Although a large majority of pastors believe that God did not use evolution to create humans and think Adam and Eve were literal people, more teaching by Christian leaders on their beliefs about creation would help clear the air, said the president of LifeWay Research in reaction to his organization’s recent poll.
LifeWay’s Ed Stetzer said that the poll of 1,000 American Protestant pastors also found that ministers are almost evenly split on whether the earth is thousands or millions of years old and suggests that there is ongoing debate over the creation account in Genesis.
When asked to respond to the statement, "I believe God used evolution to create people," 73 percent of pastors said they disagree, with 64 percent strongly disagreeing and 8 percent somewhat disagreeing. Twelve percent each somewhat agree and strongly agree. Four percent are not sure.
In response to the statement, "I believe Adam and Eve were literal people," 74 percent indicated they strongly agree and 8 percent somewhat agree. Six percent somewhat disagree, 11 percent strongly disagree and 1 percent are not sure.
“Considering the conversations people are having, I think pastors need to teach clearly what they believe and why it matters,” Stetzer told The Christian Post. "Recently, discussions have pointed to doubts about a literal Adam and Eve, the age of the earth and other origin issues. But Protestant pastors are overwhelmingly Creationists and believe in a literal Adam and Eve."
LifeWay researchers point out that a Gallup poll taken in December 2010 shows that pastors are more Creationist (referring to the belief that all things were created substantially as they now exist as recounted in the first chapter of Genesis and not gradually evolved) than the American public at large.
The Gallup poll determined that 40 percent of Americans believe God created humans in their present form, 38 percent say God used evolution to develop humans and 16 percent think man evolved with God playing no part in the process.
About one in five pastors agree that most of their congregation believes in evolution, according to the LifeWay Research survey. That includes 10 percent who strongly agree and 9 percent who somewhat agree. A majority (62 percent) strongly disagree and 13 percent somewhat disagree.
Although Stetzer believes pastors are not teaching on the subjects of creation and evolution often enough, he was still surprised at how frequently the subjects are taught by pastors even though the percentages are not high.
Only a third of pastors (36 percent) teach on creation and evolution more than once a year. That percentage includes 28 percent who teach on the subject several times per year, 4 percent who teach on it about once a month and 3 percent who do so several times a month. Twenty-six percent teach on it about once a year, and 29 percent do so rarely. Eight percent never teach on creation and evolution.
Also, in the survey, among the statistically significant differences:
- Pastors of larger churches are less likely to believe in evolution than those in smaller congregations. Only 4 percent of pastors in churches with 250 or more in attendance strongly agree that God used evolution to create humans. In comparison, 13 percent in churches with attendance of 0-49, 14 percent with 50-99 and 12 percent with 100-249 feel the same.
- Pastors who consider themselves mainline are more likely than evangelicals to believe in evolution. Among those identifying themselves as mainline, 25 percent strongly agree that God used evolution to create humans. Only 8 percent of evangelicals strongly agree.
- Pastors who indicate they are evangelical are more likely than their mainline colleagues to strongly agree that Adam and Eve were literal people (82 percent vs. 50 percent).
Age of the Earth
In response to the statement, "I believe the earth is approximately 6,000 years old," 34 percent of pastors strongly disagree. However, 30 percent strongly agree. Nine percent somewhat disagree, and 16 percent somewhat agree.
Stetzer explained that there are generally two views (with some variations) regarding the age of the earth. “One is that the earth is about 6,000 years old based on the genealogies and other biblical references. The other is that the earth is much, much older, perhaps millions of years,” he said.
"Earth's age is the only issue in this survey on which pastors are almost evenly divided. But to many of the pastors, belief in an older earth is not the same as belief in evolution. Many pastors who believe God created humans in their present form also believe that the earth is older than 6,000 years."
The only statistically significant difference was that younger pastors are the least likely age bracket to strongly disagree that the earth is 6,000 years old, according to the survey report. While 24 percent age 18-44 strongly disagree, 33 percent age 45-54, 38 percent age 55-64 and 38 percent 65 and older feel the same.
Those with a graduate degree are more likely to strongly disagree that the earth is 6,000 years old than pastors with a bachelor's degree at most (42 percent vs. 18 percent).
Stetzer said evolution and creation is an important topic for Christians to be well-educated about.
“Unchurched people are asking and Christians need to have clear and well thought answers,” he said.