On May 14, noted phil­an­thropist and neu­ro­sur­geon Dr. Ben Car­son is sched­uled to give the com­mence­ment address at Emory Uni­ver­sity and receive an hon­orary degree.  But there is a prob­lem. In recent weeks, some Emory fac­ulty and stu­dents have expressed con­cerns that the Uni­ver­sity invited Dr. Car­son because he is a critic of evo­lu­tion­ary the­ory and advo­cate of cre­ation­ism. Fac­ulty and staff have writ­ten that Dr. Carson’s “great achieve­ments in med­i­cine allow him to be viewed as some­one who ‘under­stands sci­ence.’” This back­ground, they say, poses a direct threat to sci­ence that “rests squarely on the shoul­ders of evolution.”

The anti-Carson let­ter describes how there is “over­whelm­ing” evi­dence of “ape-human tran­si­tional fos­sils” and how this evo­lu­tion process has advanced an abil­ity to develop ani­mal mod­els for dis­ease and that even “the work of Dr. Car­son him­self is based on sci­en­tific advances fos­tered by an under­stand­ing of evo­lu­tion.” The let­ter then argues that “the the­ory of evo­lu­tion is as strongly sup­ported as the the­ory of grav­ity and the the­ory that infec­tious dis­eases are caused by micro-organisms.”

In 2010, Gallup released a poll that found that 40% of Amer­i­cans believe in strict cre­ation­ism, the idea that humans were cre­ated by God in their present form within the past 10,000 years.  Thirty-eight per­cent believe that God guided the process of human evo­lu­tion from lower life forms over mil­lions of years , and only 16% believe that humans evolved with­out divine inter­ven­tion. Sixty per­cent of those who attend church weekly believe that we were cre­ated less than 10,000 years ago. Gallup notes that the num­bers have remained gen­er­ally sta­ble for the past 28 years.

That the num­ber of adher­ents of cre­ation­ism remains so strong, even though Charles Darwin’s book, “On the Ori­gin of Species” has been around since 1859 and has been taught in most pub­lic schools since the 1960s, is a tes­ta­ment to the per­sis­tent strength of Amer­i­can reli­gious belief and faith over con­tra­dic­tory concepts. 

Ear­lier this week, Forbes mag­a­zine staff writer Alex Knapp wrote an essay enti­tled, “Why Some Chris­tians Reject Evo­lu­tion,” argu­ing that many Chris­tians reject evo­lu­tion­ary the­ory because it con­flicts with the Protes­tant view of the doc­trines of orig­i­nal sin and salvation.

Orig­i­nal sin is the idea that God cre­ated an absolutely per­fect “good” world and a sin­gle sin against God com­mit­ted by one per­son marred the purity of cre­ation and impli­cated all of human­ity in the act. The Chris­t­ian gospel teaches that the pre-existing penalty for act of sep­a­ra­tion from God was eter­nal death. Being that human­ity could not save itself from this penalty, Jesus Christ, a mem­ber of the Holy Trin­ity, per­son­ally came to earth, lived a pure life, died, and was res­ur­rected, rec­on­cil­ing fallen human­ity to God, thus clos­ing the sin-caused gap between humans and God. Human beings who accept this death as sub­sti­tu­tion for their own prospec­tive penalty will be given eter­nal life in a new earth.

Earth - IStockPhoto

Photo credit — iStock​Photo​.com

Per­haps the only way to explain how evolved human beings would end up with a soul is expressed in the hybrid evolution-creation con­cept advanced by Pope Pius XII in the encycli­cal Humani generis (1950).  Pius XII writes, “For these rea­sons the Teach­ing Author­ity of the Church does not for­bid that, in con­for­mity with the present state of human sci­ences and sacred the­ol­ogy, research and dis­cus­sions, on the part of men expe­ri­enced in both fields, take place with regard to the doc­trine of evo­lu­tion, in as far as it inquires into the ori­gin of the human body as com­ing from pre-existent and liv­ing mat­ter — for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are imme­di­ately cre­ated by God.”

