates: DPhil in Molecular Biophysics; Doctor of Divinity in Theology and a Doctor of Literature in Humanities Division)
  5. John Polkinghorne (theologian and scientist): particle physicist who contributed to the discovery of the quark; Anglican priest
  6. Alvin Plantinga (a leading Reformed philosopher)
  7. Tim Keller (prominent Reformed pastor and author)
  8. Nancey Murphy (philosopher & theologian)
  9. Dennis Venema (biologist at Trinity Western University, Canada)
  10. John Walton (OT scholar)
  11. Benjamin B. Warfield (1851-1921; Presbyterian theologian)
  12. Charles Hodge (19th century Calvinist theologian)
  13. Deborah Haarsma (prof. of physics and astronomy)
  14. Ard Louis (theoretical physicist, Oxford)
  15. Jennifer Wiseman (astronomer)
  16. Jeff Hardman (zoology)
  17. Mark Noll (historian)
  18. Karl Giberson (physicist)
  19. Denis Alexander (molecular biologist)
  20. Kenneth R. Miller (cell and molecular biologist)
  21. Peter Enns (biblical scholar)
  22. Augustus Hopkins Strong (1836 – 1921 ; Baptist minister and theologian)
  23. Bruce Waltke (Reformed, evangelical OT scholar)
  24. Jürgen Moltmann (Reformed theologian)
  25. Ted Peters (Lutehran theologian)
  26. J. I. Packer (?): Not sure about Packer’s view. However, he does believe that nothing in Scripture “bears on the biological theory of evolution one way or the other.” In Mark Noll and David Livingstone, “Introduction,” in Warfield, Evolution, Science, and Scripture, 38-39. He also endorsed Denis Alexander’s book with the comment: “Surely the best informed, clearest and most judicious treatment of the question in its title that you can find anywhere today.”
  27. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (philosopher, Jesuit priest, who trained as a paleontologist and geologist)
  28. James Orr (1844-1913; Calvinist theologian)
  29. Asa Gray (1810-1888; America’s foremost botanist, a friend and correspondent of Darwin’s)
  30. James McCosh (1811-1894; Scottish Presbyterian philosopher)
  31. Arthur Peacocke: physical chemist and Anglican priest
  32. Keith B. Miller (field geologist)
  33. Ian Barbour (physicist and leading scholar of science and religion)
  34. Howard J. Van Till (Physicist)
  35. George Murphy: (physicist and evangelical minister)
  36. R. J. Berry (geneticist)
  37. Celia Deane-Drummond (biologist and theologian)
  38. Philip Hefner (theologian)
  39. Samuel M. Powell (Christian philosopher at Point Loma Nazarene University)
  40. J. Wentzel van Huyssteen (theologian)
  41. N. T. Wright (biblical scholar)
  42. Joel Hunter (pastor)
  43. Owen Gingerich (astronomer)
  44. Tremper Longman III (biblical scholar)
  45. Joel B. Green (biblical scholar)
  46. Christopher Fisher (theologian)
  47. James C. Peterson (theologian and ethicist)
  48. Warren S. Brown (psychologist)
  49. James W. Haag (philosopher)
  50. Malcom Jeeves (psychologist)
  51. Graeme Finlay (cell biologist, scientific pathology)
  52. Ian Hodder (anthropologist)
  53. Ian Tattersall (anthropologist)
  54. Christian Smith (sociologist)
  55. Arnold Sikkema (physicist, Trinity Western University, Canada)
  56. Amos Yong (Pentecostal theologian)
  57. John D. Barrow (cosmologist, theoretical physicist, mathematician)
  58. William Phillips (physicist, 1997 Nobel Prize in physics)
  59. Martin A. Nowak (evolutionary biologist, mathematical biologist)
  60. Ian Hutchinson (nuclear physicist)

pfranklinbannershort

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4 Responses to Devout Christians who affirm evolution

  1. Janet Warren says:

    Thanks Patrick and I agree with my more learned colleagues that there is no conflict between biblical truth and evolutionary theory. However, since much of the dissension arises from misunderstanding, I think language is important – therefore I avoid statements like ‘evolution is true’. It is a valid scientific theory with much applicability, but it is only a theory, like the theory of gravity, a useful way of understanding and describing God’s creation.

    • Thanks Janet. Great comment. That’s helpful.

      Yes, from what I gather, science rarely speaks of true vs. false. It’s more about proposing better, more comprehensive models to account for all the evidence and explain anomalies. So, it’s always in motion, especially when new technologies make the discovery of new evidence possible.

  2. Numbers 11 and 12 are especially interesting. If Warfield — who showed no uneasiness about dissenting strongly from liberal theologians — is among those who simply do not see opposition to evolution as among the fundamentals of Christian faith, well then!

    • Indeed. Warfield was also one of the theologians who played an important part in constructing and defending the original doctrine of inerrancy. So, apparently for Warfield and other early defenders of ‘inerrancy’ (such as Hodge) there was no conflict between the Bible and evolution.

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