In Catholic thought, this has been inter­preted to pro­vide room for the con­cept that the bod­ies of humans were cre­ated over mil­lions of years through evo­lu­tion, and that God ulti­mately pro­vided separately-created souls which were infused into humans. These souls recon­nect to God through prac­tic­ing the sacraments. 

In con­trast, Amer­i­can evan­gel­i­cals tend to view Adam and Eve as actual liv­ing peo­ple, who were lit­er­ally cre­ated by God as clay forms into which God breathed the breath of life.  There was no death before the fall of human­ity.  The time frames are impor­tant because they rely on the Bib­li­cal chronolo­gies Matthew 1 and Luke 3:23–28 to prove that Jesus was in the prophetically-designated ances­tral line of David, and draw the genealog­i­cal line all the way back to Adam, the first cre­ated human being.

Many evan­gel­i­cals reject the hybrid view of cre­ation and evo­lu­tion because it would nec­es­sar­ily require them to regard cre­ation, as dis­cussed in the books of Gen­e­sis and of a new earth in Rev­e­la­tion, as alle­gory and sub­mit the per­va­sive teach­ings of the Bible ref­er­enc­ing Cre­ation and other super­nat­ural activ­ity to the realm of mythol­ogy or cul­tural con­tex­tu­al­ism. Accep­tance of “sci­en­tific” views of evo­lu­tion would then, by neces­sity, require a major recon­fig­u­ra­tion of mat­ters of faith – and that is some­thing that most adher­ents to strict cre­ation­ism are unwill­ing to do.

Knapp, whose own reli­gious beliefs are not indi­cated, notes that while some churches have found ways to incor­po­rate the idea of change over time into their belief sys­tems, “for many Chris­tians, evo­lu­tion isn’t a minor fact of sci­ence that can be resolved into the mythos of their faith. It is, rather, a fun­da­men­tal attack on their faith and many things that they believe.”

There have been a num­ber of heated argu­ments on the cam­puses of a diverse array of reli­gious uni­ver­si­ties regard­ing how issues of ori­gins should be taught. Some have tried to walk the mid­dle line of teach­ing “intel­li­gent design” as an alter­na­tive to cre­ation­ism and evo­lu­tion. Crit­ics of those teach­ing intel­li­gent design point out that try­ing to split the issue down the mid­dle does no favors to either side and in the end is noth­ing but a weak­ened form of cre­ation­ism, and an expla­na­tion that is of no value to sec­u­lar science.

Within the larger con­text of Amer­i­can Protes­tant Chris­tian­ity the debate con­tin­ues with­out res­o­lu­tion. Among Chris­tians, cre­ation­ists are often asked to con­sider var­i­ous forms of evi­dence of a long-history of the earth, but those advo­cat­ing for a long-earth have largely ignored dis­cus­sion of the genealo­gies of the New Tes­ta­ment and the con­cepts of orig­i­nal sin and sal­va­tion. Chris­t­ian evo­lu­tion­ists have failed to pro­vide a verse-by-verse rebut­tal to the Bib­li­cal Cre­ation nar­ra­tive or to acknowl­edge the extent to which accep­tance of cre­ation would impact theology.

Instead the­is­tic evo­lu­tion­ists oper­ate on the sup­po­si­tion that Cre­ation­ists will even­tu­ally bifur­cate their reli­gious beliefs from sci­en­tific under­stand­ing, because incom­pat­i­bil­i­ties must be resolved in favor of sci­ence. This places faith directly in con­flict with sci­ence and any resul­tant bat­tle on these issues will take cen­turies if true aca­d­e­mic free­dom is to be granted, but can resolve faster if the voices of reli­gious dis­sent are silenced and those who have openly crit­i­cized evo­lu­tion are denied a seat at the aca­d­e­mic table.

The attempt to “purify” acad­e­mia by silenc­ing the voices of crit­ics such as Dr. Car­son would be the first step toward a sec­u­lar Dark Ages. So far, it appears that despite the con­tro­versy, Emory University’s com­mence­ment cer­e­mony will go for­ward as planned.


In response to the con­tro­versy at Emory, as of this writ­ing nearly 2,000 peo­ple have signed a Peti­tion to reaf­firm “Dr. Ben Carson’s Wel­come and Defend His Right to Express His Views.”  Click here to view the Petition.